In a world that’s so connected by social media, loneliness is often invisible – you might not even realise that you’re a lonely person.
It often doesn’t occur to us to ask: am I lonely? But when you begin to think about it, the signs are all there – lack of social contact, minimal contact with society and feelings of isolation.
Long-term loneliness can be detrimental to our health and have a real effect on our sense of wellbeing. In the long-term, there may also be serious implications for our mental health.
Read on to learn more about how loneliness can affect you and take our personality quiz to find out if loneliness is affecting your life.
Who is lonely?
The BBC carried out the world’s largest loneliness study in 2018. 55,000 people took part and some of the findings were surprising.
One of the most unexpected findings was that young people felt much lonelier than the older generation, with 40% 16-24 year olds saying that they were lonely, compared with just 27% of those aged over 75.
Loneliness affects people of all ages though – 33% of those who completed the survey said that they were lonely.
A survey by the Office for National statistics found that more women reported feelings of loneliness than men. Those who were single or widowed were more likely to feel lonely.
Renters and those who didn’t feel connected to their local community were also much more likely to say that they were lonely.
How loneliness can affect your health
Yes, it can. Loneliness can have a big impact on your mental health and can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. A 2017 study found that loneliness damages your health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
There’s evidence to suggest that people suffering from loneliness may have an increased risk of developing dementia and other chronic diseases.
Being around other people helps us feel more secure and relaxed. When we’re alone, our ‘fight or flight’ instincts are much more sensitive and we’re more likely to feel stressed or on edge, because on a subconscious level we’re on the lookout for potential threats.
Feeling depressed and anxious can also make you feel lonely and cut off from society – it can become difficult to identify which came first once you’re stuck in the cycle.
Although you can feel lonely because of a lack of social interactions, it’s also common to feel lonely even though you have friends around you or when you’re in a relationship.
While loneliness isn’t a mental health condition in itself, feeling lonely can be a sign of depression or even the cause of it, according to the charity Mind.
Are you lonely? Take our loneliness personality test to find out how lonely you really are
9 ways to to cope with loneliness
Find out how to deal with loneliness and connect with others.
Make new connections
If you’re not getting enough contact with other people, it might be a good idea to make some new friends or find new ways to meet people. Why not join an evening class, start volunteering or find a new community to join online.
Tell your friends and family how you’re feeling
It can be hard to admit that you’re lonely, but once you open up you’ll start to receive the support you need – and you’ll find that many of them feel the same!
Don’t overwhelm yourself by taking on too much at once – take small steps. Start by meeting one or two people in a relaxed location and go from there.
If you’re trying a new class or workshop, why not ask a friend to accompany you to the first one? That way, you won’t need to worry about not knowing anyone there and it’ll take some of the stress out of the situation.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Social media can skew how you see others – it might look as though all of your friends are living it up, but are they really? You’re only seeing the image that they want you to see.
Check your health
Sometimes you need to check in and think about how you’re doing – both physically and mentally. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you feeling stressed? Are you eating properly? Addressing these issues can have a real impact on your sense of wellbeing.
Make a plan
Keep a diary and make a note of times when you feel particularly lonely, then try to plan something to do in advance. Arrange to see your family, go for a walk or catch up with a friend on the phone. If you’re not able to see anyone, catch up on Skype or find an activity to keep your mind busy, such as painting or crafting.
Loneliness can make you feel as though you’re missing out on life, so treating yourself kindly becomes increasingly important. Go to the cinema, make yourself a nice meal (or eat out!), or start going to a yoga session.
Visualise your plan
Imagining yourself going out and enjoying it can help you to make it a reality. If you’re feeling nervous, simply picture yourself going to an event, having a good time and striking up a conversation with a new friend. Visualisation can empower you to actually go out and do something.
5 best books about loneliness
Ok, so this one isn’t strictly about loneliness, but it is a great read! Eleanor Oliphant knows how to survive on her own, but not how to live. She struggles to navigate a world that she often finds confusing, but life has a way of sneaking up on you. Author Gail Honeyman was inspired to write this book after she read a news story about a young person who could go for days without speaking to anyone.
2. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T Cacioppo and William Patrick
If you’d like a better understanding of the science and psychology of loneliness, then this is the book for you. This is more of a social psychology tome than a self-help book, but it will certainly help you see loneliness in a new light.
Olivia Laing’s book is an interesting mix of memoir, art history and biography. She explores how loneliness can spark creativity by examining the stories of artists.
This book demystifies the science of loneliness and offers lots of practical advice to help you feel less alone.
5. Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships by Kira Asatryan
Learn how to build closer relationships and friendships with those around you to help you overcome feelings of loneliness.
Photos by Thomas Kelley, Quentin Dr and Ethan Robertson on Unsplash.