Sometimes we have a problem that we have to cope with.
Other times, we have a fear of the problem that’s even worse than the problem itself.
For example, loneliness is an epidemic that affects many people. It’s hard to deal with. But what’s often overlooked is the fear of loneliness, which can be just as challenging for many people. It’s a real issue and if you’re coping with it, you are definitely not alone.
What Is Fear of Loneliness
It’s not that you are lonely in the moment; it’s that you worry about how you’re going to feel in the future when you are alone.
Fear of loneliness can manifest in several different forms:
- Fear of living alone or of being at home alone
- Worry about getting separated from a particular person, such as a child or spouse
- Fear of being in public without someone you know being with you
- Anxious anticipation of being alone during the holidays
Fear of Loneliness vs. Loneliness
It’s important to note that there is a distinction between loneliness and the fear of loneliness. Loneliness is the actual state of feeling sad in the moment that you are alone. Fear of loneliness is worry that you’re going to be alone at some future point in time (whether in five minutes or in old age).
Notably, feelings of loneliness can also trigger a fear of loneliness. You might be doing okay reading a book alone in your home when you start to get lonely.
You begin to feel sad that you are alone. Then your mind begins to think that you’re always going to be alone, or that something bad is going to happen when you are alone. This triggers the fear of loneliness.
Fear of Loneliness vs. Separation Anxiety
Fear of loneliness has a lot in common with separation anxiety. In particular, when people feel afraid of being separated from a particular person it’s a lot like separation anxiety disorder. Phobias also fall into the category of anxiety disorders and you can develop a phobia of loneliness.
So, when it is anxiety and when is it “just” fear (which can be equally distressing?) Essentially it boils down to the intensity of the fear.
An individual might not meet the clinical definition of an anxiety disorder but still have a fear of loneliness.
Anxiety is worry about the future. It can lead to physical and mental health issues (such as rapid breathing and trouble sleeping.) Fear of being alone is a form of anxiety, though it may not have all of the diagnostic criteria of a specific anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of the Fear of Loneliness
As you might guess, some of the symptoms of fear of loneliness are similar to anxiety symptoms. Others are more specific to the fear of being alone. Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Antsy, restless feelings
- Constantly filling empty space with TV or other chatter to numb your mind
- Difficulty breathing
- Dread of being alone and/or aging alone
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of strangers, intruders, and/or noises
- Feeling a sense of doom
- Not standing up for yourself in relationships because you fear losing the person
- Panic attack
- Rapid heart rate
- Ruminating thoughts about being unloved, ignored, or unwanted
- Shaking and sweating
- Spending time with people you don’t enjoy just to avoid being alone
- Trouble concentrating, focusing, or thinking clearly
- Worry about getting harmed
Causes of the Fear of Loneliness
What causes the fear of loneliness? For one thing, we often fear re-experiencing something painful that we’ve already experienced in the past. We don’t want to go through that again. Many of us have experienced loneliness and don’t want to have to go through it again.
Other common causes include:
- Excessive screen time might be linked with fear of loneliness or an inability to be alone
- Insecure attachment from childhood that makes you feel like when people aren’t around you that they don’t still love you
- Unprocessed trauma; you may not want to be alone in your home because something bad has happened to you in a home previously, for example.
Monophobia may also be linked with other mental health conditions including borderline personality disorder and agoraphobia.
Coping with the Fear of Loneliness
Since we know that the fear of loneliness has similarities to anxiety, that gives us some clues for coping with the condition.
Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, moving (dance or stretching) and other activities that get you into your body and into the present moment can all help you cope when the fear of loneliness arises.
Finding something to shift your attention and focus to can also help. Playing music, watching a movie that you love, or cooking a favorite meal can help.
Reach out to your support system so you don’t feel socially isolated.
This could look like:
- Brainstorming a list of people who care about you
- Calling a friend or family member
- Going for a walk around the neighborhood and saying hi to familiar faces
- Joining a support group, online or offline
- Making plans to meet up with a friend
- Taking your dog to the dog park
That said, avoiding anxiety triggers (including triggers of your fear of loneliness) can sometimes exacerbate the problem over the long-term. Therefore, it’s important to balance these distractions with practicing the art of being alone.
If your fear of loneliness might be related to childhood attachment issues, trauma, or inter-relational issues then it can be immensely helpful to seek therapeutic support to work through those challenges. Addressing those underlying issues can help resolve the fear of loneliness.
Don’t struggle with the fear of loneliness all by yourself.
Reaching out for treatment solutions can be the first step in overcoming that fear. Contact us for a free consult today.