How lonely people can stop feeling isolated

Do you live alone?

Have you felt isolated, like you have no one to talk to?

Are you homebound because of illness, disability, loss of your job, or lack of transportation?

If any of these things are true for you, then your suffering may be due to social isolation, also called loneliness.

Or maybe you have a parent, friend, or acquaintance who is lonely and experiencing social isolation, and you’d like to help.

There are ways to relieve these feelings!

In this article,  I’m going to give  you solutions for social isolation, and write about how lonely people can stop feeling isolated.  I’ll give you examples of social isolation, reasons why you might be feeling socially isolated, effects of loneliness, and ways to cope with it.

Are you lonely and socially isolated?

I’ve lived alone in rural areas for 18 years. When I talked about my lack of social life to a professional recently, I learned that what I have experienced is called social isolation. It comes from geographical, psychological, and experiential causes.

Here are some of my experiences with isolation. Do any of them sound familiar to you?

  • I sometimes feel that I have no one to talk to who understands me and cares about me. I talk to my dog and cat, and they care, but they don’t say anything. They look at me soulfully, though.
  • I live 14 miles from the nearest town. Even when I go to town to do errands, I don’t see anyone I know.
  • When I attend the town’s summer festival, I rarely see anyone I know. When I attend our community political caucuses every two years, I see familiar faces and can enter into a few conversations, but these quickly end because we have little in common except our political views.
  • When I go out on a writing assignment, I see people I know and exchange small talk before the meetings start, but that quickly ends because we all have work to do.
  • My siblings live over 1,000 miles from me and from each other. We sometimes go several years without seeing each other.
  • My daughter lives 150 miles away. I see her once a month.
Facing Problems image 6
Credit: femgineer.com

Social isolation can be a painful feeling, and if you don’t deal with it, it can lead to serious consequences including depression, impaired immune system response, and other physical and mental health consequences.

Writing about her own experience with isolation when she moved to a new city, Jessica Olien commented –

“Feeling uncertain, I began to research loneliness and came across several alarming recent studies. Loneliness is not just making us sick, it is killing us. Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely.

The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity.

Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.

Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s.”

So as you can see, loneliness and social isolation are serious matters.

Let’s see how they are defined.

What is social isolation?

Credit: tinybuddha.com
Credit: tinybuddha.com

Wikipedia defines it this way: “Social isolation refers to a complete or near-complete lack of contact with people and society for members of a social species….”

People are meant to live in families and groups, as they have for thousands of years. But in modern industrialized societies during the past 100 years, people have become separated from their families by changes in living patterns, the concept of “the nuclear family”, increased mobility, and other reasons.

A psychology website describes social isolation like this:

Isolation—the experience of being separated from others—may result from being physically removed from others, as when a person lives in a remote area, or it can result from the perception of being removed from a community, such as when a person feels socially or emotionally isolated from others.

“Social isolation is distinct from the experience of solitude, which is simply the state of being alone, usually by choice. Taking time to be alone can be a healthy, rejuvenating experience that allows us to reconnect with our own needs, goals, beliefs, values, and feelings.

“But when a person experiences too much solitude or feels socially isolated from others, he or she may develop feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, helplessness, or depression, among others.”

Look at things from a different perspective. (Photo by Joshua Earle)
Look at things from a different perspective. (Photo by Joshua Earle)

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Stephen Ilardi describes the problem of social isolation:

“The best research confirms it: Americans are now perilously isolated (link is external). In a recent comprehensive study by scientists at Duke University, researchers have observed a sharp decline in social connectedness over the past 20 years.

“Remarkably, 25% of Americans have no meaningful social support at all – not a single person they can confide in. And over half of all Americans report having no close confidants or friends outside their immediate family. The situation today is much worse today than it was when similar data were gathered in 1985. (At that time, only 10% of Americans were completely alone).”

Social isolation is widespread in the U.S.

It’s a problem we rarely hear about.

And it’s not just Americans who experience social isolation. People in industrialized societies around the world can experience social isolation at different points in their lives.

While social isolation has been recognized in older people, it can occur in younger people as well, when they encounter new situations such as moving to a new city or even a new country, taking a job in a different company or field, or losing contact with friends and relatives for a multitude of reasons.

Credit: blog.filereplicationpro.com
Credit: blog.filereplicationpro.com

Even working as a traveling salesperson, drug representative, or IT consultant can bring on feelings of isolation and loneliness: staying in a different hotel every night, flying from city to city making presentations, fixing problems, etc.

Have you ever taken a new job in a new city and realized that you don’t know anybody there? You don’t even know how to find a grocery store or locate a new apartment.

This is another common situation that can bring on loneliness.

Reasons why we feel isolated or lonely

 We can experience feelings of isolation or loneliness for many reasons. The feelings can be temporary or long-lasting. Here are some examples that you may recognize:

–Mary avoids going to her card-playing group because all the women there talk about is their grandchildren, and Mary doesn’t have any grandchildren. She feels odd and left out. So she stays home and reads a book instead of seeing her friends.

–Jason lost his job recently and is having trouble making his rent and car payments. He has looked for work for several weeks. Although his friends call and ask him to go to dinner with them or see a concert, Jason turns them down because he is short on money. Pretty soon Jason finds himself alone day after day and night after night. He thinks there is nowhere he can go with friends that doesn’t cost money. He misses his friends and feels more and more lonely.

–Anica was divorced a year ago. To get away from the bad memories she has from her marriage, she moved to a new city and got a job there. Many of the other workers at her job belong to a religious group that looks down on divorced people. They don’t include Anica in their work lunches or weekend plans. Anica finds herself going home alone every evening and has no one to go to dinner with or spend Saturdays shopping or visiting museums, as she used to do with friends in the city she came from. She feels depressed and lonely.

Credit: ehiyo.com
Credit: ehiyo.com

These lonely people are having trouble finding others to spend time with, and they don’t know what to do to help themselves. They realize that they need friends, but have not been able to find new ones.

Sometimes we can point to the reasons for our feelings, but sometimes we can’t.

We can be isolated for many reasons or situations in which we find ourselves:

  • An illness keeps us homebound
  • A disability makes it difficult for us to travel
  • Demography (being an older person in a community of young people)
  • Economics (lacking the money to go out and socialize)
  • Lack of mobility (no public transportation and no car)
  • Traumatic experiences make us fearful (for example, military veterans and crime victims)
  • Cultural rules (that often prevent women born into male-dominated cultural groups from participating in activities outside the family)
  • Family responsibilities (such as care-giving for an ill family member or parenting multiple or difficult children).
  • A job requires us to travel frequently and for long periods away from home.

These are just some of the reasons why we may find ourselves feeling alone. There are many others that can affect any of us.

Do any of them apply to you?

Another set of reasons for loneliness or social isolation were listed in an article published on www.lifeline.org :

  • Losing a loved one or friend through death or relocation
  • Lack of close family ties
  • Living alone
  • Difficulties in meeting new people due to access issues, introverted personalities, or feeling like you don’t belong
  • A mental health condition such as depression or anxiety
  • Fear of rejection from others or feelings of being “different” or stigmatized by society
  • Retirement from work, home relocation, starting out in a new role or community
  • Lack of purpose or meaning in life
  • Language barriers
  • Geographic isolation
  • Feeling lost in the crowd 

Military veterans and isolation

Military veterans who have served in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Viet Nam, Bosnia, Kuwait, and other overseas locations have seen things and experienced things that civilians in the U.S., U.K., and Australia cannot imagine.

Credit: ashleighbaker.net
Credit: ashleighbaker.net

Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that makes it difficult for them to relate meaningfully to other people. They may withdraw from family and friends after returning to civilian life.

Several groups have been formed to help returning veterans.  One military veterans’ website explained veterans’ feelings this way:

“Difficult experiences can be harder to cope with when it feels like no one, not even family or friends, understands what you went through. Connecting with other Veterans and reaching out for support can help to overcome isolation and increase enjoyment of life.

“Some Veterans show signs of social withdrawal or social isolation while transitioning from military to civilian life or at other times of change in their lives. Other Veterans and Service members may have been avoiding other people and activities for a long time and have become uncomfortable being around other people more generally.”

“Social withdrawal and social isolation can make it difficult to do the things you normally would enjoy or sometimes make it hard to get through the day. Some of the effects of isolation can include feelings of loneliness, alcohol or drug problems, and trouble sleeping. Left unchecked, social withdrawal or isolation can lead to or be associated with depression.”

If you are a military veteran, I urge you to make connections with other veterans who understand what you are going through and can help you overcome feelings of isolation and difference.

“Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for dealing with social withdrawal and social isolation. If withdrawal and isolation are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who doe
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
  • A spiritual or religious advisor”

Effects of social isolation

 Now that you know what social isolation is, what can cause it, and who may suffer from it, let’s look at the effects of social isolation.

Credit: telegraph.co.uk
Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Social isolation and loneliness can affect our quality of life and well-being, adversely affecting health and increasing our use of health and social care services. It can literally make us sick.

There’s more information about how loneliness affects us physically and mentally here: http://www.livescience.com/18800-loneliness-health-problems.html

Social isolation can lead to physical and mental health problems. Depression, immune system disorders, higher rates of cancer and heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, and other conditions can be made worse by loneliness or social isolation.

So as you can see, loneliness is dangerous to your health.

John Cacioppo explained that loneliness is not something that humans are used to.

“The reasons trace back to humanity’s evolutionary history, when people needed each other to stay alive. Loneliness doesn’t just make people feel unhappy, it actually makes them feel unsafe — mentally and physically.

“This powerful evolutionary force bound prehistoric people to those they relied on for food, shelter and protection, to help them raise their young and carry on their genetic legacy. Cacioppo surmises that the distress people feel when they drift toward the edges of a group serves as a warning — like physical pain — that they need to reengage or face danger.”

Coping with Social Isolation

So what can we do about social isolation or loneliness when we are experiencing it?

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways we can cope with social isolation. Each coping method requires us to take some initiative.

You can take steps to copy with social isolation.  It can be relieved or reduced by

  • Joining social/hobby groups or sports activities, no matter what your age
  • Connecting or reconnecting with friends or family by phone, online, or letter-writing
  • Becoming a member of a community (such as a church or advocacy group if geography and mobility permit it
  • Getting out of the house for social functions, meetings, exercise, shopping, visiting friends, going out for coffee, going to a movie, play, or concert
  • Going to a library to get books or movies or attend a lecture
  • Taking a skills-building course or course that relates to one of your interests like history or art (usually offered at adult education institutions)
  • Getting a pet to be a comfort and companion in times of stress and ill-health

    Credit: globalhealthaging.org
    Credit: globalhealthaging.org
  • Taking part in volunteer opportunities in person or by telephone or computer that help you focus on ways you can help others
  • Receiving encouragement from loved ones for, or validation of, attempts to reach out
  • Discussing hopes and fears with a friend or loved one
  • Identifying new social groups and making connections with them
  • Receiving therapies such as psychotherapy, massage, aromatherapy, and acupuncture
  • Taking part in community groups
  • Attending church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious or spiritual
    U.S. Navy sailors celebrate Hanukkah
    U.S. Navy sailors celebrate Hanukkah

    ceremonies

Of course, there is nothing wrong with enjoying solitude and being alone for a while.

We all need opportunities for peace and quiet and being alone with our thoughts.

Times like these can make us feel refreshed and give us the energy to get back to our work or activities with other people.

The problem with social isolation is that it can drain off your happiness as well as give you physical and mental problems.

Psychologist Bob Dempsey shares four ways to increase your individual happiness that I think would help you in a blog post.

Spending time with others, becoming engrossed in an activity, discovering a purpose in life, and finding balance among the many aspects of life – family, work, community, and self – increase our happiness and feelings of well-being, and reduce loneliness and social isolation.

What if you just feel lonely once in a while?

Sometimes your feelings of social isolation are temporary and caused by short-term job relocation or travel for medical treatment.

“People with a good self-image and strong social skills may need only short-term help building new relationships … but others may require help continually,” wrote one specialist.

You can reduce the pain of short-term loneliness by comparing your situation with other people’s situations. It also helps to have someone to confide in and talk about your feelings and thoughts. http://www.ec-online.net/knowledge/SB/SBisolation.html

Now it’s your turn –

If you’ve recognized yourself in any of these scenarios, then now you know you can do something about it!

You can take one or two of these coping suggestions and follow up on them. You are the key to helping yourself feel better.

No, your isolation is not going to go away in one day or as a result of one telephone call you make, but it’s a start.

You know the saying – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step.”

So take that step. Reach out to other people – friends, family, or strangers – and initiate contact in at least one way today.

Let me know if these suggestions help you!

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Laurinda Porter
Acknowledgements: Eutah Mizushima photo, Wikipedia, fem more...

14 thoughts on “How lonely people can stop feeling isolated”

  1. Hey Rin,
    Great stuff.

    This is a familiar area for me. I don’t mean to make it a sob story, but I sometimes feel isolated. This comes from being a Stay At Home parent and been a man. This also comes from not been able to drive. ( due to Epilepsy )
    Most of the parents at home with their children are woman, which was uncomfortable at times, but I have got past that.
    I can’t imagine been miles away from family. Family is very important and the best support system. Yes, career is very important, but I don’t think I could have said goodbye to NZ for the rest of my days.
    You have mentioned some good examples of ways to get involved in things, back out in the community. This is also a familiar area to me. Time with others is important, but so is time alone. That’s something I look forward to after a week of my children.

    Your writing has always been very enjoyable 🙂

    Thank you,
    Bryce.

    1. Bryce,
      I’m glad to learn that this post hit home with you. Your story is certainly NOT a sob story – it’s a true story of a person taking on an unfamiliar role that a lot of people don’t understand. I admire you for caring for your children and figuring out how to get through life without driving. That must be very difficult and sometimes isolating in itself. Thank you for sharing about what you have gone through and got past. I hope to hear from you again. You have helped me feel validated for writing this post.
      Rin

  2. Hi Rin,

    I found this post super interesting… partially because I never knew there was a term for this sort of thing, but mostly because in recent years I’ve come to appreciate isolation.

    Sure, I’m not totally alone. But my wife and I did move to a remote community away from both our families. We know almost no one local, and only see our friends maybe once a month… our families even less than that.

    (Not to mention, we work at home and never have a reason to head out to work…)

    Is it weird that I enjoy that?

    You said, “Of course, there is nothing wrong with enjoying solitude and being alone for a while.”

    Sure, but this is going on a year… given that I don’t feel painfully isolated yet, does that mean there is something wrong with me? lol

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Have a great weekend!

    Brent

    1. Hi Brent,
      You know, I wondered how it would be to work at home and have your spouse work at home also. It’s intriguing to me!

      Glad you enjoyed the post. No, it’s not weird to enjoy solitude and peace and quiet, especially after years of working in a major metro area as you did. I enjoyed my solitude here for the first 7 or 8 eight years. But then I began to wish for opportunities to socialize, which are really nonexistent for me, mainly I think because I am single in a world of couples, and because I didn’t grow up in a blue-collar farming community where many of the chances to socialize are centered on church-going to one particular church.

      I think you and Andrea are going to do well in your living situation. You take nice vacations and are active on Skype and YouTube, so you are doing some frequent virtual socializing. When you feel like seeing your families, then you can do so at your convenience.

      In a few years you may feel more inclined to live in an inner-ring suburb, and when that happens, you can move house, or get an apartment for weekend city jaunts.

      Thanks for your blog-reading loyalty!

      Rin

      1. Happy to read and leave comments, Rin! And to share, too!

        Andréa gets bothered by the solitude a lot more than I do… that’s why we try to ‘escape’ and go somewhere every few months, even if it’s just driving down to Atlanta to see her family.

        Our works keeps us busy, and we’re only a few hours away from Toronto where there is a lot going on all the time.

        Chat soon,

        Brent
        Brent Jones recently posted…Publish Your Writing with Don EastonMy Profile

        1. Hi Brent,
          Thanks for reading and commenting. I had a feeling that this post might resonate with you and Andrea, since you live in a rural area also. I totally believe in escape. Mine is driving to the Twin Cities for a weekend of cultural immersion!

          Rin

  3. Many of the good ideas are not do-able because of severe lack of energy caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. If I were able to go for a long walk, go out to lunch with a church friend, volunter with a dog rescue….wow that would be heaven! The best thing that temporarily relieves loneliness is that I am able to go to church, have a sweet dog, and have an email friend who also is housebound. I still deal with sadness. Distracting myself with good books or a movie….is distraction not the social contact I crave….but everthing including visiting with a neighbor brings on worse fatigue. It is my faith In an afterlife ….a future free from this life’s difficulties …that gives me the hope to endure isolation …I am a Christian who believes in life after death….a real life better than this one. If chronic loneliness is a health hazard I give that concern to the Lord…He is in control and He numbers my days. Taking my loneliness to God in prayer is a comfort and gives me the knowledge that the Lord understands like no other can.

    1. Pat,
      Thank you for your comment and your story. I am sad to hear of your situation, but glad that you have hope and faith. I don’t know where you live, but I’d urge you to try one more thing: reach out to your nearest senior center (if you are over 50) and ask to be connected with a volunteer who could take you places where you want to go – even borrow a wheelchair and push you so you would not have to walk when you reach your destination. Your county social services office is another possible source of help for visiting nurses or help with home care and meals. Don’t give up. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an awful condition, but it is not fatal. An understanding doctor may be able to prescribe medications that will help you feel better, even if only for a few hours each day. Visits on the computer program Skype can help you “see” people without leaving the house. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

      Rin

  4. This article touches my heart. May be many people feel lonely sometimes. I work in a different city after graduated, only when it’s holidays I go back home and live with my parents for several days. sometimes, I really feel that I am alone. Fortunately, I have some colleagues to communicate with.

    1. Hello friend,
      Thanks for reading this article. I’m sad to learn that you feel lonely at your workplace. It’s hard to move away from parents to a different city. I hope that your work colleagues can be a support to you until you find friends outside of work.

      Dr Rin

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