Reflections On Loneliness
Two in five Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated. As I counsel more and more people, the number one issue people talk to me about is chronic loneliness. In fact, I too have experienced chronic loneliness.
I don't feel like myself.
Loneliness can be an unrelenting poison that touches everything with its long, wispy fingers. It brushes past you at a party full of people and sits with you when you lay down to sleep at night. At times, it feels like loneliness is your only reliable companion - familiar and close.
People do the unthinkable when faced with the striking grief that comes with implacable loneliness. A gateway to inner darkness, loneliness will convince you to leave what is good for you and encourage you to seek "greener pastures". Human beings will go to great lengths to avoid feeling alone by doing an assortment of things - from the mundane to the life-changing and dangerous.
Admitting when one feels alone is often difficult because of the negative connotation attached to the word. However, It isn't a case of being broken or that something is wrong with you. Chronic loneliness affects the most outgoing, extroverted people you can think of.
How Loneliness Affects Our Quality of Life
According to Cigna, they defined "Chronic loneliness occurs when feelings of loneliness and uncomfortable social isolation go on for a long time. It is characterized by a constant and unrelenting feeling of being alone, separated or divided from others, and an inability to connect on a deeper level. It can also be accompanied by deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy, poor self-esteem, and self-loathing."
I was fascinated to find out that there was a study of rodents who were either isolated or in enriched groups surrounding the time they were having a stroke, and the latter group healed better. Studies claimed that social isolation and cerebral ischemia would activate inflammatory mechanisms and the HPA axis, which helped cause permanent cell death and affected recovery levels. (The rodents had a 40% survival rate for solitary mice and 100% recovery rate for mice in social groups.)
Social isolation carries the same amount of risk for morbidity and mortality as smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure according to a study from 1988.
How Loneliness Affects the Soul
I am convinced that Shaytaan uses our loneliness to take advantage of us.
The Holy Qur'an states in Surah Al-A'raf, Ayah 16 and 17, "Satan said, "Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You]."
What is fascinating to me about this verse is that Shaytaan makes it clear that he has the intention to use small whispers to convince us consistently to leave the straight path. Even one of my teachers used to say that the more genuinely devoted one becomes to Allah (SWT), then the bigger the devil on your path that waits for you to guide you astray - which is lowkey terrifying to me. You can be doing so well and bam - just fall right of the bandwagon into the murky pool of our nafs (base part of our soul and desires).
When we are feeling lonely, which is not the same as being alone - mind you, I believe our mind starts to become lax and we are more open to neglecting what we know is good for us.
Somebody could be more willing to listen to TMZ or some other celebrity gossip channel, rather than guarding their ears against backbiting and slander about random people we shouldn't even care about that much. Other people might find it easier to chase a high when alone, either from intoxicating drugs or intimate desire they seek from other people.
How many dangerous things have you heard people do that started with "Well, I don't know why I did it, but I was bored, I guess." We should constantly ask Allah (SWT) to protect us against the waswas (insinuating whispers) of Shaytaan and to protect us from the worst parts of ourselves.
How to Stop Chronic Loneliness
Firstly, I loved this self-help guide from 7Cups on Loneliness. One of the things I've always loved about 7Cups is how they try to be there 24/7 with Listeners (free) and Therapists (paid) for people in need. (No, I'm not paid by 7 Cups. The Listener service has helped me feel better pretty often over the years though.)
I believe our health is multi-faceted. We need to be taking care of ourselves physically - taking showers, eating regularly, drinking water. It is also a good idea to surround ourselves with good company when possible, so consider joining a couch-to-5k training group, a crotchet meet-up, or a local halaqa at the mosque.
In fact, set up daily spiritual actions. If you aren't meeting your daily salah obligations, work towards that, even if you're just starting with one at a time. The key is cultivating consistent connections with Allah Most High. Also, I highly advise people to memorize and use this supplication regularly:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ الْهَمِّ وَالْحُزْنِ وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ
‘O Allah, I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts and from being over powered by men.’
When our social, mental, physical, and spiritual needs are being met, we step out of simply living and transform into thriving. Loneliness never fully abandons a person, no matter how much they pray and drink water, but the desired intent should be to move from a state of extreme sadness and loneliness to a healthy, balanced state.
Some of these things may work for some people and not other people - that's totally okay! If something helped you keep loneliness at bay, please feel free to share it with me!