Loneliness. One word that evokes so much, in so many different ways, to so many people. At some point in everyone’s lives, we feel a sense of loneliness. Often it can start as early as Primary School when we’re trying to establish friendships and we just want to fit in and be liked. But loneliness is so much more than infantile social situations and can progress with startling rapidity if not dealt with. It becomes something that cripples us emotionally and even physically, causing a number of problems in our everyday lives.
So What is Loneliness?
It’s important to know what loneliness is because it’s an often misunderstood affliction, that has broad and varying implications. Here is one definition, taken from the ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ website:
Basically, we feel lonely when we recognise a lack of companionship in our lives which does not meet our needs for social interaction. We feel lonely when we miss meaningful connections in our day-to-day lives which leave us feeling isolated and unhappy and can begin to affect our mental and physical wellbeing.
The Facts Presented
As you may have suspected, the issue of feeling alone has far-reaching consequences personally, and socially. Studies have discovered the link between loneliness and our health and mental health. I found many ways in which our physical and mental wellbeing can be compromised.
These can include, but are not limited to:
High Blood Pressure
Poor Sleep Quality
Reduced Cognitive Function
Unable to Perform Normal Tasks
Reduced Immune Functioning
It’s quite a list, isn’t it? And doesn’t make for pleasant reading. However, it is important to be in possession of the facts if we are to learn how to overcome this important issue that we face. Anyone can become susceptible at any point in their lives. It could be yourself, or someone that you know. Therefore, whoever and whenever we encounter it, we must be equipped to tackle it.
Who is Affected?
As I mentioned above, anyone is at risk of loneliness if the circumstances are right. This year alone amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic, we have seen a huge surge in loneliness because of lockdowns, self-isolation, shielding, illness, fear. It has been one stonker of a year, but if nothing else, it has shown us that we must make the effort to stay connected with the people around us. Both those that we know well, and those we may not: the elderly, widowed, singletons, teenagers, chronic illness sufferers, children, abuse sufferers… It really does affect anyone.
So What’s the Cause, You May Ask?
With such a breadth of people potentially affected by loneliness, the causes are just as wide and varied. The Covid-19 Pandemic can certainly be counted as one of them, but more often than not I believe it has just exacerbated pre-existing cases.
Here are some causes:
Social Isolation – having no family or friends
Loss of Mobility
Living on Low Income
Any one of these causes, and many others, can send a person into a spiral of loneliness that will lead to many of the afflictions I mentioned earlier. Therefore it so important as a society that we look out for one another and seek ways to create community and connection so that loneliness doesn’t become a Pandemic of it’s own.
Ways to Overcome Loneliness Today
Whether you are currently dealing with the unwelcome feelings of loneliness in your life, or if you know someone who is, there’s hope. There are many simple ways that you can include in your life to keep loneliness at bay or prevent it from becoming a problem in the future. As with any change, it begins with the first step, a willingness to change and seek remedy, and a can-do attitude that will see you to success.
Establish a Routine
When we feel lonely or isolated it can be very easy to wallow or drift about aimlessly. This will only increase your feelings of loneliness and must be kicked to the curb by keeping to a routine. When we have a plan for our day ready to go, we feel a sense of purpose and stability that clears the cobwebs of the mind and brings us focus. It also serves to distract us from those feelings we are trying to overcome.
Exercise in any form brings us many benefits, both mentally and physically. There are countless studies linking the benefits of exercise to improved overall health and wellbeing, so make time in your day for it. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, but a simple walk outside will lift your spirits exponentially. It’s certainly better than looking at the same four walls all day! Find something that interests you, motivates you, and see what happens. It’s a great way of meeting people too!
Connect with People
Seems like an obvious one, but for many reasons, people can find it difficult or scary to make connections with people. There could be many factors in play like I’ve mentioned above, which feel like obstacles and prevent it from happening. This is where it’s more important than ever to be on the look-out for vulnerable people who need companionship but have road-blocks in their way. If however, there is nothing physically stopping you, I encourage you to reach out to people you have lost touch with, a neighbour, go down the pub (post-Covid of course), take up a sport…There are many ways to meet people today. It’s about making the decision to do it and go for it. It’s not easy, I find it difficult myself, but if we want to feel companionship, we have to be brave.
Usually, distractions are a bad thing, right? But if we’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, they are a blessing! Finding things to do that keep us busy and our minds occupied will help stave off those unwanted feelings. Spending time with a pet, tidying out a closet, repainting the garden fence, watching a favourite film, reading a novel…whatever it is, it will help keep your mind busy and give you a sense of purpose.
You can also distract yourself by doing something with a particular meaning to you. It could be learning about a subject you enjoy, researching your family tree, or helping a family member, friend, or neighbour with a big task. Look for ways to enrich your days and bring meaning to them.
This idea of finding meaning can be extended into finding a creative outlet. It could be anything: painting, cross-stitch, building model airplanes, pottery, cookery, baking, origami, write a novel or poem…the possibilities are endless. The important thing is to nurture the creative side of us in whatever form, and channel that form of expression passionately. Creativity unlocks so much within us and often allows us to express feelings that we may find difficult to verbally communicate. Fostering our creativity unlocks deep heald emotions that we often can’t face head-on, but allows us to deal with gradually. They can be freeing and a great companion themselves.
It is important when dealing with feelings of loneliness that we seek sources of comfort that help us through the difficult patches. Life is never plain sailing and we need to have coping mechanisms in place that aid us through those times of hardship. A place that is familiar, a book or film that consoles, an animal we can love on, a warm bath to soothe, a nap to revive and strengthen. Whatever it may be, you must have ‘you’ time that reinvigorates and restores when you are feeling vulnerable. It’s okay to feel sad and vulnerable, but we mustn’t let it take control. Comfort yourself, and then come out stronger and ready to face the new day.
Looking to the future and all that we hope and plan to do and achieve can help take us out of the moment we are in at that specific time. Hope for the future and making plans can be a great way to lift our spirits and spur us on to meet these new goals or plans with enthusiasm and positivity. If we only allow ourselves to dwell on the past or on our present situation, we will find it incredibly difficult to dispel those unwelcome feelings of loneliness. We have to be hopeful of good things to come. Why not make a list of 30 things you want to do, either post-Covid or just in general, and tick them off one-by-one. You’ll be amazed at the joy and satisfaction you will feel, and the connections you will make along the way!
Be Compassionate to Yourself
So often when we feel lonely, especially if it is something that we have been suffering with for a long period of time, we can beat ourselves up with feelings of inadequacy, or say things like I should be able to do this, or I’m just not loveable. When we begin to notice these feelings of self-depreciation, anger, frustration, sadness, we must remind ourselves that we are only human and that in life we go through fazes of emotion. I know that when I lost my lovely Dad to Cancer I went through a very lonely time in my life. I wanted nothing to do with people, and yet I craved acceptance and companionship. So often I would tell myself that I just was boring or not popular. I needed to give myself a break and realise that I was going through a traumatic time!
It takes time to deal with the difficulties we face and we need to cut ourselves slack. Be kind to yourself.
Seek Help! Reach Out!
It’s so important that you don’t suffer in silence. Loneliness is crippling and as I’ve explained, affects us in so many ways. If you feel that you are depressed, or that your health is suffering due to loneliness, you must seek medical advice from your Doctor. Do not leave it untreated and allow it to progressively get worse. Help is out there! Equally, if you have suffered a bereavement, are going through a particularly difficult time, or just feel that you need more support with your mental health, please reach out to a professional. Yes, my advice can help you in the long and short term, but sometimes we need an extra level of care too. So seek it, and be well!
If you need someone to talk to or are seeking guidance in your day-to-day life, then take a look at our Life Coaching Services. It could help you unlock your potential and give you the direction you crave in life.
Let’s End Loneliness!
I hope that some of the ideas I’ve outlined give you the inspiration to shake off those feelings of loneliness we all get at times. Try what seems the best fit for you, and keep track of how you feel as a result. You might be surprised at how you begin to feel. It may even inspire you to try something else new. Often when we begin to open our selves up to knew things, and look after our own mental health, we discover un-tapped depths of confidence and strength that we didn’t realise we had. Encourage those around you, especially if you notice they are lonely. You could be the very person to help them out of their loneliness. And wouldn’t that be a marvelous thing? Saving humanity, one person at a time, through little acts of kindness.
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