How to Spot the Signs of Loneliness
Everyone feels alone and distanced from others from time to time. Occasional loneliness is a part of life, and, as long as is it dealt with in a healthy way, it is nothing to worry about.
However, chronic or repeated feelings of loneliness or social isolation can have devastating effects on a person’s mental and physical health. Learning how to spot the signs of loneliness in advance, before the feeling becomes chronic or repeated, can help you to intervene early and offer social support, in order to improve a person’s wellbeing.
Living by Extremes
One of the first symptoms you may notice in someone who is repeatedly or chronically lonely is that they do everything in excess or to the extreme. For example, someone who is experiencing intense loneliness may binge-watch every show they start watching, or they may take frequent hot showers or baths.
Frequent napping, expensive shopping sprees and eating out are often all ways in which people try to fill the void caused by loneliness. In most cases, these people do not even realise that they have started to turn to what are essentially mini-addictions to keep themselves occupied.
There may be another reason why lonely people tend to take frequent hot showers or baths: we equate the feeling of warmth with being socially satisfied. As a result, those who do not feel socially fulfilled try to replicate the feeling using hot showers or baths.
Researchers conducted a study in the United States, which showed that people feel lonelier when they are cold and more socially fulfilled when they are warm. Taking frequent hot showers or baths can cause skin redness, itchiness and even peeling.
Spending Money on Things and Not Experiences
People who are lonely tend to try and surround themselves with belongings. This is another way in which they try to fill the void in their lives. Unfortunately, this way of coping with loneliness can quickly lead to financial issues and, in the worst-case scenarios, even hoarding.
Research shows that it is far better to fill your life with experiences than with things, but, for those who feel isolated from others, it can be hard to feel ‘worthy’ of the experience, or they may worry that others may reject them.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to spend a night in, wearing cosy pyjamas and with a warm cup of tea, and a great book every once in a while. People who are chronically lonely tend to take this a bit too far, constantly staying in.
Loneliness can often be a bit of a cycle, with a person’s feelings of isolation causing them to further keep themselves away from others. In many cases, a nice shower or bath and a cup of tea are a great way to soothe yourself if you are feeling a bit lonely. However, if these things are used as excuses to further avoid human interaction, it can be a major sign of chronic loneliness.
Constantly Sick or Stressed
People who are often lonely do not have a social support system that they can turn to when things are not going right. Being able to talk through your issues or worries not only relieves anxiety but can actually help you to stay physically healthier.
Research shows that people who do not have healthy coping mechanisms for stress, such as talking with other people, tend to have weaker immune systems. A study conducted at UCLA focused on the immune systems of lonely people. The study showed that when a person starts to spend more and more time on their own, their immune system focuses more on fighting bacteria and less on fighting viruses. As a result, the person is more susceptible to cold and flu viruses than they may otherwise have been.
Signs of Mental Health Challenges
In extreme cases, loneliness can lead to depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges. Loneliness and depression coexist in quite a few cases, with numerous patients reporting that loneliness was the triggering event for a current depressive episode.
In other cases, experiencing depression can make a person start to feel lonely. It is important to look for the warning signs of mood disorders when dealing with a lonely individual, so you can offer them support tailored to their unique needs.
What are the Dangers of Loneliness?
Loneliness can have numerous effects on a person’s mental and physical health. As previously mentioned, depression and other mental health disorders often coincide with loneliness.
In addition, lonely people may turn to harmful substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to help stave off the feeling of loneliness. These addictions come with their own host of health complications.
Even a lonely person who avoids alcohol and drugs can still experience pretty serious physical effects. These include being at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, premature development of Alzheimer’s disease, altered brain function and decreased memory and learning abilities.
People who are lonely also often consume a poor diet, which carries with it the risk of exhaustion weight gain and malnutrition.
How to Help Someone Who is Lonely
Avoid brushing off the person’s feelings of loneliness or being dismissive of how serious social isolation is. Instead, be compassionate and caring. If you have a personal relationship with the lonely individual, invite them out with you when you are running errands. You can also invite them out with a small group of other friends. Introducing them to other people is a great way to help beat isolation.
If you do not have a personal relationship with the lonely individual, there are still things you can do. Help them find a group or club that caters to their interests. For example, there are often knitting circles, craft groups and other social gatherings held at local community centres.
Volunteering is another great way for someone who is lonely to meet like-minded people.
Loneliness can be devastating to experience and can lead to numerous mental and physical health complications. Learn how to recognise the signs of loneliness, before the feeling becomes chronic or repeated, so you can offer the best possible support.