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Tackle loneliness by being occupied, say doctors in Oman

5 Sep 2023 loneliness By HUBERT VAZ

Loneliness and heartbreak are a favourite topic of poets and lyricists. Though it fans creative flair, research shows that loneliness can lead to serious health consequences

Do you stay alone due to your circumstances in Oman? Do you miss your family/hometown or social connections and often feel depressed? Loneliness is universal but the ways to tackle it are varied.

According to a 2023 Gallup Poll, loneliness affects 44 million American adults, equivalent to 17% of the population. It is nevertheless prevalent in countries around the globe in varying degrees, affecting millions of people – mostly adults under age 30 as well aged citizens who live alone.

According to a recent article in US News-Health, older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation. A 2020 report by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that more than one-third of adults ages 45 and older feel lonely and nearly one-fourth of adults ages 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Living alone, losing close family members or friends and suffering from chronic diseases contributes to loneliness in older adults.

Loneliness, however, is far more than just experiencing occasional sadness. Research has shown that loneliness increases the risk of mortality as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and more than obesity or physical inactivity. Feelings of loneliness are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, mental health issues, and premature death.

“The harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces and civic organisations, where performance, productivity and engagement are diminished,” stated US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy in a 2023 report – Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. “Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity and the addiction crisis.”

Cause of mental/physical disorders

According to Dr Dipali Bhuyan (Royal Hospital), “Loneliness is a word which has many meanings – One can be lonely amidst a crowd while on the other hand one can be self occupied and not lonely, even when alone. Our minds and bodies are connected. A positive mind builds our immune system which can battle against many health related problems. So, when one is lonely, the mind brings in many negative thoughts which can lead to health issues like depression, anxiety, headache, constipation, loss of appetite, irritable bowel syndrome, etc without any organic cause.”

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She suggests, to solve these problems we should keep ourselves occupied with family, friends, or activities like reading, painting, yoga, meditation, musical activities – singing/dancing, outdoor activities like swimming, jogging, gardening, photography, or engaging in day to day household chores – cooking/cleaning. Pets are also great companions to drive away one’s loneliness, besides getting involved in social activities.

Dr Dipali further said, “Many people in Oman are staying alone away from family or are alone at home because their spouse and children are busy in their own activities. It is expected that they can face many mental and health problems. They should try to build positive thoughts and keeping themselves occupied. We all should take responsibility of taking care of our health in whichever way it is possible.”

What is loneliness?

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Loneliness is something that we all feel at some point in our lives. It’s part of being human. Loneliness is defined as being in emotional distress from a lack of close interpersonal relationships. But it’s not just young adults and older people who get lonely. People who live in big families or have been married for many years can feel lonely because of unfulfilling or unrewarding emotional connections.

“Not being married can be a risk for loneliness, but not all marriages create fulfilling relationships and sometimes lead to loneliness,” says Sally Alter, author of several books, including ‘A Practical Guide to Overcoming Loneliness’.

“You can live alone – either by choice or out of necessity – and not feel loneliness,” Alter says. “I have lived alone since my husband died from suicide in 2000. While it took me a while to enjoy my own company, I no longer experience loneliness and live a full, rewarding life.”

While social isolation and loneliness are often used interchangeably, it’s important to note that they are not one and the same. Social isolation denotes few social connections or social interactions, but that person may not necessarily experience loneliness, whereas loneliness involves the perception of isolation or meaningful connections – the discrepancy between one’s desired and actual level of social connection.

Signs of loneliness

  • Decreased interest in activities – loss of interest in hobbies, events or gatherings
  • Difficulty concentrating – Lack of concentration, inability to make decisions, inability to remember things
  • Emotional fluctuations – Feelings of sadness, moodiness, irritability, worthlessness, and unhappiness
  • Lack of close relationships – The person may talk more about the absence of close friends and connections
  • Over-reliance on technology – Excessive time spent on social media or online platforms
  • Physical signs – Fatigue, headaches, lack of appetite, sleep disturbance, weakened immune system
  • Self-destructive behaviour – Substance abuse, overeating or self-harm
  • Social withdrawal – Avoidance of social interactions, isolating themselves from others

Cause for drug abuse

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“Loneliness is a cause of many ailments – depression, anxiety, negative thoughts/suicidal thoughts, etc. Therefore, drug abuse could also stem from loneliness when one finds that one cannot fit among others or mix with bad individual and get influenced into drug abuse to ‘fit in’ or help numb the pain one is going through caused by several reasons like family concerns, bullying at school, etc. However, loneliness is one of the main cause for drug abuse among young people all over the world.”

Ibtisam al Busaidi, Master practitioner in Congitive Behavioural Therapy, Senior student counsellor at Modern College of Business and Science

Cause for addictions

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“There are many reasons why people stay alone in Oman as well as all over the world – away from their families/hometowns. When you stay alone, one tends to get addicted to vices like smoking/drinking and what starts as a one-of indulgence, becomes a habit due to depression. Those who who do not get involved in healthy activities or sports, go towards vices or overeating, etc and thus attract many health problems, from acute illnesses to chronic health disorders.”

Dr Thashli Thankachen, Specialist internist, Badr al Samaa Hospital, Ruwi

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