All you need to know about loneliness, the ‘urban epidemic’

Urban life has been going through its transitions. Being a part of the urban jungle has always held a certain appeal for people from all walks of life. People come to cities in search of wondrous opportunities. They have these big dreams in their minds about the lives they can build, the resources they would accumulate, the experiences they would have, the people they would meet and the immense sense of joy, pleasure, fulfilment and contentment that would mark their existence.

When you take a magnifying glass to view more closely what urban life really looks like, you begin to realise the discrepancies that exist in what is envisioned and what the reality is. There is a stark difference in how people in urban dwelling operate and the experiences they have which slowly and steadily can and do move them towards experiencing loneliness. This loneliness often becomes pervasive and such an inherent part of people’s lives that it creates a huge impact on their mental well-being.

The pervasiveness of loneliness

Considering the large proportion of the population that resides in urban settings and the sheer volumes of housing societies, cars on the roads, buildings all around, one would imagine that there would be no space for the existence of something like loneliness. The baffling part is that despite the number of people who may surround us, loneliness is being increasingly reported by people. The number of people who talk about the kind of disconnectedness they experience in their relationships – both personal and professional – has increased as has the belief that there is little that can be done to change it. The reason often cited is being busy, not having the time or the space to be able to focus on such things. After all, the really important element is doing well and pushing the self to keep doing things that would enhance performance and lead to growth given the kind of competition that does exist.

Concurrently there is a large level of demandingness that is placed upon individuals from work and even by their own selves with regards to work and there can be no compromise on it. The only things that can be relegated to the background then often get linked to the personal facets of an individual’s life. As a result, people are not necessarily aware of who their neighbours, what goes on in the communities they reside in, what are the ways in which they could get to know more people and meet more people. All of this over a period of time leads to the development of a state of loneliness, especially as many a times people even find it difficult to share and discuss what goes on within their lives and in their minds.

The way things have gotten designed over time in urban spaces somewhere takes people away from the natural environment as well. There develops a growing disconnect from nature. The more high rises spring up and open spaces get increasingly filled with buildings, the more the disconnectedness with the environment too grows. Workspaces that people occupy don’t necessarily always facilitate communication and discussions. Additionally, the gadgets one uses and stays connected with actually disconnect people even further from those around them and what is going on around them.

There is an obliviousness and desensitisation not just towards others but also towards the self and what is needed to create a sense of fulfilment in the way life is being lived. It can be difficult to describe and define what one needs and the potential steps that can be taken towards fulfilling those desires which are not linked to the material world but which truly help develop contentment.

loneliness, feeling lonely, pandemic loneliness, urban dwelling, urban life and loneliness, loneliness and city life, mental health, indian express news The more high rises spring up and open spaces get increasingly filled with buildings, the more the disconnectedness with the environment grows. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

The required shift

There is no doubt a need to reassess and re-evaluate the ways in which urban life is developing and growing. Taking a step back to determine what is important and how these goals can be reached in order to create a life that is more fulfilling is crucial. Even though this can be an anxiety provoking experience, it is critically important to ensure that we and also the coming generations are able to recognise the need to connect in a more meaningful and mindful way with our own lives and the urban dwellings we are occupying.

Learning to accept that there is a glaring reality that is uncomfortable and capable of creating significant distress is important. However, difficult this can be to process it is a need of the hour so that active steps and measures can be taken to make choices where one is able to tackle this state of loneliness that is becoming an inherent, assumed aspect of city living.

The need is to identify what really matters and to take steps towards achieving those goals. These need to diverge from the goals that pertain to any competitive or comparative space. These need to be more about the self and the self in relationship to others and the environment. Identifying these would enable you to more proactively work towards accomplishing them. Change can be difficult and habits can take time to build, however both of these are possibilities that can be become realities if one is wilful and willing to go through these transitions. Having a support systems and focusing on building and having the right kind of relationships in this regards thus becomes important.

Our learning

This pandemic has taught many lessons and the biggest one thus far has been that an isolated existence does no one any good. Building connections that are genuine and authentic, working towards being responsive to your own needs, and ensuring that you are building the right balanced approach are crucial to tackling loneliness.

(Dr Samir Parikh is a psychiatrist and Kamna Chhiber is a clinical psychologist. They are authors of the recently released book “ALONE IN THE CROWD” )

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