How to Understand What is Loneliness

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Fear of what is lonelinessPeople are not meant to live alone, and we all need someone by our side. Humans are social animals, and from infancy to old age, we rely on one another. However, there are moments in life when we need to be alone and the more we struggle against it, the more we suffer. Sometimes loneliness can be seen as an opportunity to improve our relationship with ourselves, and sometimes it’s a signal that we need to take care of what is going on in our brains. But when we are in these situations, the question we all find ourselves asking is, “What is loneliness?”

This is particularly important if you’re working to heal from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), because of the stressful effects of emotional pain. You can’t be healthy if your emotional life is causing you pain. So if you suffer from this problem, it’s time to look at what you can do to heal.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness is a feeling of disconnect from other people, which is why you can feel lonely even in a crowd. The feeling is often controlled by how you think of it, though, not necessarily a condition. Withdrawing is another way to think of it. Even being away from people can be healing as long as your attitude is positive. Being away from people or other stressors is actually often an important step in healing.

One important aspect of loneliness to consider is why you want people around you. Having people around us can make us forget our faults and regrets. But it is also important for us to face ourselves and forgive ourselves for our mistakes internally. Having people around us is not necessarily a good substitute for learning to like being with yourself.

This is where we have to consider: what is loneliness? Loneliness is not the same as isolation, and the sooner we realize this, the quicker we will be able to get out of the vicious circle of self-pity and self-accusation. It is insulation from the world outside so that we can look deep within ourselves and make some resolutions.

Instead of thinking of it as loneliness, think of it as a necessary state of mind which gives us time to realize where our life is going. Usually, we feel lonely after a divorce, a bad break-up, or after losing a friend. But instead of just jumping into a new relationship, consider taking the time to grieve the loss of the old relationship, strengthen the relationship you still have by calling family or old friends or neighbors, and taking time to enjoy being with yourself.

Jumping from one relationship to another just because we are afraid of being alone doesn’t contribute to your well-being. And often these rebound relationships end quickly because you didn’t give yourself enough time to realize your mistakes and correct your behavior.

If you think deeply about the question “what is loneliness,” you may see that loneliness has a lot to do with your attitude and thoughts. If you’re able to calm your thoughts and give them a more positive focus, you may find that not only do you feel less lonely, but your relationships work better as well. This is why being alone is an opportunity to take a step back from your relationships so that you are able to look at them from the outside as an observer. This is the best way to make an assessment of your attitude and values and change how you’d like yourself to behave.

Loneliness and AFS

In the face of painful emotional situations and the stress that comes with them, withdrawing may be a beneficial response. It can give you time to be alone and to answer the important question “what is loneliness”, if it’s more than a temporary state. Loneliness can cause a great deal of emotional stress, and this stress may be ongoing. This makes it a major problem for your adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands are pivotal in helping your body function during times of stress and in protecting your body from the negative effects of stress. They’re an essential part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which controls and directs changes made in the body that protect it from stress. The adrenal glands contribute to the NEM stress response by excreting cortisol, the prime stress-fighting hormone. But when the stress is ongoing, it can cause the adrenal glands to become fatigued, which means that they’ll struggle to keep up with the cortisol demand. This is known as adrenal fatigue, and it results in symptoms such as sleeping problems, fluctuating blood sugar levels, and the inability to think clearly.

If you suffer from these issues, it may be difficult for you to identify what’s happening. Most medical tests that are performed during the early stages of AFS show relatively normal results and this can cause a lot of confusion and further stress. The symptoms associated with AFS are usually viewed as nonspecific and unconnected problems with individual body organs by most physicians. This often leads to ineffective responses that focus on addressing the surface problems without changing the underlying issue. A more comprehensive viewpoint is to look at the underlying body systems when faced with the sometimes vague symptoms of adrenal fatigue. This involves understanding and looking at the Neuroaffect circuit of the NEM response and its role in regulating mood, sleep, and thinking ability.

Emotional Pain and Neurotransmitter Imbalances

What is loneliness and young maleThe neuroaffect circuit encompasses the brain, the microbiome, and the autonomic nervous system. When you have AFS, this circuit becomes unbalanced because chronic stress damages the neurons, as well as neurotransmitter production, regulation, and control. This can cause a range of symptoms and problems.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry signals in the brain. Unfortunately, imbalances are very common in the general population and even more common in people who have AFS. When imbalances or deficiencies occur, it will affect how your brain and your body communicate as well as the overall function of your brain. Understanding this is very important when you’re dealing with bouts of negative emotions and stress. It also raises questions about “what is loneliness?” and how you should respond to these feelings.

When your neurotransmitters are unbalanced, it can cause a variety of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. Deficiencies of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, in particular, can severely affect your mood, causing depression, general fatigue, and memory problems. This may cause you to feel loneliness, or worsen already existing symptoms. In advanced stages of AFS, there is also an overload of adrenaline and norepinephrine. And in turn, this causes the body to release neurotransmitters that are meant to inhibit them. Over time, the body becomes desensitized to the effects of these neurotransmitters and enters a state of relative catecholamines dominance, which is characterized by feelings of anxiety and depression.

Rebalancing Neurotransmitters to Heal Loneliness

If these negative emotions are part of your AFS experience, it’s important that you deal with the underlying problem as well as the outward issues that may be causing the emotions. Finding ways to rebalance your neurotransmitter levels could help reduce or even eliminate your loneliness. And it will also reduce your overall stress levels, which will help to alleviate your adrenal fatigue.

The research on AFS and neurotransmitter imbalances is still in its infancy, so not a lot is known about this field. However, if you believe that you suffer from this type of problem then it’s important that you seek out medical help. It may be difficult to find professionals that understand everything you’re going through, but it’s essential if you’re determined to recover and live an active and happy life once more.

If you have neurotransmitter deficiencies, your doctor will be able to identify the specific defective pathway that is causing the deficiency and correct the problem at its source.

Taking steps to rebalance neurotransmitter deficiencies may also help improve your mood. It all comes down to finding a way to balance excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.

Nutritional supplements made of amino acids, vitamins and minerals can be taken in conjunction with lifestyle changes to correct these imbalances. And taking these steps may be the start of your journey back to good health.

The Takeaway

Withdrawing and spending time alone to put your life back together may be a beneficial way to deal with stress. This will allow you some time to answer the question “what is loneliness” and give you time to reflect and heal.

Emotional stress can be just as damaging as other types of stress. So if you’re experiencing this type of issue, it can be just as problematic for AFS as more obvious, concrete problems. Research indicates that loneliness is a stressor that can lead to more demand on the adrenal glands. And over time, it may become a source of chronic stress.

Time alone dealing with whatever brought on the loneliness can serve to relieve the feeling and decrease the stress it brings. This kind of withdrawing leads to healing instead of continuing stress. That’s why you need to do some soul searching. You need to ask yourself “What is loneliness for me?” and determine the best strategies for moving past it, or actually using it to improve your life. This is the best way to lower your overall stress and protect your body from its damaging effects.

© Copyright 2013 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The question, “What is loneliness” seems like an obvious one and yet the answer isn’t as simple. Loneliness can be highly damaging to your health, or it can give you a chance to spend some time by yourself, reflect, and make needed changes.

Fear of what is loneliness