Loneliness and social isolation aren’t the same. Loneliness can have devastating effects on our health. On the other hand, social isolation, when desired, can be a beacon of calm and peace in the midst of chaos. However, loneliness occurs when we want to relate to others but fail. In fact, loneliness can devastate everything: it’s the all-consuming fire that destroys any green leaves of hope.
Those who suffer the most from the consequences of loneliness are the elderly. This means it’s extremely important to differentiate between loneliness and social isolation.
Loneliness is an emotion. As such, it’s experienced when we’re faced with certain situations. It refers to the perceived quality of our relationships and is never desired. Although it also occurs in other populations, it’s the elderly who are at the greatest risk of experiencing loneliness. This population also experiences social isolation with greater intensity.
Social isolation and loneliness
Loneliness is a powerful eroding agent on health. In fact, it plays as relevant a role in suicidal behavior as depression. There are several differences between loneliness and social isolation.
Social isolation is an objective measure of the number of contacts we have. You may choose to have a small or large number of contacts, and can always reduce or increase them as you so wish. Therefore, social isolation isn’t necessarily either good or bad. As an example, it can be good when you actively seek to be alone to disconnect from the world around you and take a look inside yourself.
“If it’s desired solitude, it’s not a problem.”
Loneliness often can’t be seen with the eyes. You can feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by other people. Loneliness burns into your soul, even when you’re with others. It’s devastating because, even when you’re with other people, they’re the kinds of relationships that aren’t particularly close. Consequently, you view them as empty.
Intimacy between two people in a relationship (like friendship), usually refers to skin-to-skin contact, such as a hug. It also refers to the kind of intimacy that involves mind-to-mind contact, like sharing fears and desires).
As we mentioned earlier, while social isolation can cause loneliness, it can also be positive when you seek to isolate yourself from others and it gives you feelings of peace instead of loneliness.
According to disengagement theory, older people stop performing certain activities as a consequence of aging. Among these is their relationship with society. In fact, this occurs with some frequency in retirement. It happens because, literally overnight, the individual stops working and socializing with their colleagues.
The National Institute on Aging has published a guide that contains several recommendations for dealing with the loneliness that occurs as a result of social isolation in the last stages of life.
How to deal with loneliness
There are various strategies that can be adopted when loneliness tries to bring you down. To start with, you need to put yourself first. Here are two basic self-care strategies:
- Exercise. Life is movement. Therefore, continuing to move in your daily life can help you to flow. In addition, exercise is a powerful protective factor for health, both physical and psychological.
- Take care of your sleep. Sleep, both a lack of and too much, usually has negative effects.
However, there are other strategies that can help you reduce loneliness. The objective is to regenerate your universe of relationships, which may be suffering.
If you feel lonely, connect with significant others
While you may experience some reluctance when building new relationships, it’s never too late. As a matter of fact, the relationships that are built in old age can be richer, deeper, and more intimate than those built earlier in life.
Your connection with others is characterized by the meaning you give to the relationships. This connection and meaning can become truly intimate. Moreover, carrying out activities that have a purpose can give meaning to your life. Even more so, if you do them with other people.
For example, you can join a club or association where there are activities like reading books, watching movies, critical analysis of news, debates and public speaking, gardening, etc.
Volunteering is also a good option. In fact, helping other people helps you. It’s one of the beneficial effects that prosocial behavior has on mental health.
“People who lead a lonely existence always have something on their minds that they are eager to talk about.”
If you’re experiencing loneliness as a result of social isolation, it’s important that you reconnect with the world and rebuild the social network that you’ve lost. In today’s society, technology has become a constant in the lives of many people. Making use of videoconferencing can shorten the path to connecting with others. Indeed, it opens windows for you to connect with people from all over the world.
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