Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression

 

At this time, loneliness stands out as the social problem it's always been, even though it's been hidden. Where does loneliness come from and what are its elements?

Loneliness is different from solitude, or alone time (we sometimes crave these things). Loneliness is a discomfort about being by ourselves which is often deeply emotional, almost like intense grieving.

We might look to our human history and evolution for an answer to this intense loneliness. Humans are social animals designed to exist in large-ish groups. This is not just important for our emotional health but for our very survival.

To our inner caveperson, (remembering we have only been civilised for a few thousand years), being alone makes us vulnerable to physical danger. We might have been rejected by the group and so are at risk from predators, starvation and/or thirst. This is at the root of our innate fear of rejection. Social ineptitude (innate or acquired) can lead to rejection, and so not being socially adept, or bring shy, can appear to our unconscious not only as a social issue but as a threat to our very survival.

Our innate urge to partner and relate is also crucial. Loneliness often happens after break ups and the pain of it can induce trust issues, affecting our future relationships.

Fear of judgement can also be at the root of it. You are judged wanting and the tribe has cast you out to survive as best you can. A few thousand years ago, being shunned in this way would have been a death sentence. Religion attempted to eradicate this, but in some cases only ended up inventing its own form of shunning. Sometimes you just can't win.

Loneliness is often brief and could be thought of as normal, say in the case of relationship break-up. But long, endemic or extended periods of loneliness can result in physical and emotional illness and even a shortening of the life span. It's important to take action.

So, what can you do?

Be honest

Suggestions

  • Be honest about your loneliness and ask another for connection. It's hard but you can do it.
  • I've been feeling lonely lately. Can I buy you Coffee and have a chat?
  • Adopt an attitude of generosity and unconditional positive regard towards others
  • Identify what is it about your loneliness that is most challenging

Do you feel vulnerable when you're alone?

Suggestions

  • Remember that humans are designed to exist in social groups
  • Improve security in your home, have someone to call in an emergency as well as 000
  • Form an alliance with your neighbours to watch out for each other.

Are you afraid of disapproval?

Is your inner critic telling you "I'm too fat/thin/shy/loud?"

Suggestion

  • Make it a project to overcome your fear of rejection. It takes courage to step outside that loneliness bubble. People are kind, and usually, your fear will not be realised. If it is, then that mean, judgmental person is the one who needs to take a good look at themselves - not you. You have the moral high ground. Or give them the benefit of the doubt. They might be going through a tough time too (still, no excuse for being rude).

Do you miss physical touch?

This is so crucial for humans.

Suggestions

  • Book a regular massage, even a ten-minute shoulders and neck rub) (Covid permitting)
  • Give yourself a good hug several times a day (your unconscious can't tell the difference and will release the hug hormone Oxytocin anyway).

Do you miss conversation?

Suggestions

  • Listen to talk radio (not podcasts but people talking in real time). Perhaps you'll get up the courage to call on and join in on the conversation.
  • Have a proper talk to another dog owner on your walk. If you haven't got a dog, pat someone else's dog and introduce yourself. Dogs are great icebreakers.
  • Join something, our volunteer. Your local community information centre will have dozens of organisations that would love a new member.

Summing up

Again, reaching out takes courage. Reward yourself for your efforts with verbal self-praise and a smiley face in your journal or a chart on the fridge.

In your journal, identify everything that gives your life meaning, and I mean everything, animal, vegetable or mineral. Don't leave anything off. Wine and chocolate can give your life meaning in the right context and a sensible amount. If it’s a problem, get help.

I don't suggest making a list of ways in which you could improve yourself. You're okay just the way you are. Self-improvement is an Oxymoron. You might have issues to work through, but they don't take away from your value as a person.

Finally, make friends with your inner caveperson, who is probably panicky about you being on your own with no fellow humans to protect you. After all, even one other human being gives you a 50-50 chance against the tiger so be easy on yourself and reassure yourself frequently that you are safe.

If loneliness is making you question whether you want to be here at all, then please reach out. A recent study of suicide survivors showed that 9 out of 10 survivors were happy they didn't succeed and did not go on to make another attempt. A list of numbers is below. Or ask professional help through your GP.

Even though you might feel alone in a crowd, you are not alone in your pain. Take the first step towards relief from loneliness, talk to someone.

  • Emergency Services  000
  • SUICIDE Line 1300 651251
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 576
  • LIFELINE (24-hour crisis counselling) 13 11 14
  • Mental Health Foundation of Australia - Mental Health Helpline1300 643 287
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 576
  • Drug and Alcohol Clinical Advisory Services1800 812 804
  • Eating Disorders Victoria 1300 550 236
  • Gamblers Help Line Victoria 1800 858 858
  • Grief Line (Support for grieving adults and children) (03) 9935 7400
  • Headspace 1800 650 890
  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
  • Maternal and Child Health Line 13 2229
  • PaNDa Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia 1300 726 306
  • Mensline Australia 1300 789 978
  • Respect (Victims of physical or sexual abuse) 1800 737 732
  • Sane Australia Helpline 1800 187 263
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