Mother Teresa once said, “The most terrible poverty we can experience in life is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” Mind you, this woman was a Catholic nun historically famous for travelling all over the world to help those destitute and dying in the slums. Still, she felt that physical suffering paled in comparison to the emotional toll loneliness can take on a person.
Psychology defines loneliness as “a distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s socio-emotional needs are not being met by the quality of one’s inter- and intrapersonal relationships” (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2013). Numerous studies show that chronic loneliness can have a number of detrimental effects to our mental health, life satisfaction, and overall well-being. Fortunately, recognizing loneliness is the first step toward overcoming these feelings and moving forward to a more fulfilling life.
With that said, here are 7 subtle signs that you are feeling extremely lonely, even if it doesn’t seem like it:
1. You’ve become incredibly materialistic.
Do you find yourself wanting more material goods and possessions lately? Have you started to feel that having certain status symbols in your life (such as a new car, a bigger house, or a higher figure salary) is the only way you can be happy? If so, this newfound materialism you may be feeling could be because of extreme loneliness. In fact, it’s actually very common for materialism and loneliness to compound and exacerbate one another. Simply put, the lonelier you are, the more materialistic you tend to be, and vice versa (Pieters, 2013).
2. You’re addicted to social media.
Next, do you spend hours and hours on end just mindlessly scrolling through your feed even though it doesn’t make you feel any better? Well, that’s because too much social media exposure has actually been proven to increase feelings of loneliness, isolation, inadequacy, envy, and self-centeredness (De Choudhury, Gamon, Counts, & Horvitz, 2013). Not only that, social media has also become something of a crutch that people turn to whenever they feel bored, lonely, or upset, which stunts their emotional growth and keeps them from developing healthy coping mechanisms and mental resilience (White, 2013).
3. You’re constantly envious of others.
Another often overlooked warning sign of extreme loneliness are strong feelings of envy towards others and their successes. Why? Because jealousy is rooted in low self-esteem and a neurotic need for social acceptance (Leary, 1990). That is to say, we feel jealous of other people because we want what they have, so pay close attention to who it is you can’t help but envy and why. If it’s someone well-liked with a lot of friends and popularity (be it online or in real life), then you might be feeling really lonely.
4. You have eating/weight/sleeping problems.
From the outside looking in, loneliness can seem a lot like depression, so it tends to mimic a lot of the same symptoms, too. And since weight gain, weight loss, insomnia, and oversleeping are all common side effects of depression, the same can be said for extreme loneliness. People who are extremely lonely might find it hard to fall asleep at night because of it, or they might do the opposite and use sleep as an escape from their problems. They could gain weight because of too much comfort eating, or lose it because of how loneliness is making them neglect themselves and skip meals.
5. You’re bored/restless all the time.
Similar to the last point, feeling extremely lonely but not even realizing it can easily be mistaken for boredom and restlessness. You find it hard to have fun or enjoy doing anything whatever random and momentary pleasure you can find to distract you from an aching emptiness inside yourself that you don’t understand. These feeling comes from a lack of engagement, challenge, change, and opportunities for self-growth in one’s life, which could be caused by or is causing you extreme loneliness.
6. You’re emotionally out of control.
How many times have you lost your temper or burst into tears these past few weeks? Are you feeling more emotionally volatile and unstable lately but don’t know why? Being emotionally out of control is a very tell-tale sign that you are struggling with your mental health, and feeling extreme loneliness could be the reason why. Studies say that when we are struggling with loneliness, it puts our brains in a constant state of emotional distress that impairs our ability to regulate our emotions (Preece, et al., 2021).
7. You don’t know how to be alone anymore.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, if you find yourself unable to be alone with yourself and your own thoughts — always needing to be around other people, even when you don’t like them or don’t enjoy spending time with them — then you are definitely struggling with extreme loneliness. Because being comfortable in your own company takes a lot of inner peace, mental strength, and self-acceptance. After all, there’s a reason why they say being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Have you ever experienced any of these subtle signs of extreme loneliness? If you are struggling with your mental health in any way, the best thing you can do for yourself is to seek help. Reach out to a mental healthcare professional today and take the next step towards emotional wellness.
- De Choudhury, M., Gamon, M., Counts, S., & Horvitz, E. (2013, June). Predicting depression via social media. In Seventh international AAAI conference on weblogs and social media.
- Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine, 40(2), 218-227.
- Leary, M. R. (1990). Responses to social exclusion: Social anxiety, jealousy, loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9(2), 221.
- Pieters, R. (2013). Bidirectional dynamics of materialism and loneliness: Not just a vicious cycle. Journal of Consumer Research, 40(4), 615-631.
- Preece, D. A., Goldenberg, A., Becerra, R., Boyes, M., Hasking, P., & Gross, J. J. (2021). Loneliness and emotion regulation. Personality and Individual Differences, 180, 110974.
- White, T. R. (2013). Digital social media detox (DSMD): Responding to a culture of interconnectivity. In Social media and the new academic environment: Pedagogical challenges (pp. 414-430). IGI Global.