Chronic loneliness is one of the most common and most painful side effects of cancer, but it can also be one of the least talked about. It can make dealing with cancer even more difficult if you feel you are struggling alone, with no one to understand you.
Many factors can contribute to chronic loneliness, like if your friends begin to treat you differently or loved ones stop calling or visiting. You may also start to feel cut off since you are not well enough to participate in your favorite hobbies. And even if you have people in your life to support and take care of you, you may still deal with chronic loneliness because none of them can relate to what you are going through.
Chronic loneliness can be especially difficult if you are single or widowed. But despite your feelings of being alone, you should know that you are not—many people feel the way you do, and there are ways for you to find the community and connection you long for.
What Is Chronic Loneliness?
Chronic loneliness is when feelings of loneliness and social isolation are consuming and long-lasting. It is characterized by constant, unrelenting feelings of being alone, feeling isolated from others, and being unable to connect with others on a deeper level. You may also struggle with self-loathing, feeling inadequate, and poor self-esteem.
Chronic loneliness is different from the short-term feelings of loneliness that we can all have at different points in our lives. It is more serious and can lead to other health problems if left untreated.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Loneliness
The signs of chronic loneliness can look different depending on who you are. But if you consistently feel some or all of the following symptoms, you may be dealing with chronic loneliness:
- You are unable to connect with others on a deeper, more intimate level than surface-level, even family or those closest to you.
- You have a lack of close friends or best friends. Most of the friends you have are casual friends or acquaintances who do not seem to get you.
- You experience overwhelming feelings of isolation, no matter where you are or who is around you. Even if you are at a party, at work, or in a busy public place, it feels as if you are totally alone.
- You have feelings of self-doubt and negative self-worth. You feel as if you are never enough.
- There is no reciprocation when you try to reach out to others, and you feel unseen and unheard.
- You feel exhausted and burnt out after trying to engage socially. These feelings of being drained can lead to other issues you might be dealing with, such as sleep problems, weakened immune system, and poor diet.
Cancer Is a Lonely Disease
Chronic loneliness can occur to anyone, but it is especially common if you have cancer. Even though you may have attentive and supportive caregivers, friends, and family members, being the only one struggling with the disease can make you feel isolated. You may long to connect with someone who just understands. These feelings are normal for cancer patients during their diagnosis, treatment, and even after their treatment is finished.
Why You Feel Chronically Lonely With Cancer
There are many reasons why you feel chronically lonely with cancer. You may feel lonely if you feel you have to be brave for everyone else. You may not want to upset your loved ones by talking about your feelings, or you may feel like you have to protect them from your negative thoughts or feelings. It is a great and lonely burden to bear. You may also feel lonely if your loved ones are busy, live far away, or feel uncomfortable talking about what you are going through.
But even if your loved ones are open to talking with you, you may feel lonely because they can never truly understand what you are going through. This makes sense because we, as humans, are hard-wired for connection, to truly be understood by someone else. It is one of the hard facts of cancer that others will not really get what you are enduring unless they have endured it for themselves.
Facing Cancer Alone
While many cancer patients have a support system of family, friends, or caretakers, you may be facing cancer all alone. You may be single, divorced, widowed, or orphaned, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness that are already common to those dealing with cancer. You may be feeling like you have no support system, or like you are on your own. Especially if you live alone, chronic loneliness is hard to deal with on top of having cancer.
But even if one of these scenarios fits your situation, there is hope. You can find people to connect with and find practical ways to help you not feel so lonely as you deal with cancer.
How to Start Feeling Not Alone
There are many opportunities to alleviate your feelings of loneliness and boost your overall morale so that you will not feel as alone while going through cancer. Even though it still may be impossible for those closest to you to fully understand your struggle, there are others out there to connect with who do get it. And there are also practical steps you can take to help you feel more fulfilled in a way that you can start feeling not as alone.
First, you can find some advice on how to start feeling not alone here: “How to Overcome Loneliness and Find Meaning in Your Life.”
Finding Support From Others
One option to help you feel less alone is to talk with your doctor, a therapist, or another healthcare professional. A therapist can help you identify any ongoing, deeply rooted negative beliefs you have about yourself that can be contributing to your chronic loneliness. And talking with a healthcare professional can give you perspective or connection with someone who is more familiar with what you are going through.
You can also join a support group. There are many different types of support groups for all kinds of struggles and even for different types of cancers. In a support group, you can receive encouragement and understanding from others who are going through exactly what you are. You may find people who share similar feelings as you, people who will be able to get you in a way that no one else can.
One last option for connection is to participate in activities with others, doing something you enjoy, as your health allows you. It can be a difficult step to take, but reaching out to others to volunteer, join a hobby club or workout group, or engage in another type of activity can help boost your self-esteem and provide a satisfying way to connect with others who care about and enjoy the same things you do.
To find out why connecting with others is crucial to dealing with your loneliness, check out this article: “Top 2 Reasons Why We Need Friends in Our Life”
Get Some Exercise and Sunlight
Very practically, getting any amount of exercise and getting outside in the sunshine will help you out a lot. Being active and being in the sun helps produce endorphins and serotonin, hormones that help boost your mood, improve sleep, and make you feel happier in a way that helps counteract your chronic feelings of loneliness.
Seek Spiritual Help
Lastly, seeking spiritual help can give you a sense of life’s deeper meaning and a higher perspective that can help a lot as you deal with cancer. There is a God who cares about you and what you are going through, and He wants you to be able to find help in Him. He has designed humans to live in community with each other, to help and encourage each other in a way that provides encouragement and fulfillment. You can find this type of community by seeking spiritual help—community that will give you belonging and purpose where other groups and other people may fail. While no one is perfect, those seeking to truly live according to the Bible are some of the most accepting, loving, and uplifting people you can be around as you navigate your struggle with cancer and your feelings of loneliness. To find more spiritual help for your chronic loneliness, you can check out one of the articles here: How to help loneliness.