In today’s highly competitive times, what one fears the most, perhaps, is being left out. Being left on the sidelines, while one sees all and sundry pass by is not a wholesome experience. But we are not talking of being left behind or out of the rat race, the competition. We are talking about being left alone. With no one around, or being cocooned within oneself, unable to connect with others, even when surrounded by people sums up the idea of loneliness. The Oxford Dictionary defines loneliness as ‘sadness because one has no friends or company’, ‘the fact of being without companions’, ‘solitariness’.
Humans being social entities feel an innate need to be connected with fellow humans. Man is a social being with a fundamental need to ‘belong’ – to someone else, to a group, a family, a club and so on. This psychological aspect continues to play a role in our overall sense of well-being all through our lives. Loneliness can be defined as a feeling of being disconnected from others or being isolated. Loneliness is an extremely subjective matter as it is based on one’s perception of his/her relationships with others. It is not the same as being alone, as one can be surrounded by a lot of people but not still be alone. Loneliness affects us physically, mentally and emotionally in numerous negative ways. Feeling lonely is more than just unpleasant for those who want to be in warm relationships – it is a very serious health hazard. Simply being surrounded by people is not enough but the perception of being isolated is more than enough for having bad effects on health. Some of the health risks that are associated with loneliness are depression, cardiovascular disease, increased stress levels, decreased retention power and memory, poor decision taking skills, alcoholism and drug abuse, altered and reduced motor functions, obesity, progression of Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, etc.
It has been seen in the past that loneliness can cause stress, can be the sole cause of serious heart condition, which can be aggravated manifolds and can also affect the immunity of an individual. It has been seen by psychologists that alcoholism and lesser amount of physical exercise are the definite results of loneliness. For lonely individuals, the food intake pattern is very irregular and their diet is generally higher in fat and as they get less sleep, they are subjected to daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of the cellular process, pre-disposing to premature aging. Dr. P. Ghosh, a practicing Psychiatrist of the Neel Ratan Sarkar Medical College, Kolkata, is of the opinion that, ‘This is not a new phenomenon and is bound to happen because people today are more career oriented and goal driven. They perceive their work to be of greater significance rather than their family or social contacts.’
In today’s world of modern industrialisation and the Internet revolution, people have become lonelier. In India, the younger generation has given in to the consumerist culture and most of their socialising has ended up logging into the social networking sites. The professions that people choose also have become diverse and the previous notion of a sedentary lifestyle and security of a government job has given way to corporatised life. As a result individuals end up with lesser amounts of social exposure which leads to isolation and being unsocial even in the context of their families or friends circles. The direct by-product of this problem is the increasing number of aged people in foster homes which are cropping up like mushrooms in India. This phenomenon was quite alien in India even 20 years back, when Indian society was identified as a typical oriental culture. Today, it is catching up with occidental culture because individuals of all age group are being alienated socially from each other, resulting in broken homes and nuclear families. Loneliness thus will continue to be one of the greatest health hazards in the twenty-first century and if proper preventive measures are not taken to control it, will grow out of proportion, making India a land of broken homes, jarred emotions and most alarming, increased ailments.
Consequences of Loneliness
- Depression and suicide
- Cardiovascular diseases and strokes
- Increased Stress levels
- Decreased retention power
- Attention Deficit Disorders
- Poor decision making power
- Alcoholism and addiction tonarcotics
- Alzheimer’s disease.
Treatment and prevention
- To recognise that loneliness is a problem and that its causes need to be addressed.
- To understand how loneliness is affecting oneself, physically, mentally and emotionally.
- To engage oneself in different social activities such as community service which present opportunities to meet new people, cultivate new friendships and interact socially more extensively and intensively.
- To focus on developing and nurturing quality relationships with people who share similar values, ideals, thoughts and attitudes.
- To become optimistic, focus on positive thoughts and develop beneficial new