The pain of loneliness (Week 2)

April 18, 2014

Loneliness strikes as many as 1 in 3 Americans today and, although most people claim to be happy with the friends they have, there is a strong undercurrent of discontent among nearly half the public who complain they either do not have enough time for friends, they want more friends or they would like to have a closer relationship with their friends.
A new Gallup Mirror of America survey shows that busy work and family schedules, geographic mobility and divorce are all stretching the bonds of friendship today. By far the loneliest American adults are those who are divorced, widowed or separated adults, and those who live alone or solely with children.
Loneliness, as we use the term in this series, means unwanted isolation or emotional isolation. It is a self-conscious isolation, a condition in which the lonely one is consciously aware that something important is painfully lacking in his/her life.
People dealing with loneliness find different ways to deal with their loneliness. Some people try to escape loneliness by buying something new and soon they realize there just isn’t enough money to buy off loneliness. Still others try to escape their loneliness by getting high with drugs and alcohol. This never solves problems, but in the end becomes a problem. Other people use food to dull the pain of loneliness. There are others who just give up. They are convinced that the loneliness in their lives is without any possible cure. Many of these are convinced that their loneliness results from situations outside themselves.

The health consequences of loneliness
Loneliness has a wide range of negative effects on both physical and mental health. Research has shown that loneliness can impact stress, heart health and one’s immunity. But these are not the only areas in which loneliness takes its toll. “Lonely adults consume more alcohol and get less exercise than those who are not lonely,” explained John Cacioppo, co-author of the book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection in an interview with U.S. News and World Report. “Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing us to premature aging.” A person who is feeling lonely should avoid situations such as: (a) drinking alcohol alone; (b) using other escapes such as non-prescribed medications; and (c) watching so much television that it becomes a substitute for socializing.

Being alone vs. being lonely
Being alone differs from being lonely in that one chooses to be alone. Spending time alone by choice can be relaxing, or a time for reflecting and thinking about personal attitudes, goals, dreams, objectives, etc. Being by yourself is not the same as being lonely. Not everyone wants company all the time, and just because someone is alone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are rejected or lonely. It is good to enjoy your own company sometimes. Being alone can have its advantages. The creative person craves time alone. A professional who takes a sabbatical and spends some time alone returns refreshed mentally and spiritually. To reap the rewards of solitude, a person who feels lonely can tune out thoughts of self and seek out activities. They can write letters, read, paint, sew, care for a pet or enroll in a correspondence course.

Next Week: How Loneliness Ensnares Us

The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in these articles, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. Rather, the objective is strictly informative and educational. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.