For those that suffer from anxiety disorders, especially agoraphobia or panic disorders, loneliness can be very real, even when the isolation is self-imposed. Many people with panic disorder will avoid situations for fear of having a panic attack in public. Those with agoraphobia (the fear of being in a situation or place where escape is not possible or would be difficult or embarrassing) may impose a self-isolation, remaining at home in order to avoid the fear associated with this disorder.
The holiday season, for many, is full of parties, events and social gatherings. Those with fears that keep them close to home can feel an intense loneliness during this time of year. Symptoms of their anxiety can keep them from family and other social events, making them feel daily the pain of not being able to participate in activities.
What is Loneliness?
Almost everyone feel lonely at one time or another in his or her life. It is the feeling of being disconnected from other people or the feeling of being isolated. Those recovering from a broken relationship, the loss of a friendship or the death of a loved one may intensely feel loneliness during the first weeks or months after the loss. For these people, feelings of loneliness will usually dissipate as they go through the grieving process.
One definition for loneliness is "dejected by the awareness of being alone." Loneliness occurs when we feel no one understands or we do not have the support we feel we need.
The Difference Between Being Alone and Being Lonely
For those with anxiety, feelings of loneliness can permeate every part of their life. Even when surrounded by family and friends, someone with agoraphobia or panic disorder can feel lonely. They may feel as if no one understands, they may feel different, they may feel as if they are "defective." All of these feelings can lead to feeling lonely, even when surrounded by people.
Being alone, which is being somewhere without other people, is not the same as being lonely. There are many times in life we can be content with being alone without feeling sadness or depression because of it. When we are alone, we can still feel connected to others. Loneliness is a much deeper feeling; it is a feeling of not belonging. As human beings, we all crave that connection to another person; loneliness is lacking those human connections.
Physical and Emotional Problems Associated with Loneliness
There are some specific psychological and physical problems that have been linked to loneliness:
- Increase in anxiety symptoms
- Substance abuse
- Increase in stress levels
- Low self-esteem
- Increased blood pressure
Some people with chronic or pervasive loneliness will avoid going to the doctor for medical care, causing illnesses to go undetected and untreated. Studies also show they have a lower satisfaction with life and overall feelings of well being.
Ways to Cope with Loneliness
- Since loneliness comes from a feeling of being disconnected with others, the first step to coping with loneliness is to reach out to others. This can be by calling a friend or relative you haven't spoken with or joining an online support group. (Here at AnxietyConnection, you can reach out by answering share posts submitted by others or posting your own story to share with others.)
- Make sure you are receiving treatment for your anxiety. If agoraphobia or panic attacks are part of the cause of your feelings of isolation, talk with a medical professional and seek out treatment. Many people are able to live full and satisfying lives with anxiety with the proper treatment.
- Join activities based on your interests. No matter what your interests are, you are sure to find activities or classes in your area that match. Taking an evening class, go to a holiday concert, take a music or art class at a local studio, volunteer for something you believe in. When you join activities based on your interests, you are more apt to meet other people that share at least one interest with you. You can begin to build connections, one at a time.
- Join a support group. Many localities have support groups listed in the local newspapers. Check out the paper to see if there is a support group in your area. Go to a few meetings, you may find that you can open up when you are in an environment where no one will judge you and accepts you for who you are.
- Embrace being alone. Being alone can have its rewards. Accept the times you are alone and nurture yourself and your needs.
Loneliness. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved December 04, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/loneliness
Hawkley, Louise C. & Cacioppo, John T. (2002). Loneliness and Pathways to Disease. Institute for Mind and Biology, University of Chicago.
Published On: December 08, 2009