Mind over matter – Overcoming loneliness

By: Ashish Kumar, LMB

Have you ever happened to feel some errant pangs of loneliness, isolation and overall unsatisfactory feeling towards life despite your belief that you’ve got a fine social circle, a loving family and a financially well off profession?

If your answer to the above question is even a slight affirmative, you are not an abnormal person, to say the least. We all encounter days when things don’t move the desired way, irritants keep on piling up and at the end of the day, a feeling of helplessness, guilt and anger takes over to engulf us in sadness and virtual loss. Studies prove that such feelings are common in adult population than ever before and it’s lately taking the shape of a modern epidemic.

We put a bandage on a cut or take an antibiotic to prevent infections. It seems natural and obvious to us, to take care of the physical injury. It’s just in front of us and it’s visible. The same doesn’t hold true for psychological injury.

It’s not only the elderly people. Young adults in their teens and their peak productive age are no strangers to feeling isolated. The ironic fact remains that we are physically more connected and accessible to each other than ever with all the fancy gadgets and modern communication inventions. But emotionally, it can’t be farther from truth. And despite all the buzz around health, awareness about the negative effects of psychological pain of loneliness and isolation is minuscule. We basically couldn’t care less about it.

We put a bandage on a cut or take an antibiotic to prevent infections. It seems natural and obvious to us, to take care of the physical injury. It’s just in front of us and it’s visible. The same doesn’t hold true for psychological injury. We tend to just “get over” these psychological wounds.  When as anyone who’s ever went through rejection and agonising failure (which we all do at some point of time in life) knows only too well, emotional injuries can be even more devastating than physical ones. And yet, there is no formal education which caters to the urgent need to make us aware about the potentially damaging effect of being in an emotionally vulnerable state.

Understanding the Mind-Body Sync

One analogy have it that our brain also get injured and bruised as well as we get physical injuries.

The body is such a miraculous machine, there’s much more going on in it than what meets the eye. Our mind is the most spectacular organ responsible for all our senses and conscience. Yet, we know very little of it till date. Brain researcher Lara Boyd emphasises in her Ted Talk on “Neuroplasticity” about how brain research is the most interesting research subject worldwide with millions of dollars being spent to delve into the fantastically complex piece of marvel inside us. The brain, she tells, is so pliable that everything (including happiness, sufferings, pain and other worldly ordeals) have profound effect over it. More research is underway to study the exact changes that happen in our brain in case of psychological discomfort caused by loneliness. Some simplistic analogies help to understand further in the absence of definitive explanations from conventional science to decode the unbeknownst. One analogy have it that our brain also get injured and bruised as well as we get physical injuries. The effects generally leave a lasting impression on our psyche and a traumatic psychological event if not dealt with care, may cause permanent impressions on the mind.

How loneliness affects us

  • Lonely people start to see their existing relationships with more negativity. They form an undue bias in their minds that people aren’t interested in their company and fear rejection thereby increasing the isolation even more.
  • Friends who deal with such people are further alienated by their withdrawal and isolation. And the lonely person takes it as a proof of validation of his belief that nobody likes their company. It results into further disconnect.
  • Loneliness depends more on the subjective quality of relationships rather than the number of friends one have. A person may feel the deep ache of emotional or social isolation even though he is surrounded by friends. Even married people can feel a void created by loneliness if there is no qualitative value in the relationship to withstand an emotional bond.
  • It starts gradually with something as simple as job change, getting married, changing city or numerous other reasons. And before we realise it, the social circle and the care we were used to, cease to exist.
  • Lonely people are more likely to be labelled as less interesting. And the associated stigma affects social and romantic life.
  • The more emotionally isolated one becomes, the more weak their relationship ‘muscle’ becomes due to atrophy. The ability to form meaningful relationships become rusty as more time is spent in the emotional vacuum.

How to Break Free of it

To take on the ‘seemingly’ less potent but nevertheless much more important psychological pain, psychologist Guy Winch recommends that we learn to practice “emotional first aid”, a term he used in his recent book. In order to emerge out of the shackles of loneliness, several things need to be done, all of which involve being patient and taking a big leap of faith. Here is an excerpt of things to do in order to break free of the emotional trap:

  • Take initiative. Volunteer for events, do community service involving your favourite activities. These things are best ways to meet like minded people and also keep the mind occupied.
  • Go through your address books and social media contacts to make a list of people you haven’t seen or spoken to for a while. Don’t keep pre-conceived notions to tell yourself they’re not interested. Give them the benefit of doubt. Contact all of them one by one, invite over a coffee or a drink. You will be surprised to know how many of them are keen to make plans.
  • Don’t lose optimism. It’s perfectly normal to fear rejection and hostility but keeping an inviting and open frame of mind (rather than overly cautious and fearful) is required to win you real friends.
  • Pay attention to the distress as and when it strikes and try to overcome it before it starts to feel overwhelming. Our bodies have evolved to give us pain like signals to alarm us about the hurt. If a bad mood is not getting better, you have probably suffered rejection or failure at something and you need to do something to distract your mind from it.
  • When hurt, avoid putting yourself down and protect your self-esteem. Self-esteem is like an emotional immune system that strengthens your emotional resilience.
  • Don’t allow excessive guilt to take over you. Guilt can be useful in small doses, it allows you to correct yourself when you behave with your loved ones in a wrong way and provides an opportunity to effectively apologize. But excessive guilt can waste the emotional and intellectual energies and makes life less enjoyable.
  • Learn what works best for you. Everybody is unique in the sense that we react to the emotional stress in a different way. Imitate and learn how you personally handle emotional wounds. Do you just ignore them, get upset but make a comeback quickly or you keep feeling the deep rage for days to come or …? This analysis helps in finding out which treatment or strategy works best for you in overcoming such situations.
  • Make a habit of taking note of your psychological health on a regular basis and especially after you undergo a stressful and difficult experience.

Yes, consciously practising these measures take some time and effort, but it will certainly improve your overall quality of life and is definitely worth the effort.



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