Loneliness is a worldwide, modern day epidemic
The UK even appointed a Minister for Loneliness to deal with problem.
We all feel lonely at times but it affects our lives in different ways.
Natalie (name changed on request) is 38. She is mother to an 11-year-old. "My daughter has a busy schedule. Not only has her school hours increased, her evenings are filled up with extra-curricular activities. She doesn't need me to drop her to birthday parties in the neighbourhood, not anymore. I feel I hardly see her," Natalie confesses.
Vikram, 29 (name changed on request), is a successful entrepreneur. His calendar is filled with brunches, lunches, and dinners with clients and friends. He manages to show up for most social engagements, but once there, he is quick to find himself a seat in the corner. "I don't feel like I belong in there."
These are just some of the many people around us who are battling loneliness, knowingly and unknowingly. "It's not like a flu or a headache which one can easily identity or talk about comfortably. A Panadol (a medication used to treat pain) is a common off-the-counter drug, warm-genuine company isn't," laments Vikram. These honest words shockingly sum up the times we're living in.
Britain's recent appointment of Tracey Crouch as the 'Minister for Loneliness' to tackle the isolation felt by more than one in ten people in the UK has once again, aptly brought mental well-being into the spotlight. "For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life," said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a statement. Our recent memories are filled up with incidents where mental health has been in the fore. Recall the time when Madalyn Parker took two days off to focus on her mental health, and her CEO Ben Congleton's response went viral. In the aftermath, Congleton added, "It is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the workplace." Or the concerns and debates around the web series, 13 Reasons Why. The hashtag, #someoneislistening is still ruling our social media.
So what is loneliness?
"When you watch a film or read a book you become one with the story and feel the emotions; you cry and laugh. The hormone that is produced during such experiences is called oxytocin, it's the same hormone that helps a mother bond with her child as she breastfeeds. The release of oxytocin is dependent on our bonds and relationships, the lack of the latter in today's modern and busy times is responsible for loneliness in the society," says Rania Abdel Ghaffar, a UAE-based happiness and relationships educator.
Are we all suffering?
"People who come from large families and settle down here are the most affected," says Rema Menon Vellat, director, Counselling Point, Training & Development, Dubai. The triggers for each one of us varies, like being excluded from an office party. "Men and women who are here for work and live by themselves. Women with just their husbands as a family face it more. Especially since women are better physical-psychological caregivers and receivers. Teenagers are the victims too - their action of choosing to stay locked up (at home) and spend more time at home with screens than each other is sad," adds Ghaffar.
Aditi Sharma, who works as an HR head in Dubai says coming from a joint family and starting a new life in the UAE, alone, was a big change. "I missed my nosey neighbours, family and friends. Earlier, I always had someone around me and we were involved in various activities together. It was tough initially, but soon I figured out a way of what to do with my time and space; and it was a refreshing experience."
We're all affected
"My days are empty," says Natalie. "As kids grow up, they form their own relationships and start sleeping in different rooms. Such small changes can lead to loneliness, especially for a mother," adds Ghaffar. "There is a thin line between loneliness and depression. Depression is a clinical condition, which is a cause of a combination of many factors. The symptoms of a lonely person, may or may not be visible. You may be a socially active person, yet experience loneliness," says Menon.
Are introverts more affected than the extroverts, we ask the experts. "Yes and No.
Whilst, your personality type is likely to affect; a person with a vigorous personality too can be lonely at heart," says Menon, "A few people are more willing to push and help themselves, than the others." Says Sharma, "I have created my own universe and yes, I still feel lonely on few days, but I have surrounded myself with people, who matter. I celebrate health, life, work, and relationships."
Lonely is not being alone, it's the feeling that nobody cares. And the only way out is to ensure that such discussions don't die. Let the blitz of words continue.
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