Loneliness isn’t always an absence of people. Rather it is an absence of connection. The concept of feeling lonely in a crowd is a regular discussion point. We can be surrounded by people and feel lonely. Or we can be by ourselves and feel supported. Two years into a pandemic and I think we have all experienced loneliness to some extent.
There is no shame in feeling lonely. It doesn’t render someone unlikeable. Human beings are sociable creatures. Some more than others. But even the most introverted of us crave a connection of sorts. We have different needs for connection. Some of us may be perfectly at peace with sporadic contact with a friend. Others may need regular contact with a partner, friends and family. Whilst our needs differ, the emotions we experience from loneliness are similar.
We will discuss what causes loneliness and its impact. We will look at how to identify our own needs in terms of human connection. And finally, we will review 5 ways we can stop feeling lonely.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness has been described as:
The unwelcome feeling we can experience when there is a mismatch between the social relationships we have and those that we would like to have i.e we feel that there is something missing or lacking in the quality of our social relations.
The element to highlight in this definition is the word “lacking in the quality”. Loneliness is not just an outright absence of social connection. But it can also be experienced as a lack of quality of these social connections.
We may have people we call friends. But these “friends” may not show much interest in us. We can feel isolated and alone even in company.
Our own perceived loneliness can leave us feeling vulnerable. It can have a detrimental impact on our well-being.
How do I know if I am lonely?
Firstly, it is important to recognize that loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age or other socio-demographic characteristics.
Secondly, I want to help remove any feelings of shame associated with feeling lonely. As this article outlines, loneliness can be associated with weakness and self-pity and brings with it an expectation for an easy fix. But this is not the case. Loneliness is not a weakness.
I have experienced loneliness numerous times in my life.
- The most intense loneliness was when I endured the disenfranchised grief of the passing of my K9 soul mate. This left me feeling isolated and misunderstood.
- I have felt lonely all the times I started a new job and was automatically put in the “newcomer” category.
- Starting a new school when friend groups are already established can be crippling for some children. It was for me!
But hands down the most chronically lonely I have felt is in the past few years. I moved house and country in the middle of a pandemic.
Sure, I had my partner, in many ways I was fortunate. But my friends mean the world to me. I missed face-to-face human connection. I missed talking about ideas and current affairs. With lockdown rules, there was no way of building new friendships. My soul survived on Facetime with the friends I’d left behind in my home country.
Everyone I passed was a stranger. I was an outsider.
Funnily enough, this is the first time I recognized I was lonely. Loneliness looks different for everyone. My loneliness looked like this:
- A lack of energy.
- Degradation of my self-esteem.
- General feelings of apathy and lack of motivation.
- An overwhelming sense of sadness.
- Spontaneous tears.
Interestingly, loneliness has been categorized as “emotional loneliness” and “social loneliness”. I would say my loneliness was more social loneliness. But without my partner and remote contact with friends, this would have easily switched over to emotional loneliness.
Ask yourself if you feel satisfied with the human interactions you have. Or are you left feeling isolated and unseen? Do you experience a low mood and a sense of worthlessness? Do you seek deeper connections? Do you crave more depth? These are sure signs that you may be feeling lonely.
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What triggers loneliness?
Whilst there are a number of life events that can trigger loneliness, personality is also a factor.
We all have different social needs. Some people need a partner. Others feel more nourished without. As we would expect, introverts require less social contact than extroverts. But make no mistake, introverts still need some form of social contact to stave off loneliness.
A weekly coffee date with a friend may keep an introvert’s loneliness at bay. Yet this level of social interaction may be wholly inadequate for an extrovert, and actually, may induce a sense of loneliness.
Life events that might cause an acute period of loneliness are listed below.
- Divorce or separation.
- House move.
- Having children or not having children.
- Fallouts in friend groups.
- Family estrangements.
What does our data say?
In our effort to destigmatize issues of mental health, we’ve interviewed 129 people so far, of which 7 have struggled with loneliness. These people have shared the things that have helped them overcome loneliness:
What is the impact of loneliness?
When Brittany Spears sang “my loneliness is killing me” in her 1998 hit “Baby One More Time”, she wasn’t kidding.
The impact of loneliness is chronic and severe. Both mentally and physically.
- Heart disease.
- Lung disease.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Metabolic disorders.
Feelings of loneliness can lead to self-destructive habits. These can send us spiraling downhill and result in our finding comfort elsewhere.
- Alcohol and drug misuse.
- Antisocial behavior.
Ironically these negative behaviors can prevent new social connections or bring in meaningless social contacts. Worst-case scenario: they can destroy our current social contacts.
It’s important to recognize the difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is voluntary, it involves an intentional action to be alone.
I have embraced a peaceful solitude, and yet, there are times I still feel lonely.
5 ways to alleviate loneliness
We all deserve love and connection. Loneliness can eat us up inside and leave us feeling rejected by society in general. We may associate loneliness with old age, but it occurs at all ages and stages of life.
Our self-esteem can lie in tatters when we feel lonely. This in itself can make it difficult to reverse the cycle. Please believe there are plenty of people out there who would love to connect with you. You bring your own unique value to the world.
1. Voluntary work
When we help others, we also help ourselves. Voluntary work has been proven to alleviate our own low mood and sense of loneliness.
- We connect with other people.
- We have a sense of purpose.
- We are needed and valuable.
- This impacts our sense of self-worth.
2. Choose your friends wisely
Not all friends are made equal. Do your friends energize you and make you feel seen? Do your friends listen to you and support you? Do they remember important events? Do they initiate contact with you?
Friendships are incredibly important. But sometimes friendships can leave us feeling more lonely than loved.
I’ve recently lost several friendships. Once I stopped serving these friends, they faded away. I grieve for the friendships. But I feel less lonely without them. My bank of friends is richer and more authentic. I feel appreciated for who I am. I am genuinely loved. Good friends lift us up and heighten our well-being.
Be open to connections. Smile and make eye contact with strangers. Chat to the cashier serving you in the shop. Stop and talk to a passerby on your walk. You never know where these interactions may take you.
3. Join like-minded community groups
Get out into your community and see what is on offer. What are your interests and passions? Maybe you want to start a new hobby. I guarantee there will be clubs, organizations or interest groups around you.
And if there aren’t, why not start one?
I co-founded a canicross club a number of years ago. I helped bring people and dogs together in one big melting pot of love. This group was based on inclusion, acceptance and tolerance. Everyone was welcome.
The feedback I received over the years still remains with me today. This club brought meaning into peoples’ lives. This club brought friendship and connection.
Community groups help stave off loneliness in a way I have experienced firsthand.
4. Connect with yourself
If you don’t like and love yourself, how can you expect others to?
Be the person you want to be. Be the person you admire, love and respect. Give yourself time to grow. Read, meditate, walk in nature, exercise. Find your worth.
As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says in her closing sentence of my favorite poem “The Invitation”.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Life will bring us periods of loneliness, that much is inevitable. But this will be easier if you like yourself and learn to enjoy your own company as best you can.
What does our data say?
Connecting with yourself can look like many things. For some, it’s focusing on healthy habits, for others it comes in the form of travel. We’ve interviewed 64 people who’ve overcome struggles of mental health – including loneliness – by focusing on self-improvement. Here’s what self-improvement helped them with:
5. Consider a pet
Last but not least, would you consider a pet? The love and companionship our pets bring us, serve to alleviate deep loneliness.
Of course, the type of pet you choose is a personal preference. Why not check out our survey, which concludes that pet owners are happier than non-pet owners.
Pets bring connection. Not only with them but with everyone they help bring into our lives as a result of their existence. Watch how the universe responds when you bring an animal into your life and shower it with love.
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We all experience loneliness from time to time. Please do not feel any shame for these feelings. It is perfectly natural and normal. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that any major life change brings about a sense of loneliness. But when loneliness becomes chronic, that’s when we need to take action.
Remember, when you take steps to alleviate your own loneliness, you often help reduce the loneliness of another.
When was the last time you dealt with a feeling of loneliness? What’s your favorite tip of this article? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!