Loneliness, a modern age malady, is increasingly taking the shape of an epidemic

Loneliness a modern age malady

Increasingly, the people across the world are feeling isolated and alone. These lonely people perceive the world differently. They feel lonely in a wide range of social circumstances. Lonely people may have a large number of friends, but often these friendships are superficial and lacking in meaningful intimacy and trust. They never feel close to them, or they may not even like to speak to their so-called friends. The epidemic of loneliness is a product of modern ways of thinking about the self and society.

As we all know, there has been a sharp fall in family togetherness, with children spending far less time with their parents, and much less face-to-face interaction. Much of this loss may be attributed to the increased popularity of social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and other remote means of communication. While appearing to be tightly connected on social media, many people actually feel disconnected from others. For them, TV and their dog and cats are the main sources of company and entertainment. When the pet dies, the problem of loneliness is further aggravated. Odd as it may seem, the lonely often do not feel like talking to anybody

Loneliness is becoming a widespread phenomenon throughout the world, especially in developed nations.  A study by The Economist, published in September 2018, using a sample survey, found that 22% of adults in the USA, 23% in Britain, and about 9% in Japan always or often feel lonely or lacking in companionship; they also feel “left out” or “isolated.”

Unfortunately, recent figures in respect to India are not available. The last survey of the National Sample Survey Office conducted in 2004 reported that about 4.91 million people in India were living alone. Another finding released in April 2017 revealed that 12% of Indian youth reported feeling depressed often, and 8% said they felt lonely quite frequently. The incidences of loneliness have definitely increased sharply in recent years due to rapid changes in modern society.

Not even the younger generation — including school age and college students — have escaped from this fast-spreading sickness. While elderly parents are left alone in their home, the children who were brought up under caring environment are becoming lonely as not enough attention is now being paid to them. Digital media is distracting them from their studies. When they feel alone, they tend to use mobiles more often and so end up spending more time on digital platforms. Though they are always surrounded by numerous colleagues, they feel isolated from them. They are becoming lonelier even than the older generation. Loneliness in that generation is often associated with compulsive technology use, smoking, and excessive use of alcohol and drugs. For them, family functions, weddings, vacations, and impromptu gatherings may even increase their feeling of being left out, or their dissatisfaction with life. 

Loneliness is emerging as one of the most challenging public-health problems. Accompanying the empty feeling of loneliness are acute sadness and depression, along with irritability and self-centredness.  People experiencing loneliness are more likely to suffer from sleep problems. According to one study, loneliness may raise the risk of heart attack by more than 40. Another study conducted in 2010 by Brigham Young University found that loneliness shortens a person’s lifespan by 15 years, about the same impacts as being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

One mega analysis of 2015, that pooled data from 70 different studies following 3.4 million people over seven years, found that lonely individuals had a 26% higher risk of dying. This figure rose to 32% if they lived alone. They are even more likely to suffer from cognitive decline in old age. Unfortunately, younger generation is also leaving those lonely people at their own mercy. They are rarely interested to give them company for some time.  Ironically, more and more people of all ages are feeling socially isolated. Other than business and social gatherings, people generally don’t love to meet others in person. They somehow believe that they are short of time. This is how, the problem of loneliness is aggravating.

Loneliness is only because of our mindset how we perceive and interpret life’s conditions. Loneliness is nothing but unpleasant emotions, the state of mind. The following 3 things are  essential to avoid loneliness in life. 

1. Nurture meaningful relationships: True happiness comes with social relationships, especially when we are truly connected with our close friends and family members. In fact, the close ones often prove to be the ones who genuinely help us in overcoming stress, adversity, or even tragedy. Likewise, they can really rejoice in our moments of joy, fortune and happiness! True wealth comes from such relationships. A long-term, loving and trusting partnership also makes people’s lives really worth living.

2. Develop and nurture few passions: Those who have passions and interests to follow, they can’t experience boredom and loneliness in life. There may be brief moments when such people may experience unpleasant emotions but they will never develop chronic conditions of boredom and loneliness. Each one of us must, sooner the later, develop at least 2-3 passions. Greater the interest or passion, the happier we are while performing that activity.

When we are listening to our favourite music, painting on canvas, practicing dance with our instructor, playing games of our choice, running on a treadmill, or being engrossed in conversation with a friend on any hotly debated topic, time seems to fly.  People can forget that they are hungry or even tired when they are absorbed in interesting activities.  Even we have seen people lost completely when they are listening ‘Gurbani’ in Gurudwara, kirtan or sermons in temples, perform ‘namaz/salat’ in masjid.

3. Pursue mindfulness: we can’t simply feel boredom or be lonely if we are present on the moment. We can’t be unhappy if we are focused on certain activity of our interest. The reason is that our mind’s wandering reduces significantly when we are busy in some interesting activity. When we are experiencing boredom and loneliness, our mind is not in the ‘present’ but on wandering mode. This is what mindfulness is, to observe whatever is happening inside our mind or around us in non-judgmental way. Meaning thereby, we shouldn’t react but to watch and respond, as situation demands.

Learn to stay in solitude: Most of us find it extremely difficult to stay in solitude, all alone in a room or home. We hate to spend even few minutes alone somewhere. We all are conditioned to remain busy. We continue to arrange some task or the other to do when we have nothing else. We don’t like to enjoy our own company. We don’t love to silently observe our own thoughts. Sitting all alone in a room and observing our own stream of thoughts or our breathing is a dreadful prospect or experience for many of us.

So, to avoid such situations, we keep ourselves busy. Doing nothing is far more difficult than doing something. Now the question arises how to learn to stay in solitude, without any work or how to do nothing, the answer lies in mindfulness. By practicing meditation, we can easily stay alone and start enjoying our own thoughts/company.  

Take away: No one will dispute that the world is becoming healthier, we in general are far more fit compare to what we were 2-3 decades back. Life expectancy has increased, we are living longer. It’s true that no one dies from loneliness. But these new age maladies are leading to other far serious illnesses. Chronic boredom and loneliness increase depression, anxiety, psychological distress, heart diseases and so on. SO, this is how these new age maladies affecting quality of old age and longevity. There are no medicines to take care of these ailments as they arise from our mind. We must learn how to manage our thoughts especially when we face adverse and challenging situations in life

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