Guest Article by Gabrielle Baglino from Oak Street Health
Many live in fear of being alone but find themselves unable to voice these concerns within a society that celebrates independence. Technology has helped promote this isolation by enabling virtual connections at our fingertips, which has further increased the physical distance between people.
Autophobia, or monophobia, refers to a fear of being alone. While it is yet to be recognized as a specific mental health diagnosis, it is a persistent reality for thousands of people around the globe.
Signs You Should Look For
For anyone with autophobia, it is difficult to articulate the fear that they experience. Signs can be masked by their elated state when surrounded by people they trust.
A first step is to look for cues in conversations that you have with your loved ones.
- Are they eager when they meet you?
- Do they always ask you to stay over?
- Are there signs that they are unable to manage on their own?
- Do they mention a fear of being outside alone or a fear of being ignored?
- Are there moments of anxiety or a state of panic right after they are alone?
During the phases when they are alone they can experience a panic attack. They might mention that their heart races, or they have moments of profuse sweating or experience a sense of impending doom, and are hyper-aware of their surroundings. This fear does not go away unless they are around someone they trust.
Being alone for extended periods can cause your loved one to switch to a state of dysfunction. Their ability to form new relationships can be affected. Work might start getting neglected. A lot of their time might get taken up in attempts to negate being alone.
Watching Out for Potential Triggers
If we trace back to certain instances within our loved one’s lives, we might observe traumatic incidents during which they may have developed this overwhelming fear of being alone.
Being abandoned as a child, uncertainty of the whereabouts of loved ones, neglect, abuse either as a child or adult, or being surrounded by individuals that struggle with substance abuse are potential trigger events.
The inability to cope or find an escape route from these situations worsens the feelings of anxiety. It is only when they are safe and surrounded by people they trust that the anxiety starts to diminish.
How Can You Help Your Loved One?
There are many different avenues through which we can work through this fear of being alone for our loved ones. One of the first steps is to be a hero by making them feel safe and reassuring them that they are not truly alone.
Some ways we as the trusted loved ones can approach their fear include:
1. Provide A Safe Space To Discuss Their Concerns
When we start conversing with our loved ones about their fear of being alone, we likely will realize that a lot of this fear is internalized. They may reveal that they never have the space to talk about it. Moreover, there may be a fear of being judged for the inability to be alone. Non-judgemental listening helps build a state of ease. Their fear should be made valid.
2. Help Them Form Community Ties
We have our responsibilities toward our families and social communities. This can make staying with our loved ones for long durations slightly tricky. To manage this it would be great to help our loved ones engage within their local communities and form bonds among their neighbors.
Their fear may have prevented this in the past, but a slight nudge can go a long way toward more wholesome relationships that are close to home.
3. Seek Professional Help
The fear of being alone is essentially a phobia about a specific situation. To uncloak some of the underlying causes of behavioral health issues and manage them, setting up an appointment with a trained psychotherapist would be advisable. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely used technique to tackle phobias. It enables your loved ones to cope with their fear by understanding its root causes. Therapy might also include controlled exposure to situations of being alone to assist with decreasing anxiety and increase the ability to cope.
4. Build Coping Mechanisms for Alone Phases
It can take quite a while before your loved one will be able to manage through these phases on their own. Building routines and strategies that might make them feel safe can help immensely.
This can include people they can call when alone, access to emergency numbers, and professional help. Assist them with building mechanisms to alleviate their anxiety, such as meditation or mindful breathing.
No fear should be dismissed. A lot of the fears present within our surroundings are silent. While it can be difficult to identify them all, for our loved ones it can be as simple as reaching out to them and talking to them. Being a safe space ourselves helps them to come forward so that we can be a hero to our loved ones in the best way we can.
Oak Street Health is your home for comprehensive primary care. With our wide network of senior primary care centers and health clinics, our experienced team of primary care doctors, specialists and caregivers, and our full range of medical services—which include telehealth for seniors and social services—we have your health needs covered.