Alone and Lonely?

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Many of us feel alone and some feel especially lonely during this COVID pandemic. And if honest, most of us have felt isolated and without support at some time or other. Broken relationships, conflicts with peers, or disappointed expectations can exacerbate the alienation we suffer. Sadly we can cling to cortisol toxins that tend to torpedo our wellbeing when alone, and only increase our personal pain. Yet to be alone does not necessarily mean to feel lonely!

So if alone time does not cause loneliness, what does?

Loneliness comes less from being alone, and more from a lack of belonging, and feelings of unworthiness. We can be alone or with others and still suffer emotional pain from loneliness. In fact that was my reality for most of my younger years, and was likely behind my creation on the Mita model for mental and emotional growth.

A pandemic and a surprise blizzard left me completely alone on my 75th birthday this year, and I can honestly say the day started a bit sad but I was not lonely. In the end I actually had an awesome day, where I felt grateful to be alive and healthy at my age. Loneliness is not the result of external triggers but is rooted in our learned reactions and thought patterns rooted within our internal reality.

When we let go of sad feelings and deliberately embrace joy in who we are, when we feel loved and valued, we welcome time alone to think, plan, grow and relax. Our intrapersonal intelligence (which we can literally grow daily) determines our ability to enjoy alone times, without fear of feeling alienated. When we practice the joy of being alone with self as a fun and treasured friend to be with, that time spent alone actually awakens our sensibility for on-going self-worth and we strengthen our inner value.

We all experience setbacks where we doubt our inner worth, especially if we face racism, sexism, ageism or gender discrimination. That is when awareness can help us to work through misunderstandings, and let go of unmet expectations. Rarely easy but often rewarding!

If we refuse to internalize painful messages that eroded our confidence in younger years, for instance, we begin to solidify antidotes to isolation struggles. We may make mistakes along the way, and may internalize toxic messages occasionally. And it usually takes time and practice to learn to love the experience of being alone and feeling fulfilled at the same time.

Our brain on loneliness

First glances  show people for whom loneliness replays in spite of friends, family ties, or holiday get-togethers. It comes from and sustains a low intrapersonal IQ. Loneliness can spread its toxins in a sense of misery, or fears of lost opportunity  stored in your amygdala, and that rerun reaction explains feelings of isolation regardless of cheerful situations you may encounter.

Loneliness increases cortisol stress chemicals which explains why some people suffer from feelings of isolation even at family feasts where others enjoy holiday happiness. How so?

  • Pleasure centers of lonely people light up with images of objects faster than with images of other people.
  • Lonely people tend to increase their sense of alienation by not seeking out interactions with others, as they don’t see how these interactions will satisfy personal friendship cravings.

That scrooge image, where a person may have loads of money yet no friends likely illustrates best, the human brain on loneliness. Not surprisingly, imaging of a lonely person’s brain also shows less activity in areas of the brain that understand other’s views or needs, and so further distance themselves from social bonding.

Loneliness is bad for our health

Still unsure if loneliness comes more from your gene pool or from social experiences?  Researchers show how toxic outcomes from loneliness may be a bit of both.  Feelings of isolation often lead to serious cases of depression, obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems, and many stress related illnesses that reshape neural pathways in your brain.

We now know that who remain alone in live tend to die younger and enjoy less quality of life in senior years. Mother Teresa described feelings of being unwanted as “the most terrible poverty.” The Dali Lama suggested that loneliness is more choice than fate. Alone is a mere state of being, while lonely is a toxic state of mind. Choice makes the difference here!

If loneliness is bad for your health, and if feelings of isolation are often choices, is it also true that people choose health problems that come from a sense of abandonment?  That answer is less evident in the research and yet will likely be quite clear if you engage intrapersonal intelligence and reflect of how we change and grow mentally.

Loneliness calls for an Intrapersonal reboot

The way we think and act determines if we stall or step-up our intrapersonal IQ, which contains emotional IQ and our ability to increase mental health in spite of difficult situations.  

People with higher Intrapersonal IQ roll forward, in spite of setbacks that pull others down. Lower intrapersonal IQ, in contrast, sticks us into ruts and stalls us into tired routines. Complete the survey below to determine your intrapersonal IQ score out of 10.

The benefits of growing higher intrapersonal IQ include a lifetime of contentment, even when others might expect us to be anxious or stressed. The counterpoint to low intrapersonal IQ which fills us with cortisol’s toxins, is an ever growing intrapersonal IQ, which ensures we remain deeply content and resilient, even in the face of disappointment, failure or life’s underbelly that can try to sink us when we least expect. Worth a shot at intrapersonal growth in any one area above? Each time we act with higher intrapersonal intentions, we grow new neural connections to rebooted directions. Spot any high road toward the wonder and delight of increased intrapersonal IQ here?

Rewire ahead to ensure holiday well being

Don’t allow your birthday, or a family holiday to go south. With a few mental adjustments, alone times need not come at personal expense during any holiday season. Fortunately, we possess a unique ability to rewire negative emotions  stored in our amygdala – from feeling isolated and bitter –  to fully expecting fun alone or with others in holiday seasons.  How so?

Act now on what we’d value in our future.  Research shows how actions literally reshape our brain for reaching more of what we expect.

Smile, regardless of how we feel, for example, and our brain’s plasticity changes in our favor. The action triggers our brain to create new neuron pathways toward a happier reality.

Give even a small gift of encouragement or support, without conditions, and in spite of personal loss.  In response, our brain raises levels of serotonin chemicals for sustainable well being.

Mimic the actions of a person we most admire for their holiday spirit, and our brain rewires dendrite brain cells for more of the same admirable spirit in us. Develop a new intelligence at the same time, and our brain rewires itself for further growth in that area.

Laugh, especially at ourselves, and not only will others laugh with us, but our brain will create enzymes for clear thinking, better learning and adventures brimming over with possibilities in spite of turbulent times.

Discover one new insight by converting a rut into a renewed reality we’d like to see in ourselves. Phone one person we dislike today and invite that person to lunch to find out what’s working well in their life. Curiosity and this call moves our brain’s basal ganglia from the rut of loathing into newly created possibilities lived from within our working memory.

Support one person who thinks on the opposing side of our own holiday views, and watch how our concrete defense of that person will leave us mentally able to override our brain’s default for ruts that held us back in past. The action shows us new possibilities where we may have slipped into limiting problems in past.

See how brain based recommendations here carry us beyond hopeful or positive thinking? Do a few simple behaviors, and our brain does the rest to cultivate inner value that kicks in to help us enjoy time alone.

Use any one of the above brainpower tools by simply doing a related act and we also spark brain cell regeneration for more satisfaction to enjoy alone time over any holiday.  Or create a brain power tool of our own and then use it, in spite of troubled or lonely times. Scientifically speaking, these tips come from neurogenesis research on how adult brains can grow new cells or regenerate old ones.

Worth a try to communicate vibrant colors where we once showed only sorrow if alone during a festive event? Looking to help a peer or loved one amp up their anti-loneliness quotient? Then check out further brain based tools to help reshape finer choices.

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