Everyone’s felt lonely at one time or another. It can be circumstantial due to things like a significant life event. Equally, it can be just as easy to feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by people, perhaps due to your relationship’s status or lack of solid friendships.
Loneliness and a feeling of isolation is a complex issue. But it’s certainly not a hopeless one. There are ways to break the cycle of loneliness and increase your sense of connection. By understanding just how common it is, and why you’re experiencing that feeling, you can start looking for ways to make a positive difference to your life.
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What can loneliness do to a person?
It’s vital to recognise that loneliness is a serious issue and it shouldn’t be laughed off or swept under the carpet. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to talk about feeling lonely. That’s where the complexity comes in. It can be hard to talk about feeling this way and reach out to others.
Remembering that research shows that loneliness links to a variety of severe health problems is crucial. Although it might seem like, “just a feeling,” studies reveal that it’s connected to health issues that range from alcoholism to insomnia, stroke, and even early death. From a mental health point of view, it can affect your self-esteem, anxiety levels and stress, among others.
Far from using this knowledge to feel frightened, just be assured that it is something that justifies seeking help. And the good news is that there are lots of ways you can do that. Finding a path that’s comfortable for you is possible. And you don’t have to feel alone.
What are the main causes of loneliness?
Loneliness affects us all at some time. Mind.org describes loneliness as, “the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met.” But as they go on to say, it can also occur when we’re with others. You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely.
Sometimes a life-changing experience can cause loneliness. Like a bereavement, relationship break-up or retirement. You might also feel isolated if you’re in a new situation, like starting university, moving to a new area or changing jobs. The Coronavirus outbreak and lockdown measures are another example.
We’ve touched on certain circumstances being the cause of loneliness too, but there are other things to add to the list. Becoming a mother for the first time may put you in a vulnerable and lonely position, for instance. Or being excluded from social gatherings. It may come down to your identity too. Perhaps you’re part of a minority group and immersed in an area where no one has the same background.
You’ll notice that these sorts of events and situations can happen to anyone. In most cases, they can occur at different points in our lives. That just shows us how anyone can feel lonely.
Lisa Pearson, from the Mummy Whisperer blog, told Health Times: "I suddenly realised at one point that I had very few friends around me due to some big life changes and the loneliness was huge. So I purposely set out to get some new friends!
"I wrote a list on what I would like them to be like. I reminded myself that I would make a good friend. I had a look around my life to see who might be available, and suggested meeting up - like I was wooing a few people. And the right ones took me up on the offer, and very soon I DID have good friends again.
"Remember - you aren’t the only one who is lonely - we often assume it is just us!"
Can loneliness change your personality?
One of the main reasons to fight loneliness is that it can lead to you feeling bad on several levels. The health side of things is an obvious one. And we’ve talked about it impacting our mental health too. But can loneliness change your personality?
If it’s a long-term sense of loneliness, it can impair cognitive skills, which help us do things like concentrate on a task and problem-solve. It also has the potential to lead to depression and negative self-beliefs. These are the sorts of things that affect the way we interact and view the world we live in. So, we must fight loneliness. You don’t deserve to feel isolated and lonely, and there are ways to tackle it head-on before it becomes a chronic feeling.
How do you fight loneliness?
While remembering that loneliness isn’t uncommon, it doesn’t answer the question of how to fight it. How do you act and reduce your feeling of loneliness and isolation?
Here are seven ways to combat your loneliness, or help others who may be experiencing a sense of isolation:
- Keeping in touch with loved ones – if the Coronavirus taught us anything, it’s that there are plenty of ways to stay in touch with the ones we love. Even if it’s challenging to meet up with people for any reason, you can still maintain contact. Videocalls, messages, and of course, traditional meetups in person if possible, will all help you to connect with others.
- Meet new people – this is a hard one because social anxiety may prevent you from putting yourself out there in this way. But, if you can pluck up the courage, looking for likeminded people at groups, clubs and events could open a whole new friendship group.
- Invest your time in charitable work – perhaps interacting with people in a group setting still sounds a bit overwhelming. An alternative could be to get involved with a charity you believe in and contribute to their work. Even if you don’t make a load of new friends in the process, you’ll still be in a social setting, and putting your energy into something you believe in.
- Nurture yourself – self-esteem can easily take a knock when you’re feeling lonely. Buoy yourself up with feel-good activities. That could be reading a book, watching a favourite film, taking a bath, doing some exercise or going for a long walk. Whatever it is, make sure the focus is purely on you. You deserve some self-care.
- Take up a hobby – or indulge in an old one! The sky is the limit here, as long as it’s healthy and harmless. You may want to start knitting, golfing, yoga or journaling. Researching your family tree or collecting something. The great thing is that it’s a positive way to spend your energy, and it’s diverting too.
- Talk to a therapist – getting therapy could be an effective way of talking through your worries and feelings. But if that’s not possible for any reason, the NHS publishes a list of helplines that are open to people with a range of issues.
- Make a plan to fight it – committing to things, big or small can help you feel more in control of your loneliness. You might want to take a big step and try a new group or class. Doing something that feels comfortable and manageable, like spending some time on self-care could be a better start for you. If you’re speaking to a therapist, they can also help you create a plan like this.