Loneliness can often feel overwhelming and something out of our control so it can be useful to have a starting point. To help you and others to feel less lonely we have framed it into three parts:
* Acknowledge loneliness in yourself or others
* Identify what you or they need
* Take the appropriate action
Acknowledge it and don’t feel embarrassed
Loneliness is a very normal human emotion. As human beings, we are biologically wired for social contact. Most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives, regardless of age, circumstance and background. There are key life points which will increase the likelihood of feeling lonely, i.e. Moving away from home, starting Uni or a new job, becoming a new parent, going through a divorce or suffering a bereavement.
Loneliness is a bit like feeling hungry and thirsty. Much the same as when our bodies are telling us that we need to eat or drink something, loneliness is a sign that we need to pay attention to the amount of social contact we’re having.
Think about how you describe loneliness
Telling someone that you’re lonely is an important step but it’s also how we talk about it. We still use words like ‘admitting’ to and ‘suffering’ from, which can unintentionally add to the belief that something is wrong with us. There is absolutely no shame in feeling lonely and changing the language around loneliness is a positive and liberating step forward. The more we talk about it, the more we normalise it and we can move towards a society where it can be spoken about openly. When you tell someone that you’re feeling lonely, or someone is telling you, try to discuss it in a neutral and open manner. Remember that loneliness is normal. We believe that loneliness should be accepted and understood more, rather than something that necessarily has to be eradicated.
Reach out and tell someone
Look at your life and try to identify the areas where you do have support or someone to talk to. Can you talk to a family member or a friend? Or is there someone at work or in your community you can reach out to? When we’ve been lonely for a long time it can start to affect our mental health and wellbeing. If you feel that is the case, make an appointment to see your GP to make sure that you are getting the right support.
When you’re lonely it can feel like there is no one there for you but loneliness isn’t something that can always be noticed from someone’s outward appearance. How we look and feel can be completely different. It’s not that people don’t care or aren’t there for you, it’s more likely that they don’t know how you are feeling. It goes two ways: once you start reaching out to people, they will respond accordingly and your social network can start to flourish.
Know what you need
We’re all different and we all need varying levels of social contact. Some of us like to have face-to-face interaction several times a day. For others it’s a regular phone call, or being part of an online group or forum. What does your mood feel like if you go a few days without seeing or speaking to anyone? Some people will find a busy social life too overwhelming, so it’s about finding the level of contact that you feel comfortable with. Work out what you need and then look at how you can fill those gaps in your life with the right amount of connections. If someone tells you they are lonely, rather than rushing to suggest lots of new things for them to do, take the time to ask what they need and what they think they’d like to do. We often assume in a well- meaning sense that others are the same as us, when actually we all have very different needs and interests. It’s also important to distinguish the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Many people are happy with their company for much of the time and find it to be a positive experience. We might be a loneliness charity but we believe in having enough beneficial alone time!
Build up your daily community
We live in a world where a lot of the time, we don’t really connect with people for work, shopping or leisure activities. Or we might live away from friends and family and feel like we don’t have a local network or community. Think of the ways you can build connections back into your daily life. For example, shopping locally in the same places or choosing a staff-manned check out at the supermarket rather than always using self-service, or walking regularly in your local park or outside space. Even the smallest things like seeing the same faces on a regular basis, or saying hello to your neighbours will help you feel more anchored to a community.
While we’re here, what does the idea of a daily community feel like to you? What does it stand for and who is in it? All of us will have a different idea: depending on our personal circumstances and whether we live in a city, town, village or a remote rural location. What community connections are available to you and how can you make the most of them? If you don’t feel there is something there for you, how can you build up the contact or a sense of community that you feel you’re currently lacking?
Use technology proactively
Technology has been blamed for rising levels of loneliness but it can still be good for social interaction. Social media is still a great way to connect with others but notice how it makes you feel when you use it. Do you feel happier and more connected, or the opposite? Instead of scrolling through other people’s time lines, use social media to join new groups or like-minded communities so you feel part of something. In real life, try swapping communicating via a screen for a real life interaction. Meet up with a friend or call someone for a chat, rather than WhatsApping or emailing them.
Does using social platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook make you feel more or less connected? It may be time to look at different ways of communicating that suit you more (i.e more real life interactions and fewer online ones). If we don’t use the Internet it can feel like the rest of the world is online, which can make us feel even more shut out. If you feel you’d benefit socially from being online, look into Internet courses at your local library or community centre.
Whether you live in a bustling city or a rural village, most places have opportunities to meet new people. Could you start a course, or do some sort of physical exercise, or take up a new hobby as a way to meet like-minded people who have similar interests? Volunteering is also a great way to meet new people and feel part of a cause or community.