Loneliness is a feeling of lack of companionship. It is a common feeling and happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want.
Loneliness can be transient that comes and goes or situational; for example only occurring at certain times like Sundays, or Christmas. Or loneliness can be chronic; this means someone feels lonely all or most of the time.
Loneliness is linked to social isolation but it is not the same thing. Isolation is objective whereby the number of contacts a person has can be counted.
One example of describing this distinction is that you can be lonely in a crowded room, but you will not be socially isolated.
This example also shows the close link and the difficulty of distinguishing loneliness and depression. Loneliness can be felt by people of all ages, but as one gets older, risk factors that might lead to loneliness slowly begin to increase and converge.
Such risk factors include: health problems, hearing or visual impairment, loss of mobility, lower income, bereavement, becoming a carer, giving up driving etc. But external factors play a role, too: fear of crime, constantly changing neighbours, lack of adequate meeting spaces etc.
Loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an unpleasant emotion. Research shows that lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death like smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of high blood pressure and hastens the onset of disability. Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and increases the chance of developing clinical dementia. It makes one more prone to depression and loneliness coupled with low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age.
Research therefore concludes that preventing and alleviating loneliness is vital to enabling older people to remain independent as long as possible. Lonely individuals are more likely to visit their doctor, they use more medication, have a higher incidence of falls and an increased risk for the
need for long term care.
Very often we only note that we suffer from loneliness when we already have withdrawn ourselves, thus being in danger of entering in a vicious circle. The answer is to do something to help yourself out of loneliness, while remembering not to blame yourself for feeling like this (which is easier said than done.)
Think about what you could do to help yourself, or how to ask for help from others. For example if you feel lonely you might think people do not want to visit you so invite them to visit.
Often people will respond to an invitation and will come. Try to keep active this helps you to relax more in your own company, try to share your skills and interests with others, possibly in your neighbourhood or by volunteering or organizing activities yourself. And most importantly find out what you might enjoy and participate in local activities like walks, bridge clubs or singing groups.
Over time I have got the impression that loneliness is a problem at the Coast or at least in Almuñécar, too.
I therefore invite people of different nationalities to start communicating what needs and what offers exist. Maybe a few people are interested in coordinating information and in planning a fair and workshop in the coming December or January.
I have created an email-account email@example.com or drop a note of in our surgery or letter box.