Life Matters Media
Quality of life at the end of life

Feeling Lonely Or Alone? Bored Or Empty?

Sorting Out Common Challenges Of Aging

BY SUSAN M. MATHEWS, PhD, RN, MSBE

It’s a hidden killer of the elderly and a serious public health challenge, as loneliness is causing widespread declines in physical and cognitive capacity. Loneliness plagues older women especially, because they are more likely to outlive their male loved ones.

This state of mind includes the perception of being isolated, the inability to find meaning in life, and feelings of being disconnected and empty. Loneliness is not about being alone. Many of us have felt lonely in a crowded room.

Loneliness can set in when change occurs among our social contacts, upon relocation to a new community, and also when we confront socio-economic challenges. Loss of emotional connection and intimacy are common causes.

It’s important to understand that loneliness, boredom, emptiness and being alone are distinct experiences. However, they often overlap.

Boredom involves a lack of stimulation, not necessarily a lack of connection to oneself or a meaningful other. We often want, but are unable, to engage in a stimulating activity. When the task at hand is no longer interesting, this experience is so unpleasant that we often fill such a period with mindless activities like “screen time.” Some numb their boredom more dangerously with alcohol or drugs.

Boredom was once accepted as natural and consequential in triggering positive change. However, our over-stimulated social culture has dampened the value of boredom, likening it to failure.

Avoiding boredom by making unhealthy choices can become pathological, where sounder choices might have encouraged pursuits to attain alternative opportunities for stimulation. Sadly, negative decisions can lead to isolation from self and others, landing one in a state of greater loneliness.

Emptiness emerges when we stop loving ourselves. We all may feel empty at some point, especially upon the a loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship.

But for some, emptiness is a chronic void that cannot be filled. The most serious cases include feelings of detachment from life and an inability to shake the sense that something is missing. This can even happen to those who seem to have everything together: a healthy family, a good job and a physically fit body.

“Emptiness does not come from outside; it comes from within,” according to the virtual therapy site BetterHelp.com. “That being said, it can affect every aspect of your life. Emptiness is not easy to get rid of. It takes effort and working through your problems to get to the source of why you feel this way.”

Alcohol, drugs, over-eating, and other destructive behaviors perpetuate a downward spiral of satiating that void. When we feel empty, it is difficult to face the day and function at full capacity.

Where does feeling “alone” fit into these overlapping states? Aloneness or solitude are positive states that can result in creativity, self-realization and finding personal space. Strong definitional and psychological differences exist between being alone and being lonely, bored or empty.

Being alone can be healthy; the others, when chronic, can destroy both physical and mental health. They are no longer symptoms; they now have become a disease, especially for women 60 and older. As difficult as it is to segregate the feelings associated with each of these conditions, we do know that the results are detrimental.

Emptiness emerges when we stop loving ourselves. We all may feel empty at some point, especially upon the a loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship.

Any one of us can find ourselves experiencing one or more of these feelings during our lifetime. However, chronicity can interfere in day-to-day functioning and hamper recovery. It often negatively impacts well-being and may lead to depression, suicidal behavior, sleep problems and disturbed appetite.

Too much of anything is unhealthy, even the positive state of aloneness. Life should be enjoyed, not endured. With help, that can be your experience.