If you've ever felt alone in a crowded room, outcasted in social situations, or genuinely preferred isolation to the immeasurable fear of rejection, you're not alone. Loneliness is normal, and chances are we've all felt, or will feel lonely at some point. What isn't normal is waking up every day and feeling mentally and physically lonely, to the point where you can hardly bring yourself to get off the couch and out of the house. This is called chronic loneliness, and it's important to be able to identify the difference between feeling lonely and chronic loneliness in order to give yourself the proper care you deserve.
The AARP recently reviewed a number of studies that focused on loneliness. The data suggests that people with strong social connections are less likely to die young and that, in contrast, social isolation, loneliness, and living alone had a direct correlation to early death.
When you think about the technically unlimited access we all have to one another -- thanks in large part to smartphones and the internet -- it's amazing that anyone still suffers from loneliness. But according to psychiatrist Jacqueline Olds, these feelings may be self-inflicted.
She told The Washington Post,
Many of the people who end up lonely give off signals they want to be alone out of anxiety... Feeling left out has a huge effect on our psyche from our evolutionary worries that everyone else will survive and we won't.
First of all, there's a difference between spending time alone and feeling lonely.
I consider myself an introverted extrovert. There are some weekends I'll make sure my schedule is jam-packed with plans so I can socialize and see all of my available friends and family.
A lot of the time, though, I genuinely enjoy being at home with my husband and cat, and separating myself from the outside world to watch (alright, fine, re-watch) my favorite shows on Netflix.
Deciphering your level of lonely starts by recognizing whether or not you're choosing to separate yourself, and if so, why?
Those who suffer from chronic loneliness, on the other hand, genuinely struggle to connect with others.
John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience told Fortune that chronic loneliness could, essentially, develop in the form of a coping mechanism when someone feels left out of their social circle.
The brain goes into self-preservation mode to promote short-term survival. It's better to not make a friend now and survive than it is to try and make that friend, it turns out that friend's a foe, and perish in the service of trying to form a connection.
While happiness and being social may not be mutually exclusive, both are a choices that require effort and energy, and if you've become comfortable hiding behind feelings of loneliness, it can be daunting to break through it out of fear of rejection.
Chronic loneliness also negatively affects your physical health.
It's one thing to feel lonely for a couple of days because your best friends are unreachable or busy. But chronic loneliness, like depression, affects your body both mentally and physically.
It can lead to things like increased blood pressure, a weak immune system, and even lack of sleep, according to Fortune.
I'm a firm believer that every emotion you feel deserves to be felt and worked through. That being said, while everyone is bound to feel lonely sometime or another during their lifespan and should recognize it, when it becomes a regular occurrence that leads to physical ailments, it is no longer solely an emotion, but an illness.
On the bright side, loneliness is a curable mentality.
Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy Editor at Large and licensed psychotherapist, tells Elite Daily,
Loneliness is a quiet, dark, and sad emotional place that one can experience by themselves or with others. It can evoke feelings of pain for some, and numbness for others. The cure involves figuring out and resolving the cause. Also, making an effort to make yourself feel filled up and happy. Loneliness can feel helpless, but you have to remember you're never helpless as long as you keep looking for tools and resources to feel better.
The first step to curing any mental illness is to accept that you have a chronic condition. After that, you can begin to explore and identify the root cause of the problem. Maybe you need to grow your social circle. Have you become so comfortable within yourself that you fear stepping outside your comfort zone?
Once you know what caused the chronic loneliness to develop in the first place, it can be easy to backtrack and decipher some method of resolution.