Many of us may feel lonely from time to time or may have experienced loneliness in our lives. Inspired by Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 and post-pandemic conversations throughout the community, we’ve put together a simple guide to loneliness and how you can feel supported or build your social contact.
It’s human nature to desire social contact and feeling lonely can be a signal that we need more. However, many of us can feel lonely even when we are not alone. Whereas others may choose to be alone and feel happy with less social contact.
There are different types of loneliness we can experience, including:
Emotional loneliness – When someone you were very close with is no longer there.
Transient loneliness – A feeling that can come and go.
Social loneliness – When you feel the desire for a wider social network of friends, neighbours or colleagues.
Situational loneliness – Loneliness which you may only feel at certain times, such as Christmas.
Chronic loneliness – When you feel lonely often.
It’s important to recognise loneliness and try and help ourselves aid it, to protect our mental health. We can also learn how to recognise loneliness in others and support each other.
Loneliness can often feel out of our control or overwhelming. Acknowledging this emotion is healthy and natural. Loneliness Awareness Week founder Marmalade Trust describes loneliness similarly to 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.”
We may recognise loneliness in ourselves or others during a big life change, such as moving away, starting a new job, becoming a new parent or suffering a bereavement. However, loneliness cannot always be noticed even in these situations, it does not have an outward appearance. That’s why it’s important to reach out and let someone know how you are feeling or to ask someone how they are.
How to talk about Loneliness
Remember loneliness is a natural emotion. When you tell someone about it or someone reaches out to discuss it, try to address it with an open manner. It’s important to stay positive and know that things can change.
It may feel like nobody will understand or like nobody’s there for you but it is more likely that people around you don’t know you are feeling lonely. When you begin to reach out to people, they can acknowledge the way you feel and respond accordingly. You may find your social network will flourish when you open up, as many people may have similar feelings or emotions.
When it comes to talking, try to identify who you can talk to in the different areas of your life. Can you reach out to a family member or friend? Perhaps a colleague or someone within your community? If you’ve been struggling with feeling lonely and it’s started to affect your mental health, it’s important to know that there are people you can reach out to alongside these areas of your life too. Most loneliness is temporary but there is always permanent help and support available.
How can I support myself when I feel Lonely?
Although the feeling is not pleasant, there are ways you can help yourself feel better when you experience loneliness. Apart from talking to others and building your social contact, knowing you can spend time alone comfortably can be a great boost of positivity. Spending some time on self-care by perhaps enjoying a meal you’ve cooked for yourself or a hot bath can make you feel good about spending time alone. You can even call a friend or use social media to share your day with others.
Seeing loneliness as a new beginning can also change how you feel. Using loneliness to build new experiences and make new friends is a wonderful way to start a clean slate and change your perception. Joining a new group in your community, volunteering or even starting with a “hello” to your neighbours is a new start.