The Emptiness Of Loneliness!
An Electronic Mental Health Newsletter from Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. & Associates
Volume 13, Number 11
The month is November and Thanksgiving is next week. The “biggest sales” of the year have already started and are ongoing. Yet many mental health issues also increase during the holiday season. Are we taking care of ourselves and others? Have we lost the importance of expressing gratitude for our health and for our relationships? Have we replaced gratitude with materialistic consumption?
Only you can answer those questions for yourself.
Despite what we see in the media, there are many people who do care about the less fortunate…those who don’t have a family, a home, or a meal. These caring individuals need to be celebrated and be the role models for others. In our society, many, many people have been the victims of violence as well as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Many of us reach out and help them but they must not be overlooked during these times. Those who put aside their daily lives to reach out to help the less fortunate not only in times of need but at all times need to be celebrated as repairing the world not tearing it down.
This time of the year is also a time of loneliness for many people and we have decided to focus this month’s E-Letter on that topic. During the holiday season, many people feel empty and lonely. The incivility, narcissism, and hatred in our society only makes these feelings worse. One can busy themselves and be around people but still feel lonely. One can be in a couple’s relationship and still feel lonely. One can busy themselves with work and tasks yet still feel lonely. Loneliness is a state of mind where people feel isolated, unwanted, ignored, and unimportant. It often leads to alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. It can affect your immune system and even lead to susceptibility to Alzheimer’s Disease. Read more about The Emptiness of Loneliness! below.
We thank you for reading our E-Letters and for the suggestions and comments we have received. Downloads of handouts from our previous E-Letters can be found on our website, https://kimmelpsychology.com/e-letters/. We invite you to read and download them.
THE EMPTINESS OF LONELINESS!
(Photo Credit Anthony Tran)
Have you ever felt lonely or unwanted? Have you ever felt unimportant and uncared for? Do you think that everyone else is much happier than you and are enjoying their lives? These feelings and thoughts are very characteristic of loneliness. We all feel lonely at different times as it is a normal human emotion. However, people can stay stuck in their loneliness, turning inward rather than outward, attempting to overcome this emotion. Doing so leads to depression, isolation, immobility, and medical problems.
Loneliness is an unpleasant emotion where people feel isolated, unwanted, unimportant, and unconnected to others. They tend to be pessimistic, depressed and anxious. Being around other people does not cure loneliness but can help. Loneliness can be felt even when married, surrounded by other people, or part of a team. Technically, loneliness has been defined as an unpleasant emotion that happens when a person has deficient or no relationships at all.
Social media does not cure loneliness. Having many, many friends does not insure that these are real relationships. In fact, more and more research is demonstrating that social media use can actually increase loneliness, especially if “friends” seems to be enjoying their lives and your posts are not being liked. A true friend will show caring and interest in you and see you in person.
There are several causes of loneliness. One may have had a lonely childhood where they were not given a lot of attention by parents and siblings leading to a perception of not being worthy. Loneliness may also be a symptom as well as a catalyst for mental health issues such as persistent depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Divorce and other relationship breakups reflect a loss and can cause a great deal of perceived hurt. The death of a loved one and the consequent change in one’s life can cause a lot of hurt and withdrawal and avoidance of all social contact. Loneliness can also occur from moving away from a familiar community or job to a new one leading to homesickness, worry, and resentment. Twin studies have also indicated that genetics can play a part in loneliness.
People who are lonely can become depressed and is a risk factor for suicidal behavior. There is also a high correlation between alcoholism and loneliness. Poor sleep quality, general fatigue, and weight gain are all associated with being lonely. Those who perceive that they have been through situations that others haven’t such as veterans or the survivors of mass shootings feel different and can withdraw into themselves. In children, loneliness can lead to destructive and antisocial behavior. A characteristic of adolescent school shooters is that they felt ostracized from others and did not have any true friends.
Chronic loneliness has also been found to be associated with increased vulnerability to stroke and cardiovascular disease. Research has shown that loneliness causes an increase in obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. It has also been associated with impaired cellular immunity leading to a decreased immune system and susceptibility to many viruses. Being lonely can actually lower your body temperature and can be a precursor of Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the most effective cures for loneliness is psychotherapy where the focus is on changing a person’s negative thoughts and perceptions about themselves and their social world. Being able to establish a relationship with a therapist and recognizing that one is not alone is a good start. Emphasis is put on new positive thoughts and finding ways for people to make and maintain social connections. Group therapy also can be quite effective in connecting with others and establishing a support system. Animal-assisted therapy or having the companionship of a pet or emotional support animal can be extremely effective in reducing loneliness and depression.
Another suggestion to overcoming loneliness includes talking to others, even strangers. Say something to people you come into contact with like cashiers, food servers, and sales people. Connecting with others is the goal of reducing feelings of loneliness. Get together with friends rather than text or message them online. Seeing them in person can get those endorphins flowing. Reach out to connect with neighbors and co-workers. They don’t need to be best friends but reaching out connects you. Consider doing volunteer work or community service as one can have personal fulfillment as well as meet others with similar values. Be optimistic and expect interest, warmth, and friendliness from new people that you meet. The overall goal is to connect with others and feel engaged in social activities.
We offer the following information on The Emptiness of Loneliness! This information can be downloaded as a handout at https://kimmelpsychology.com/e-letters/.
THE EMPTINESS OF LONELINESS!
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been…Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door… Who is it for?
All the lonely people … Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people … Where do they all belong?
WHAT TO KNOW!
- Loneliness is not just being alone; it is a state of mind where people feel isolated, unwanted, empty, unimportant, anxious, and depressed
- Loneliness can occur even when you are surrounded by people
- A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania found that decreasing social media use led to a decrease in feelings of depression and loneliness and improvement in well-being
- In 2010, 40% or Americans reported feeling lonely regularly
- It is also estimated that 40% of people will feel lonely at some point in their lives
- About 60% of people feel lonely in their marriage
- Loneliness can be temporary due to environmental factors or can be chronic due to personality characteristics or a mental disorder
- Loneliness is highly correlated with alcoholism, depression, poor sleep, isolation, weight gain, and anxiety
- It increases the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease as well as disease progression because of impaired cellular immunity due to isolation
- Lonely people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease
- Loneliness is subjective: even though you may have friends, you may feel disconnected
- Loneliness can make you actually feel physically colder
- Despite having a large social network, people can still feel lonely as it is the quality of the connection that matters
- Loneliness has been described as “social pain” when people are detached from others
- Loneliness can be caused by a relationship break up, move to a new location, isolation, divorce, grief, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and depression
- In children, loneliness is linked to antisocial behavior including hostility, delinquency, and violent acting-out
- Individual therapy, group therapy, and animal-assisted therapy can be very effective in eliminating feelings of loneliness
- Emotional support animals such as cats, dogs, and horses can be very effective in decreasing loneliness and depression
WHAT TO DO!
- Recognize when you are lonely and that you need to be active to feel better
- Understand that loneliness can affect you emotionally and also physically
- Talk to others including strangers as connecting with others can cause good feelings
- Interact with people in person rather than online which will boost endorphins
- Push yourself to talk regularly with neighbors and co-workers
- Volunteer for community service where you can meet other people with similar interests
- Join a book club, attend discussions or lectures, work out at a gym
- Focus on positive thoughts and attitudes and be upbeat around others
- Seek professional help if you cannot overcome your feelings of loneliness, depression, pessimism, and social anxiety
WE CAN HELP!
Call us at 954 755-2885 or email us at info@KimmelPsychology.com
Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D. P.A. and Associates
5551 N University Drive, Suite 202
Coral Springs FL 33067
Copyright © 2018 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D.
Dr. K’s Blog
November 18, 2018
Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting, over dinner, a Holocaust survivor who spent three years in Auschwitz. A friendly and outgoing individual, Morris is more than 90 years old and in very good health. His cognitive abilities were great and he easily spoke about his life. He detailed his experiences including showing his tattooed arm and what it was like being liberated. He said that he spends a lot of time talking to students in school and enjoys opening their eyes to his experiences with the message of “Never Again”. One wonders and I am often asked, how can these survivors enjoy life after what they have been through? Aren’t they filled with hate?
Was it a coincidence that I met him on Kristallnacht? Who knows? I told him that I had visited that death camp many times and perhaps that was the one of the things that bonded us. There was a genuine warmth and good feelings making this connection. Having had a horrific childhood, he now lives on his own but is he lonely or bitter? Not a chance. He has found a purpose which adds meaning to his life.
This is a man who took the worst and turned it into the best for himself.
A lesson for us all.
October 20, 2018
Unfortunately, politics has been good for my business. While I believe that few people have sought treatment because of being upset about politics, there is not one patient I have who has not talked or made comments about politicians. It seems to me that people are angry, scared, and worried about the future. Rightly or wrongly so, their emotional states have escalated and they report feelings of powerless. The question of what can I do is followed by a shrug of the shoulders and a reluctant acceptance of the current situation.
Ironically, as a psychologist, I work to empower my patients with new ways of thinking and behaving to resolve their problems and deescalate their negative feelings. We work towards avoiding harmful, negative situations and learning how to handle them when they occur. We model respect for ourselves and for others. We develop strategies to deal with difficult people and situations and develop ways to handle the anxiety, anger, and frustration.
The current political and societal climate have given us a lot to work with.
September 21, 2018
Like many others I have spoken to and have heard, I am appalled by the lack of decency and respect in our society today. I believe that this is a bigger problem than just politics where much of it comes from. What are the messages we teach each other and our children? What will the future be like if we cannot trust or respect each other? What values do we live by and how can we feel secure in a world where the main entertainment is winning or getting the better of the other guy? I believe this is a time when all of us need to evaluate our own values and behaviors and determine whether we are contributing to the collapse of decency and respect. We all need to decide how we want to live and relate to each other.
It is also the time that each of us individually need to take the responsibility of bettering society by how we live and by being an example of respect and decency. We cannot wait for society’s leaders and influencers to set an example because they haven’t yet and probably won’t. It is my belief that only each of us can repair the world in our way.
Be kind and respectful to others. Hold the door and say please and thank you. Smile at others. Cooperate and help those who need it all the time not just in times of illness or catastrophes. Think of others not just ourselves. Be charitable and see others not as competitors but also trying to make their way in the world. Refrain from watching or listening to rabble-rousers as well as television shows or movies that degrade your values. Let others know that disrespect and indecency will not be accepted. Be a leader and not a follower.
If not now, when?
July 19, 2018
Recently I decided to do an experiment to put more balance in my life. Since I frequently talk to many people, I wanted to see if I could go a day without speaking to no more than three people. Would I be successful? The answer was yes and I was surprised and gratified. I went to the beach by myself prepared to snack, read, and listen to music. The weather in the morning and early afternoon was perfect. Just before the crowds descended upon the beach, I left having spent several hours under an umbrella in the sun. What serenity to have the day to myself to do what I wanted to do and I did. I made the time to relax, left all my responsibilities behind, and did not have to listen to or talk to anyone. I did however speak to both of my adult children but that was it for the day. I watched the fireworks through the rain while listening to music on the car radio. The day was just what I needed.
My typical day is filled with responsibilities. I have deep, emotional conversations with multiple people every day. In addition, there are always things that need to be done at home and in the office. There are phone calls to answer, chores that need to be done, and plans made for the next day or week. I often feel like I am doing a lot just to keep up, doing what needs to be done. But researching a balanced life led me to thinking and the above experiment.
I think it is hard to understand a balanced life until one actually experiences it. If you feel like your life just consists of things that need to be done, consider taking a day off and experiencing a balanced life. Maybe you will change your life to have more fun and relaxation and pursue the activities that you want to do not have to do.
June 14, 2018
I have just recovered from a cold. Like many of us, I suffered with congestion, runny nose, a cough, and difficulty sleeping. Fortunately, it did not last long after following my doctor’s advice. But it made me think of how lucky we are to usually be in good health. We often take that for granted as we busy ourselves with our responsibilities and activities. Once we are sick, we realize how debilitating colds can be. We have to cancel appointments, suffer with discomfort, and just wait until we get better.
Being sick made me truly appreciate how good it is to be healthy. I have always taken steps to be healthy…eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. I spray disinfectant after sick patients come to the office and wash my hands multiple times during the day. But the truth is, despite doing our best, we get sick and have to rest up until it passes.
We take our good health for granted and do not focus enough on maintaining it. It is important to recognize that good health is not a gift. It is dependent upon what we do, what we eat, what we drink, how we sleep, what drugs we put in our bodies, and how we work.
Maybe by getting sick, we get refocused on living a healthy lifestyle and being conscious of all that we do.
May 21, 2018
Just as predicted, another school shooting happened. This time in Texas. Ten more lost their lives by an angry and probably mentally ill young man. Again parents, family, and a community grieve because there have been no significant changes. When the tragedies happen, we band together supporting each other and demanding change. Then everything quiets down and people become passive waiting for the elections, for the internal review reports, or for the notoriously slow legal system to take action. This passivity needs to be challenged and the marching must continue for there to be effective change.
Years ago, I remember when there were the post office and workplace shootings that occurred because of disgruntled employees who believed they were harmed in some way. Today, it seems like there are disgruntled students who put such low value on human life, that they go into their schools to kill. When will this stop?
The killing will stop not when there are changes in the gun laws. The killings will stop when politicians and society recognize that mental illness is a causative factor in these murders. Not all people who have a mental disorder are dangerous yet there are those who are just so angry, so disillusioned, so disenfranchised, so isolated that they somehow see killing others as acceptable.
The signs are often there but ignored because mental illness is not taken seriously in our society. These people need to be identified early before they reach the point of rage and act out. They need to be understood and treated so that these tragedies can be prevented before they happen. These individuals need to be defused of their anger and connected to others so that they do not isolate.
We need to march not only for a change in gun laws but also for a change in how we deal with mental illness before another tragedy occurs.
April 20, 2018
It has now been over two months since the terrible tragedy that happened at Stoneman Douglas. School and routines have resumed but people are not the same. A profound sadness is still upon the community and it will take a long time to overcome the anger and grief, if ever. But most people I have spoken to want to resume their lives.
Town hall meetings and gun violence protests occur frequently and rightly so. Hopefully changes will be made to protect and ensure the safety of our society. However, it seems that little attention has been paid to those individuals who are mentally or characterologically ill. History has shown us that these types of individuals will continue to act out against society and will find the means to do so.
We must as a society find ways to help these people and get them connected so that they are not isolated and angry. Early identification of behavioral or emotional problems can help these individuals before their anger and resentment grow into acting out behaviors against society. This is not just a suggestion; this is a necessity.
We very well may be looking at a mental health epidemic. Combine this with the availability of weapons is a recipe for disaster. Just providing money to have more counselors at schools or to failed mental health clinics is not enough. Just as we would with a medical illness, we need to have mental health tools, quality training of therapists, and research-based screening programs to identify and help those individuals at risk before they escalate.
The time has come. Mental illness needs to be recognized as an epidemic and treated and not hidden because of stigma or not being an exciting topic for the media. Guns do kill people but people pull the trigger.
January 20, 2018
During the past year, many of my patients have come to their sessions angry about politics. It doesn’t matter what party they belong to or whether they are right-leaning, left-leaning, or centrist, they are all angry and frustrated. They feel powerless and worry about the future of our country and of themselves. Perhaps, rightly so. Many hours have been spent in conversation attempting to reduce their anger and to focus on their daily lives.
One of the suggestions that have come out of our discussions seems to work. That is, to reduce or eliminate the number of hours spent watching the news on television or listening to it on the radio. It doesn’t matter what network you watch or listen to. All of them seem intent on stirring up feelings of unfairness and anger but offer no solutions. I guess the ultimate goal is to get watchers or listeners glued to their stations. Perhaps this is a media addiction. Yet there is no high but only worry and anger.
I recently read an article about a self-imposed news blackout by Christopher Hebert, an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee, in the January 18 edition of The Guardian. The following is an excerpt:
Ignorance is far easier than I thought. I finish two or three audiobooks a week. I read novels instead of newspapers. Five months into my blackout, I’m happier than I ever was back in the days when I was informed. My fingernails are growing back. The sleeping pills remain in the bottle. I’m getting more work done. My family comes home at the end of the day to find me smiling, chopping things for dinner without my old vegicidal rage. And yet, part of me can’t stop feeling guilty about feeling good.
Perhaps, this is one solution to the anger and frustration of a media news addiction.
December 18, 2017
Today, a patient of mine told me that his daughters were graduating from college in a few months. I was surprised to realize and remember how fast time passes. I know that it does but was nevertheless surprised. It seemed like it was just yesterday, that we were discussing their separating and leaving home for college. We spent many sessions discussing being an empty nester and the changes and opportunities it brings.
Time is relative in that it seems like some moments go on forever and some go so quickly that if we blink we miss them. Life just seems to happen while we are waiting for whatever we are waiting for. While we are looking at what we don’t have and didn’t do, we miss out on what we did do and the wonderful experiences that we did have. I think the answer lies in living in the moment. Taking in as much as we can, both good and bad, is the best we can do.
I recently saw a friend of mine who was depressed about turning 70. We talked and I tried to get him to see that age was just a number and how he viewed that number would determine his mood. I don’t think I got very far trying to convince him that he was not old and was still vital and helpful to so many people. Maybe it sunk in.
For myself, I have been practicing mindfulness and trying to live in the moment. I am looking for stillness and sometimes am successful. I try to use all my senses in savoring the moment and some simple experiences defy description in their beauty. Yet reality and our society seem to have a way of intruding so that stress and worry are created. I look at mindfulness and appreciating natural beauty as the antidote to the constant troubling news and feeling of powerless generated by politicians, news people, and other media types.
The past year has been difficult in some ways yet I have had some wonderful experiences with my family and friends. None of us knows what the new year brings for us but I am determined to enjoy as much of it as I can. It will take work and discipline and sacrifice and commitment. But what is the alternative?
November 18. 2017
On Thursday nights, I take a restorative yoga class. This class is not a typical yoga class. Rather, it is more of a meditation and relaxation class. Guided by the instructor while in postures of relaxation, I find myself letting go and truly relaxing from the business of the week. In fact, when the class is over, few yogis want to leave and “I needed that” is frequently heard.
Although I have been trained in relaxation techniques and use them with some patients, it is hard for me to actually relax. Taking this class has allowed me to experience in some way what my patients experience. True relaxation necessitates the ability to let go; something most of us have a hard time doing. Whether we live hurried lives or we don’t have a sense of safety without our guards being up, relaxation takes practice. Letting one’s guard down takes trust. Letting go takes effort.
In restorative yoga after a sense of stillness is achieved in a posture, the instructor uses guided imagery to describe peaceful and beautiful scenes to direct our attention towards relaxing. Following the teacher’s imagery, one can transcend the everyday world into the world of the imagery. Worries disappear, muscles loosen and smooth out, and the events of the day are forgotten for a few moments. Some people become so relaxed that they even fall asleep.
Research has shown that relaxation has many psychological and physical benefits. In the hectic and stressful world in which we live, relaxation is not a luxury. It is a necessity. I have found my way to relax in restorative yoga. I hope you can find your way. Consider taking a yoga class.
October 21, 2017
Last night I watched the movie, “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace, Music, and Love”, and was visibly moved by how much our society has changed in the almost 50 years since this festival occurred. As I remembered and confirmed in the movie, the Woodstock community was peaceful and loving. Numerous comments were made about how nice the kids were, how courteous they were to each other, and how helpful they were to each other. This happened despite the quantity of drugs, the rain, the lack of food, the lack of accommodations, and the difficulties in transportation. Townspeople went out of their way to comment on how courteous the kids were saying “thank you” and “please” and asking permission. They greeted each other warmly and were well behaved not wanting to trespass on the property of others. They respected themselves and each other. When food ran out, they shared. When it rained, they shared whatever they had to cover themselves. When disagreements occurred, they settled them peacefully. When someone overdosed or had bad trips, there were others and medics to help them. They worked together to make this temporary society flourish. As Spock says in Star Trek, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few … or the one.
Contrast that with today’s society. It seems to me that disrespect has become the norm. The values of our society which has existed for generations seems to have become eroded. Language has deteriorated to the point that curse words are used commonly in language by both sexes in public and on television. Dress has become so casual that in some cases it borders on sloppy and unsanitary. Respect for institutions is not trendy nor important. Values seem to be only important when it serves the needs of the person. Verbal attacks upon others occur daily and fake news and innuendo have become okay to use as fact. People will trample others to get the sale item when in limited quantities. Often, we don’t hear thank you or please even when holding the door for others. Protests have replaced communication, problem solving, compromise, or even mutual discussion. Selfishness and materialism seem to have become the norm and are reinforced by our media. The needs of the one appears to be more important than the needs of the many.
What has caused this in the past almost 50 years? We can point to many factors: fear, anger, the Vietnam War and others, the coming of age of the Internet, advertising, the pursuit of more money at the expense of others, the absence of appropriate role modeling by adults, drugs and alcohol, lies and deceit by politicians, celebrities, and broadcast news, serial abusers, Madoff type scandals, hidden agendas, and a silent society that allows these changes to occur. I am sure we can cite more causes.
Can we ever regain respect for our society to function? I would like to be optimistic and think yes. We see it in the support our nation gives to others when there is a disaster. We see it when individuals volunteer their money and time to help those who are less fortunate. We see it in the dedicated teachers and first responders. We see it in many others who still honor our values.
What can you do? Respect yourself. Follow the Golden Rule. Stick to your standards even though others may not. Say “thank you” and please. Smile at others. Be courteous. Let others get in front of you while driving. Just be concerned about the needs of the many rather than the needs of the one.
As always, I am interested in your thoughts. If you would like to respond to this blog, email me your comments at DrKimmel@KimmelPsychology.com and I will publish them next month.
The information provided in this electronic newsletter is not a substitute for professional treatment. It is the opinions of the writers and is provided solely for educational purposes. For mental health care, seek a qualified professional.
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Copyright © 2018 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D. P.A. and Associates.