Tara (name changed on request) works for an international NGO.
The UK has appointed a minister for loneliness. Yes, you read it right! Last year, a British commission found that about nine million people in the country were being weighed down by the feeling of loneliness, either often or always. According to health experts, it is a condition that can have detrimental health repercussions and social isolation can have physical, mental and emotional consequences. The ministry’s job will to be to deal with what Prime Minister Theresa May said is “the sad reality of modern life”. Tracey Crouch is the newly appointed minister. A city like Delhi too has a huge population with youngsters trying to build careers away from loved ones and the elderly whose kids don’t live in the same town as them. We speak to life coaches, wellness consultants and psychologists to give us a sense of the growing loneliness among urban dwellers, what could be causing it and how one can deal with it.
Tara (name changed on request) works for an international NGO. Her parents live in Mumbai and her boyfriend shifted to Hyderabad last year not willing to let go off a great job opportunity. Though she has friends in the city, she is left with much time and not enough people around her to spend it with. “I have tried taking up many hobbies which I leave after losing interest. I spend extra time in office. I’ve begun to hate going to restaurants, pubs, theme parks etc. where people hang out with their loved ones. I feel so lonely all the time. Is it the FOMO syndrome or mid-age crisis, I don’t know! I think I need to consult a psychologist,” she tells us, sounding tired and exasperated.
Well, Tara is not alone in dealing with such a situation. Manish Jain, consultant psychiatrist, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, says, “I come across many patients who are struggling to manage their children and work together. In most cases, lack of social support and time leads to inability to socialise.” Talking of the ill-effects of loneliness, he says that it can lead to decrease in life expectancy, chances of dementia, anxiety disorder and depression.
Talking about the genesis of the growing epidemic, Ruchi Phool, wellness and lifestyle guru, says, “The work culture as we find today, was introduced during the industrial revolution of the US to lay the foundation of its nation through ‘sweat and blood’, and the education system supported it. Unfortunately, this has carried on beyond its need and across countries. As a people we need to consciously break out of the rut of constantly pursuing work and educational gains, and focus more on the human aspects.”
The cause behind the growth of loneliness can be attributed to the constant race to keep up with the pace of urban life, which entails hectic careers of both partners, feels Atika Shukla, a counselling psychologist. “It’s a constant demand to take care of our physical needs in which our social and emotional needs get neglected. As humans, we are social beings and need to connect but unfortunately, this need is being fulfilled via technology like Facebook and WhatsApp and not one-to-one in-person interactions. This is bound to lead to loneliness as even in our time of need we hesitate to reach out because we haven’t done so earlier. With the growth of nuclear families and breaking down of support system that a joint family system provided, it is even more important to make an effort to build our support system by keeping in touch with family and friends, as humans cannot survive in isolation,” she says.
Experts also point out that contrary to what people may believe, one can be troubled by loneliness in spite of being surrounded by people and people from all age groups can be suffering from it. Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Hospital, too blames the changing social fabric with reduced social support systems and our increasingly hectic lifestyles for creating an experience of loneliness for many. He goes on add that since there is a paucity of experts dealing with mental health illness, it makes a stronger case for preventive methods to be in place.
Tips to deal with loneliness
Spend quality time with family. Have family meals together, talk to one another about the day, take breaks and go for outings together. Also, connect with distant relatives, call up or meet them when possible. Restrict the use of gadgets and social media and live in the real world.
Meet friends. Engage in creative and healthy activities. Involve in doing things you enjoy. Seek support from friends or from professionals, if needed.
Stay healthy. Eat nutritious food. Diet plays an important role in maintaining emotional and physical health. Play real games and not virtual ones. Go for a walk, jog, or swim. Sleep well at night and avoid the use of gadgets before sleeping.
Stress can be really harmful. Learn to let go off things. Believe in yourself and take time off when needed.
— Dr Snehal Singh, wellness and lifestyle management consultant, Healthians