By its very definition, loneliness is an extremely isolating feeling. It can make you feel depressed, lost and unfulfilled.
Though we can all feel lonely sometimes – and the way it feels varies from person to person – some people are chronically lonely.
The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has plunged even more people into loneliness, whilst those feeling lonely have often felt more isolated than ever before because of social distancing and lockdown guidelines.
Though it’s a difficult and challenging experience, there is help available for those who feel lonely. If you’re struggling, or you believe someone you know may be lonely, keep reading to find out how loneliness can be curbed or eased.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is the feeling of not getting the social contact and/or relationships you feel you need. It can be a very short-term feeling – lasting just minutes, hours or days – or a much more long-term issue that spans months and years.
Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely – you can be quite content and happy spending time on your own and enjoying your own company. Conversely, loneliness isn’t restricted to situations where you’re alone. You might be in a crowded place or a room full of people, and still have feelings of loneliness.
For many people, loneliness can come in waves, and often appears at certain times with special meanings. Perhaps it could be Christmas time where many people are seen together with friends and family. It might be winter, a time when it’s often more difficult to meet up with and visit relatives. Or it can be on specific dates that hold a meaning; maybe a birthday or anniversary date of someone who has passed.
What causes loneliness?
Loneliness can be caused by a wide variety of issues or circumstances. These could include things like:
- Being housebound or unable to get around as freely as you once could, due to ill health
- Going through or having recently been through a relationship break-up
- Being widowed or losing a companion you live with
- Suffering from social anxiety that prevents you feeling comfortable in social situations
- Having a lack of contact with friends and family
- Changes in social circumstances, such as a new job or moving to a new town or city
- Being retired, meaning you miss the day-to-day contact with colleagues
- Feeling as though you have nobody to talk to
What makes one person feel lonely may not have the same impact on others, but these are just some of the most common reasons why a feeling of loneliness may occur.
What impact can loneliness have?
Loneliness can, understandably, have a big impact on your mental health (and vice versa). In many ways, it can be a vicious circle; being lonely can cause anxiety and stress, but these mental health issues can also cause you to retreat and become lonely because of isolation.
Loneliness and mental health struggles go hand-in-hand, therefore.
Research suggests that around one in four people feel lonely, and that this can have detrimental effects on health. This research, headed by the neuroscientist, John Cacioppo, also suggests that loneliness can contribute to the following:
- Increased vulnerability
- Decreased sleep effectiveness
- Weakening of the immune system
- Mental health implications
Loneliness affects different people in different ways, but it clearly does have an impact in causing reduced quality of life in one way or another.
How to deal with loneliness
Saying or thinking to yourself “I’m lonely” can be difficult. It may be hard to accept or admit that you’re feeling that way but try to remember there’s no shame in loneliness, and there are different things you can try to overcome your feelings of solitude:
- Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby, which can fill your time with something you enjoy – you may also get to meet new people and find comfort in the sense of community
- Consider getting a pet if your circumstances and living arrangements allow. There are refuges looking to rehome pets, and this can provide companionship if you are an animal lover
- Meet up with friends (when it’s safe to do so) to get some face-to-face contact (or as close as social distancing allows)
We also asked loneliness charity WaveLength for some tips on how people can feel more connected during times of loneliness, and they shared these helpful ideas:
Watching TV or listening to the radio
According to WaveLength: “Having a communal space to watch TV together allows us to make friends. It helps people to communicate with those who have the same interests and relieves boredom. Providing someone with a television or radio is often all it takes to alleviate loneliness.”
Internet and social media
“In addition, if you have access to the internet at home, using social media platforms is a great way to maintain social interactions with people. Consider meeting up on Zoom with family and friends for supper, quiz night, virtual sports, etc. This can ease any heightened stress or anxiety you may be feeling during this crisis or periods of loneliness”, said WaveLength’s spokesperson.
“Alternatively, you can visit meetup.com to help you to find people in your area who share mutual interests or ‘Next-door’ which is a street WhatsApp group that allows you to meet people within your neighbourhood. You may also want to consider using WhatsApp to join a book group or to simply share photos of your day with one another.”
The great outdoors
WaveLength also advocates getting out if you’re able to: “On the other hand, if you don’t have access to the internet but you are able to get outdoors and feel safe to do so during Covid-19, short walks in outdoor spaces such as the park can immensely improve your mood. You could do this with either a friend or a family member.”
WaveLength gives TVs, radios, and tablet computers to groups like hostels, refuges and community centres. Technology like this can help bring people together and make them happy. WaveLength does not receive funding from the government and exists off donations alone. If you would like to make a donation to WaveLength, please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/wavel
Loneliness charities and support lines
For those struggling to cope with feelings of loneliness, help and support can come in many guises. If speaking to family or friends is more difficult, or you simply need further support, there are a range of charitable organisations and helplines you can explore, including:
- The Silver Line – provides a confidential phoneline for friendship and advice for the older generation
- Campaign to End Loneliness – conducts research and campaigns to help understand loneliness and make a difference to those seeking connection
- Re-engage – provides companionship and friendship services through volunteers to help support elderly people living alone
Do you know a loved one who might feel lonely?
If you’re feeling lonely, even if only temporarily, try some of the tips in this guide or consider reaching out to family and friends.
For those of you who are caring for vulnerable family or friends, keep loneliness in mind. Though your presence may offer comfort, they may still feel lonely in other situations, and the resources outlined here can offer great comfort and support during the times you can’t be there.