Loneliness & Mental Health
As we adjust to living with the impact of Covid, most people have become more aware of the prevalence of loneliness. Although it’s normal to feel lonely sometimes, there’s often a lot of shame and stigma attached to it.
This is why it’s so important to talk about it, understand what it’s about, and to support each other as much as possible.
In this post, I’ll explain: what loneliness is; how it’s possible to feel lonely even if we’re around other people; some of the causes of loneliness, and offer some tips for coping with it.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a “feeling state” that is different to “being alone”, and studies have indicated that there are three broad types: social, emotional and existential.
Some people choose to be alone most of the time, and are content with having little contact with others, so rarely feel lonely. However, some people may have lots of social contact with others and be around people most of the time, and still feel lonely.
When this happens, it’s often a sign that some of the relationships you have may not be the ones you need. This could be because you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you, which can feel incredibly isolating.
There may be accessibility issues that contribute to social loneliness, including mobility problems (physical and / or lack of transport) and limited finances (lots of social activities, such as classes, cinema trips, meals and drinks out, have a significant financial cost attached to them). These factors can significantly reduce opportunities for social contact, which can result in loneliness.
If you’ve experienced a relationship breakdown or a bereavement, it’s likely that you will be left with a feeling of emotional loneliness. These are huge losses, and grief is often interlinked with loneliness as we begin to process what’s happened.
There may be lots of reminders of the loss in your everyday life, which can amplify loneliness and result in you withdrawing from other relationships, thereby increasing social loneliness as well.
If you are struggling to find meaning and purpose in your life, or feel like you’re somehow “incomplete”, you may be experiencing existential loneliness. Human beings need to have a strong sense of self and to feel like there’s a point to life in order to feel part of the world, so without these things, it’s likely that you’ll feel lonely.
You may feel stuck, helpless or disconnected from yourself and others, which will also contribute to the loneliness. As this is arguably the most “abstract” type of loneliness, it can be difficult to identify a “root cause” to explain the effect it has on you. This is why you might feel lonely without knowing what it’s about.
How is it possible to feel lonely even if we’re around other people?
Understanding the difference between contact and connection helps to explain why we can feel lonely, even if we’re around other people. When we’re in contact with each other, we are usually doing so at a surface level, and as a result we don’t connect with meaning and depth.
Connection is different.
When we’re connecting with others, we’re making a meaningful effort to hear their stories and understand their experiences, as well as sharing our own. Not only does this help us to connect with others, it also gives us a feeling of belonging, of being understood, and of being part of something bigger than ourselves.
What causes loneliness?
It’s important to remember that there are lots of things that can be linked to feeling lonely, and so the exact cause(s) will be different for each individual. Loneliness is not a mental health problem in and of itself, but there is often a link between existing mental health problems increasing feelings of loneliness.
Here are some examples of things that may cause you to feel lonely:
- Moving to a new home / place / job / school / university
- Being a carer and / or a single parent
- Mental and physical illness, disability, chronic pain, life-limiting illness
- Relationship breakdown / changed dynamics
- Avoiding others to avoid rejection
- Feeling misunderstood / like an outsider
- Accessibility issues, including limited mobility and financial resources
- Experiencing stigma and discrimination
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you’re feeling lonely and don’t know why, it may help you to identify a possible cause(s).
Tips for coping with loneliness
It’s worth thinking about what is making you feel lonely, as this can help you to identify small changes you may be able to make to address it. There may not be an “obvious” cause, and it may instead be a deep and constant feeling. If this is the case, it may be worth talking to a therapist, as they will be able to work with you to explore what the loneliness is about.
If you’re feeling lonely and have a sense of why you feel this way, these tips may help you to reset:
- Keep busy with things that interest you and make you feel good
- Stay active — movement will help to release endorphins and other mood-boosting hormones
- Notice the little connections — this could be at the checkout while shopping, a smile from a stranger, etc
- Find your tribe — feeling part of a community gives us a sense of belonging
- Be mindful of your social media consumption — what we see online isn’t necessarily a reflection of reality
- Spend time with pets / animals
- Talk to a therapist about how you feel
Please remember that you’re not weak or weird if you feel lonely some or most of the time. If you feel able to connect with people who help you to feel understood, this should ease the loneliness, at least for a while.
I hope that this post has given you some helpful tips and insights into loneliness and mental health. As ever, if you’re struggling and think I might be the therapist for you, feel free to get in touch and let’s see if we can work together. You can contact me using the form below, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook and Instagram @emmapooleytherapy.