Loneliness is a universal problem, and yet most of us have trouble talking about it. Here, we look at the different types of loneliness, their symptoms and some of the ways that you can overcome it.
The truth is that everyone feels lonely. Some people feel it more often than others, some people feel it more intensely than others, and some people are better equipped to deal with it. But everyone in the world, no matter who they are, will deal with feelings of loneliness at some point in their life. That might sound like quite a sad fact, but perhaps there’s something comforting in it too: you’re never alone in loneliness.
And yet, doesn’t it seem like loneliness is one of those taboos that no-one likes to talk about? There’s this idea that if we admit that we’re lonely, people might think that we are pathetic, weird, unlikeable or unlovable. And yet, according to an ONS report, over 9 million Brits say that they feel lonely often, and 2.4 million suffer with chronic loneliness (not just passing feelings of being lonely, but daily loneliness). This something that we need to be talking about – openly, honestly and regularly.
It’s also worth mentioning that loneliness isn’t so much to do with being alone or a sense of solitude, but that loneliness is a state of mind. Mental health charity Mind describes loneliness as ‘not feeling part of the world’, and this captures that sense of isolation that many people experience.
Understanding the loneliness that you feel puts you in a good place to find the best way to deal with it, and there are four key types.
This is the sort of loneliness that comes from within, as opposed to your situation. It can stem from poor mental health, childhood experiences or ongoing personal issues. One of the best ways to face this kind of loneliness is to deal with the root cause by attending therapy sessions or looking into cognitive behavioural therapy.
Sometimes we find ourselves in places and circumstances that make it difficult to meet people and make friends. Moving abroad, stay-at-home parenting or managing a physical/mental disability can often leave people feeling isolated. This sort of loneliness can be reduced by finding groups to join with like-minded people. Look for reading groups, language classes, cookery courses – whatever you enjoy!
Some people can walk into a room and talk to anyone, and some people can really struggle, because they’re shy, socially awkward or have low self-esteem, for example. This, in turn, can make it really difficult to form connections with people. Different approaches might be required here. For example, therapy might help resolve self-esteem issues, while small hobby groups would be good practice for interacting socially.
Chronic loneliness describes that sort of loneliness that some people experience on a daily basis, so that it has become part of their life. Staggeringly, chronic loneliness can increase the risk of an early death by up to 26%. Overcoming this might seem like a daunting task, but taking small steps can have big changes. As well as therapy and group activities, find ways throughout your day to incorporate small interactions with people, such as at the shop or getting a coffee. You can also change aspects of your routine to allow for social activities.
Human beings are naturally social, and experiencing loneliness can have a massive impact on our physical and mental health.
Some of the physical symptoms of loneliness include muscle pain and tension (depression has been linked to increased physical pain perception), disrupted sleep, getting sick more often (studies have shown that loneliness can cause the body to shut down immune functions), digestive troubles and increased blood pressure.
Some of the mental symptoms of loneliness that you should look out for include anxiety, stress, depression, melancholy, memory problems, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.
Name what you’re feeling and validate it to yourself. It can feel overwhelming to do so, but it starts the process of overcoming it.
If you can, talk about it with friends.
You might feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it openly with others, but chances are, other people will have felt and will understand loneliness in their own way. Sharing these experiences can help you deal with it.
If you can’t talk with friends, talk with professionals.
There are charities and organisations out there that are desperate to help people overcome their feelings of loneliness. You can try the Samaritans, Mind or Hub of Hope, for example.
Look for groups and activities to join.
Think about some of the things that interest you and look for groups that cater to it. Joining a small group might seem intimidating, but it’s a good place to broaden your social interactions. If you feel uncomfortable by the idea of meeting up or can’t find a local group, head online and look at forums and social media groups too – there’s as much value in virtual friendships as there are in physical ones.
Reduce your hours on social media.
Scrolling through images of other people having a great time with their friends can often exacerbate feelings of loneliness. If this happens to you, take control and turn off your phone. You can use the time you would have spent mindlessly scrolling to get in touch with a friend/family member.