If you're feeling lonely, you're not alone. Around 45% of people in the UK admit to feeling lonely at least some of the time and one in 8 adults say that they have no close friends.
I spoke to Lydia, who has suffered from loneliness her whole life. She has chronic fatigue syndrome and was born with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. From a young age she felt isolated after being bullied at school and her health issues mean that she doesn't currently work. Lydia explains what loneliness feels like to her:
“Loneliness can be quite a dark place, filled with a lot of negative emotions. Sometimes it makes me feel anxious and depressed. It often stops me from doing the things that I want to do.”
Taking control of your loneliness
When you're lonely it's easy to feel helpless, but there is lots you can do to take charge of the situation.
1. Open up
If you’re feeling lonely, don’t suffer in silence. The best first step you can take is to talk to someone. If you feel like you don't have anyone close to you, or are uncomfortable talking to friends or family, it might be worth talking to someone neutral. The Samaritans provide a free helpline to anyone struggling with their emotional wellbeing.
2. Address the root cause
Loneliness is often (though not always) a symptom of an underlying cause. You might have trouble trusting people, or you may feel isolated due to depression, for example. It's a good idea to think about what might be causing your loneliness, and try to address these issues head on. A therapist can help you to discover your root cause and make positive changes.
3. Learn to think differently
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help to rewire how you look and respond to situations, helping to build confidence and overcome some of the causes of loneliness, such as a lack of self esteem. This therapy is designed to give you the tools you need to make positive life-long change, so it could help you to manage your feelings of loneliness better in the long term.
4. Keep active
Exercise releases feel-good hormones into your brain, so exercising regularly can help improve your outlook, making you feel more positive. And finding ways to keep active, such as joining a gym class, can also introduce you to new people and provide regular contact points to build connection into your weekly routine.
5. Explore your hobbies
If you have a special interest or hobby, use this as a starting point for meeting people. Look for local groups, events or societies based around your hobbies so you're engaging with activities you're passionate about and finding others who have shared interests.
6. Volunteer your time
Another great way to connect to people in your local area is to volunteer your time. Proactively supporting your community will introduce you to new people and help you to feel grounded in your area. Research has also found that helping others makes us feel happy, so volunteering can help improve your mental wellbeing too.
7. Step away from the screen
It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending less time on social media may help to reduce your feelings of loneliness. Studies have found that social media is a major contributor to feelings of depression and loneliness.
Scrolling through streams of photos and posts that present a false picture of perfection, and seeing people with high numbers of 'friends' can cause you to reflect on your own life as 'worse' than others. Remember that posts on social media don't provide a true or full representation of people's lives. They are snapshots and often heavily edited in a positive light. Spending less time on social media will give you the time to get out and meet people face to face. Having a small number of strong social bonds with other people is more important than having a large number of superficial friendships.
It’s important to acknowledge that loneliness won’t necessarily disappear overnight but taking positive steps to put yourself out there will help to build your network of meaningful relationships. Be kind to yourself, be patient and don't give up.
Helping others overcome loneliness
Loneliness is all around us. Even if you don't feel lonely yourself, you can help to overcome loneliness in your community by supporting others. Here's some positive actions you can take:
1. Talk to your neighbours
When you have a busy life it's easy to rush in and out of the house without stopping for more than a wave at your neighbours. But we can all spare five minutes here and there. Next time you wave at a neighbour, why not pop over for a quick chat, ask how they're doing and talk about their day. Showing an interest in others' lives helps to make them feel included and cared for.
2. Volunteer locally with older people
Older people are at particular risk of loneliness for many reasons, including mobility issues making it harder for them to get out and about, and families moving away. Charities such as Age UK have launched befriending schemes that will connect you to older people in your community.
3. Check in with family regularly
Whether your family live around the corner or on the other side of the world, getting in touch regularly can help prevent feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Set up a regular phone call and plan for more meaningful catch ups whenever you can find the time.
Last updated Friday 29 November 2019