Loneliness Can Kill Your Brain. Here’s How to Prevent That.
We live in the age of super connectivity. We can learn about cultures across a continent with a click, and connect with people sitting in thousands of miles away through a device. Isn’t it ironic then, that one of the most pervasive global epidemic of our age is called ‘loneliness’?
Loneliness is the feeling of being unloved, unaided, and vulnerable. One may think that such feelings only come to those who are in isolation, or away from people. But studies and data increasingly suggest that it is more of an experience than a situation – you can feel unloved and invisible even in close proximity of other people. What it means, therefore, is a lack of meaningful social bonds and relationships.
Now, we all have experienced loneliness at some point of our lives. What’s the big deal? There’s evidence that a prolonged state of loneliness can deeply affect your brain.
It can trigger mental health disorders like Depression, Anxiety, Bi-polar Disorders, and eating disorders. Loneliness is also being recognized as a sure-fire way of developing Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in old age.
Loneliness literally eats away at your brain. It is important therefore to understand and prevent it.
Why do our brain hates being lonely so much?
Let’s be clear, spending some time alone when you are willing to do so is NOT loneliness; that can in fact be beneficial. The problems arise when we don’t have meaningful social relationships and bonds in place.
The global culture today is focused on individuals, yet humans are social mammals as a species. We are evolutionarily wired to seek out other people and form communities, because in the beginning of human history our very survival depended on banding together. The human society may have changed much since then, but the human biology remains the same.
That is why the lack of sufficient social connections and community engagement produces feelings of vulnerability and anxiety in us, and these feelings can seriously damage your brain. The lonelier we feel, the harder it becomes to cope with day-to-day life and excel in life.
How to prevent succumbing to loneliness
No one can make friends or have a family on demand. But it is possible to manage the feelings of loneliness and vulnerability.
Schedule time for meeting friends and family
it may seem laughable to schedule time for something that come naturally, but our busy lives often makes it difficult to maintain regular social interactions and we do not even notice when people fall out of our lives. So mark it on your schedule, literally. Make it a weekly or monthly ritual, set up appointments and reminders. This will teach your brain to treat social engagement as seriously as work.
Try to include as many shared meals as possible in your daily life. If you live with family, take dinner together. If you live alone, go out to eat or invite friends over for a couple of meals every week. Food is a wonderful socializing tool and conversation grease. Also, the act of cooking and/or feeding people always provides a positive high.
Help other people
This is not just good civic practice, helping other people has a profound effect on your brain that helps to counter much of the negative effects of stress and loneliness. Take every opportunity to be helpful, to friends and family and even to strangers. Helpful deeds signal community engagement to your brain and helps control feelings of isolation.
Spend time alone
This may seem counterproductive, but taking some alone time off each day is actually beneficial for alleviating overall feelings of loneliness. When we are too overwhelmed by work, technology, or deadlines, stopping for a while and giving time to quiet reflection helps slow you down, reconnect with your own self, and consider what’s meaningful for you. This helps raise the quality of your everyday social interactions.
Start a hobby
Creative expression is always a good way to manage emotions, and starting a hobby can be great for your mental health that way. It gives you time for knowing yourself and helps articulate your thoughts, thereby reducing feelings of being misunderstood or ignored.
Join group activities for relaxation
Include group activities in your out-of-work routine. Join a gym for your daily workout. Take public transport for daily commute. Join a language class. Many of these activities are available on apps these days, but doing them with other people gives you a great opportunity to engage in meaningful and purposeful social interactions.
Loneliness can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be. Certain tweaks to your daily routine can ensure your brain stays healthy and secure. Why not make those changes?