Alone but not lonely

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DR. JAY THIMMAPURAM explores the science of loneliness and how it impacts our health and well-being. He also shares some simple things we can do in order to feel better about being alone without having to feel lonely.


Loneliness is a painful sense of isolation, a lack of belongingness and an absence of social contact. It refers to a discrepancy between social needs and their availability in the environment. Though humans are fundamentally wired to be social, we are slowly but surely drifting into the zone of loneliness. This perception of loneliness has been increasing with successive generations. Generation Z, our younger generation, are reportedly lonelier than any of the previous generations. It is also a fact that we are more digitally connected with people than any other time in the past, which seems to be a paradox.

The consequences of loneliness are many. It poses a significant health problem for a sizeable sector of the population, leading to increased risks of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, behavior and health care utilization. There is also an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, and even Alzheimer’s disease. The odds of mortality go up significantly. Some studies suggest that the health consequences are almost equal to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. The data are striking. According to recent studies, more than 40 percent of the population feel lonely and left out. And the actual statistics may be higher, as loneliness is perceived as a stigma and often goes unmentioned. The 19th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has pointed out that loneliness is an epidemic and has mentioned how he felt very lonely as a child and reported an associated sense of shame.

This takes us to a much deeper aspect. Loneliness is often influenced by our relationship to our own self. When we feel lonely, we often erect a barrier around ourselves. This not only prevents others from coming to us, but also prevents us from stepping out of the barrier. As it is a self-created barrier, breaking it is rather difficult. The only way is to dissolve it! This barrier lies at the foundation of our own ideas of ourselves. We may be bogged down by feelings of inferiority or carried away by feelings of superiority. Both are ideas that we create for ourselves. It stems from a fundamental state of not being comfortable with ourselves in our current state. When we are not comfortable with ourselves, it is difficult to be comfortable with others, and for others to be comfortable with us. How do we get over this? A simple awareness of how we feel may help us recognize the issue. Attention to our well-being starts from there.



Loneliness is often influenced by our relationship to our own self.
When we feel lonely, we often erect a barrier around ourselves.
This not only prevents others from coming to us,
but also prevents us from stepping out of the barrier.



Inner well-being is a state of contentment, joy and having a positive outlook on life. Simple needs, when fulfilled, can yield excellent results. Sleep plays a significant role in our well-being and even our perception of loneliness. A study conducted recently shows that lack of sleep actually causes loneliness. When sleep is disturbed, we are usually not in the best state of mind. Such a mind does not like to socialize. A good night’s rest is the foundation on which our day’s activities are based. Without this strong base, our day is not optimal. In addition, sleep may also contribute to our personality. Going to bed in a state of calm, and resting our attention on the inner intrinsic goodness of the heart, can help us mold our personality.


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When physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness are taken care of, they act as antidotes to loneliness. They create a good foundation for positive interactions and yield fruitful results. Another simple solution is to train the mind to give it a good direction, and meditation is one way to do this. As we keep meditating, we begin to experience a change in the inner landscape and a feeling of self-acceptance develops. We become more comfortable and accepting of ourselves, and that lays the foundation for social interaction in a positive way.



As we keep meditating,
we begin to experience
a change in the inner landscape
and a feeling of self-acceptance develops.
We become more comfortable
and accepting of ourselves,
and that lays the foundation
for social interaction in a positive way.



Day-to-day challenges, stresses and strains often play a role in loneliness. When we encounter blows in life, our state of mind is not congenial to socialize. An evening practice of Heartfulness Cleaning is a remedy. It helps us to remove the emotional sediments that have accumulated within our system. A mind that is cleared of the emotional burden is in an ideal state for social interactions.

With a peaceful inner disposition, even when we are alone we are not lonely, for there is always an inner state of calmness, contentment and joy. In such a state, when we do interact with others, we will affect them in a positive way and uplift those who feel down or lonely.


REFERENCES:

Mushtaq, R. et al, 2014.
Hawkley, L.C, & J.P. Capitanio, 2015.
Holt-Lunstad, J. & T.B. Smith, 2016.
Ben Simon, E. & M.P. Walker, 2018.
Holt-Lunstad, J., T.B. Smith & J.B. Layton, 2010.
Pinquart, M. & S. Sorensen, 2001.



Article by DR. JAY THIMMAPURAM


Jay Thimmapuram

About Jay Thimmapuram

Dr. Jayaram Thimmapuram is an academic hospitalist in internal medicine at Wellspan York hospital. He has a special interest in research and has several articles published in medical journals. He is a recipient of Gold Humanism award, outstanding teacher of the year and resident of the year awards. He has completed several research projects on Heartfulness meditation and its effect in lowering stress levels and burnout and improving sleep. He regularly conducts stress management workshops using Heartfulness meditation techniques for health care professionals and patients. He is a TEDx speaker.


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