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All the people that deal with it

Loneliness. It is something I have had to deal with all my life. In this, however, I am not alone. Loneliness is something millions of people grapple with every day. Some might even argue that every single person on this planet battles loneliness at one point or another. Loneliness should not be a stigma. You are not alone. 

How it feels to me

To me, loneliness feels like a sudden onslaught of self-doubt; voices coming from everywhere, in a low whisper of, “I’m not good enough,” quickly followed by successively louder shouts of “I’ll never be good enough.” This onslaught of self-doubt is followed by looking outward. I see a clear, glossy world. It feels like I’m in a room with four clear glass walls and everyone outside is talking, dancing, laughing, happy — enough. 

Experiences that can add to it

For me, moving around a lot growing up, in addition to being naturally shy in social settings where I don’t know many people, has contributed to my loneliness. For others, factors such as bullying, family pressure, societal pressures, and social media can add to isolation. The list is endless. As with most things in life, I believe loneliness is caused in part by both nature and nurture. Some people are more naturally introverted/extroverted, both of which can feed into loneliness. Some people are forced into more isolation based on the places they have grown up and the way they have been treated by the people around them. 

Who can feel lonely? Everyone. Loneliness is both physical and circumstantial.

I used to think that you could only be alone if you were physically isolated from others. I’d imagine that little girl from Taylor Swift’s “Mean” music video, wearing a tutu and sitting alone in a bathroom stall while the other little ballerinas twirled around without her. But then I realized, though this is still true, there are countless ways to be isolated. In the Robin Williams film World’s Greatest Dad, his character says, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” This is to say, physical isolation is not the only contributing factor to loneliness. One may be in a room full of friends and family and still feel alone. Additionally, one may also feel lonely for no outwardly apparent reason. Everyone’s situation is completely unique, and everyone is capable of feeling isolated. 

Statistics (You’re Not Alone)

In loneliness, I am not alone, and nor is anyone else. Recent surveys conducted by Cigna estimate that “Nearly half of Americans always or sometimes feel alone (46%) or left out (47%). Fully 54% said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Loneliness isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon.” While there is an argument to be made that our generation’s use of social media platforms has socially isolated us, forcing many to form ‘fake’ bonds over screens, and this can often contribute to loneliness, this is not the only contributing factor. Additionally, according to a 2017 report prepared for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, other factors contribute to a rise in loneliness among the general population. For example, In 1974, a third of Americans spent time socially with their neighbors several times a week. Now, only 19% do.

Medically Harmful

Most people think of loneliness as an exclusively mental problem, but this is not true. Loneliness can be physically harmful. It can lead to conditions such as sleep disorders, depression, Type 2 diabetes, etc. Loneliness can also cause one to turn to other unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overconsumption of food. There have even been studies showing that those who are less lonely live longer than those who live or feel alone. You can find more information on the physical effects of loneliness here.

How to ‘fix it’ — it can’t be fixed for everyone 

So, if loneliness is so prevalent and harmful mentally and physically, how do we fix it? The unfortunate news is, there is no easy fix. Every individual’s circumstances are unique, and so there are unique ways to help each person. However, here are some methods to try which might prove effective: improving your social skills/boosting your confidence (perhaps with the help of a therapist); trying to surround yourself with good people that care about you, if you can; telling someone how isolated you feel; trying to form better, healthier relationships. Loneliness is difficult, and for some of us, there is no cure. Like many painful things in life, it is just something we have to deal with — alone. 

Whether or not you experience loneliness, you should try to go the extra step that most people won’t take. If you see someone who looks lonely, take the extra effort to reach out to them. I know this might not be “cool” or seem scary, but if you do, you could improve someone’s day. Just a little extra effort on your part could go a long way for someone else.

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