We all experience loneliness from time to time. But for some people, loneliness can become chronic or long-term, having a negative impact on their wellbeing and quality of life. In this article, we explore what loneliness is, who suffers from it and its possible causes and how to overcome feelings of loneliness. We also explore some helpful tips and advice for managing and overcoming feelings of loneliness.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a normal human emotion which we all feel from time to time in our lives. Humans are social creatures; we are biologically wired for social contact. Loneliness is a natural signal that we need more social contact.
Loneliness is a subjective feeling of sadness or lacking one experiences when they perceive the quality or quantity of their social connections falls short of what they want or need. In this sense, we do not need to be alone to feel lonely. We can sometimes feel lonely in relationships or while spending time with friends or family, especially if we feel uncared for or misunderstood by those around us.
Similarly, a person can choose to spend their lives with very little social contact and yet not experience loneliness. The propensity for loneliness, therefore, differs from person to person and at various times in our lives.
The different types of loneliness
Loneliness can be categorised into different types:
Social loneliness refers to the type of loneliness we may feel when we perceive we are lacking a wider social network, including family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.
Situational loneliness refers to the feeling of loneliness we may experience at specific times such as Christmas, Easter, weekends or bank holidays.
Emotional loneliness refers to the loneliness we may experience through losing someone who was previously very close to us, such as a partner or close friend. This can occur when someone very close to us passes away, moves far away or becomes estranged due to a falling out.
Transient loneliness refers to a feeling of loneliness which comes and goes at different times.
Chronic loneliness refers to loneliness that is experienced all, or most, of the time.
Who is most likely to feel lonely?
It is a common misconception that loneliness mostly affects older people. Although many older people can and do experience loneliness, younger people also experience loneliness, with some evidence suggesting younger age groups experience loneliness to a greater extent. For example, the BBC Loneliness Experiment found that 40% of younger respondents (aged 16-24) report feeling lonely compared to just 27% of older respondents (over the age of 75).
We all experience loneliness differently, but most of us will experience loneliness at various points in our lives, regardless of our age, background or circumstances. Having said this, there are some key factors which are thought to increase the chances of experiencing loneliness.
Causes of loneliness
There are many factors which are considered to increase the chances of experiencing loneliness. These are comprised of key life events as well as circumstances which could affect all of us at different points in our lives:
- Separating from a partner or spouse
- Suffering a bereavement
- Retiring from work
- Becoming a parent
- Moving away from home
- Starting University
- Starting a new job
- Becoming unemployed or experiencing long-term unemployment
- Suffering from illness or disability or caring for someone who does
- Working or living alone
- Suffering from social anxiety or poor mental health
Tips for managing loneliness
There are many things that can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness. If you’re experiencing loneliness, the best form of help will depend on your individual circumstances and reasons for feeling lonely. The following tips offer a general guide to managing loneliness but should not be viewed as a replacement for medical or professional help if you are experiencing chronic loneliness or other mental health concerns.
Making new connections
If you feel you are lacking a wider social support network, seeking out new connections can be helpful. Research local groups you can join or volunteer projects you can get involved with in your area. If you have a particular hobby, for example, you may find there is a local group of like-minded people you can join.
Mind has compiled a list of useful contacts which can help connect you with groups or organisations that meet your individual needs or circumstances.
Peer support groups connect people experiencing similar issues who can share their experiences and support one another. Peer support groups can be found on and offline and can be a useful resource to help you feel less alone in your experiences. You may also make new friends and connections via peer support groups.
Another option is a befriending service which can help you access volunteers who give their time to support people feeling lonely.
Use Mind’s resources to help you find the right peer support.
Talking about how you feel
Sometimes, we feel lonely because we feel that we are not understood by those around us or that we don’t receive the care we need from them. In these cases, loneliness can sometimes be alleviated by speaking up about how we are feeling to friends and family.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to friends and family about how you feel or don’t have a social network to speak to, talking to a professional therapist or counsellor can help. Talking therapies can help you explore your feelings of loneliness so you can better understand them and develop a plan for managing your loneliness. Depending on where you live, you may be able to access talking therapies through your local GP. Alternatively, you could seek an independent therapist and pay for their services.
Feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your wellbeing over time and potentially lead to other mental health challenges, such as depression or anxiety. Taking proactive steps to look after yourself can help you begin to feel more positive. Some self-care practices you can do daily include:
- Spending time outside in nature
- Spending time with animals
- Regular exercise or physical activity
- Getting enough sleep
- Practising mindfulness or meditation
- Engaging in hobbies
Taking it slowly and setting small goals
Loneliness can be overwhelming, especially if felt severely or for long periods of time. It’s a good idea to take it slowly and set small goals to work towards. If meeting new people or opening up to others is a scary thought at first, consider taking small steps to create daily self-care habits such as a 20-minute walk. Or perhaps begin by joining an online forum.
Over time, you can set bigger goals, such as joining a face-to-face group in your local area or seeking a volunteering opportunity. Everyone’s circumstances and experiences of loneliness are different, so don’t compare yourself to others and try to set goals which are relevant and realistic for you.
Things to avoid if you’re experiencing loneliness
Some things can contribute to feelings of loneliness or make you feel worse. If you’re experiencing loneliness, consider avoiding the following things:
- Comparing yourself to others around you or on social media
- Focusing on things you can’t change or control
Useful organisations and resources
There are many organisations offering help and advice for people experiencing loneliness. You may find the following links useful if you are experiencing loneliness or would like more information on the topic: