The Lonely Brain: How Loneliness Affects Our Brain and Health
We talk a lot about how loneliness affects our relationships, both with ourselves as well as with others (see our articles The lonely expat, It’s lonely at the top). It’s important to understand these connections and feelings better so that ultimately, we can move forward and heal from our past traumas. Our social relationships make up some of the most important aspects of ourselves so we should tend to them, try and understand where our traumas come from. That all makes sense but have you ever consciously considered your brain’s involvement? That 3 pound mass of neuronal tissue up there in your head is responsible for (almost) all of your perceptions, feelings, and actions. And we tend to take it for granted. But, guess what, it also needs tending. It’s very sensitive to changes, both from within your body and the environment, and it can deal with and heal with a surprising amount of trauma but again, these things are bound to leave scars. So, how does loneliness affect the brain? Are some brains more susceptible to experiencing loneliness?
Lonely vs Alone: What is Loneliness & How To Overcome It
Lonely as an expat? Not anymore!
Once upon a time, there was a man called Odysseus, the king of Ithaca who fought for a decade in the war of Troy together with his men. After the war, he started his trip back home but unfortunately, he and his 12 ships were driven off course by storms and angry gods.
During 10 years of adventures, Odysseus got stranded in places which were alluring, but still didn’t feel like home. He lost all his men but survived all the challenges put before him, and, in the end, he reached Ithaca. Alone.
There’s something really sad about Christmas.
You can see it in all these commercials with families gathered around the table, blissfully celebrating the festive days with their loved ones, exchanging perfectly-wrapped presents next to shiny Christmas trees, with everyone smiling and feeling so lucky to have each other.
What??? You can’t see it yet?
To give you a hint:
Loneliness is an ongoing process characterized by the lack of emotional proximity with one’s family and social circles. In other words, it's the feeling of disconnection from others but also from our Self. And although loneliness has been mainly identified as a painful reality for the older people, lately we see how much of a challenge it has been for other age groups as well.
“The lonely expat.” Is there such a term? Do we, expats, resonate with this title at some point in our expat life? Who is this lonely person? Is this person a loner, who has given up socializing and trying to integrate? Or is this person joining every possible expat event and meetup from wine-tasting and book-reading to partying and speed-dating, and still suffering from loneliness?
Alone vs Lonely
Let's start with clarifying the difference between alone and lonely.
"Alone" is when you find yourself in your own company and that it feels ok. It's when you feel content being and doing things alone, independently.
"Lonely", on the other hand, is a feeling of estrangement and emotional distance from the people around you which causes you distress. You can be in the middle of a group of friends and still feel disconnected from them, that something is missing. It's when an overwhelming combination of feelings like shame, guilt, sadness, regret and unworthiness, creep in silently when you least expect it. But when they come, they come in huge waves dragging you down to the bottom of your emotional ocean.
Before we see how to deal with loneliness, let's see first what it is loneliness and what's the difference between alone and lonely.
Can Seasonal Depression Happen in Summer?
Yes, it is true. Sometimes in the summer there is an unexpected wave of loneliness that can punch us in the face. It makes us feel awkward. And a little bit embarrassed. And maybe a little bit scared. Of what will come next.
One could blame SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a type of depression that follows the seasons. It is more common as a "winter depression", but there is also a summer depression (although more rare), and both are related to the changes in the amount of daylight we get.
Once upon a time there was a man called Odysseus, the king of Ithaka who fought for a decade at the war of Troy together with his men.
After the war, he started his trip back home but unfortunately he and his 12 ships were driven off course by storms. They travelled all around the Mediterranean sea, chased by angry gods, seduced by vindictive women, life-threatened and shipwrecked by humanlike landscapes. During 10 years of struggling, Odysseus lost all his men but eventually escaped and survived from all these tortures and challenges, because he was the only one believing in his return back home. And he reached there alone.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.