The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 is loneliness which is quite understandable. Undeniably, living in turbulent times poses its challenges. Since the onset of the covid pandemic, loneliness has negatively affected more and more people’s physical and mental health both across the UK and worldwide.
Even though we all tend to feel lonely, the experience is different for each of us. Due to its nature, treating and preventing loneliness can be a bit challenging. Only by coming together are we able to combat this issue. We all can play an active part in raising mental health awareness. Let’s start by discussing the causes, symptoms, and tips on how to deal with loneliness.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness can be defined as a state of mind of simultaneously yearning for social connection while feeling isolated. It is also both universal and unique. It’s a part of shared human experience, common to us all. Yet, since we’re all different individuals, the feeling itself also looks different for each of us:
A college student who just moved to a new town where they don’t know anyone can feel just as lonely as a 10-year-old who is ostracised and bullied by his peers in school or a person who is grieving a loss of a loved one.
They all might experience the same feeling – loneliness, yet it has unique taste, shape and colour for each of these individuals.
Loneliness vs Solitude
Have you ever felt lonely in a room full of people?
What about feeling comfortable and at ease while spending time alone?
That’s because there’s a significant difference between the experience of loneliness and solitude.
Loneliness is associated with perceiving one’s state as involuntary isolation, abandonment or rejection, despite craving social contact.
Solitude, on the other hand, is the desire to carve out intimate moments where one can enjoy their own company, away from everyone. It’s the choice of balancing the time spent with others with the time spent alone. Cultivating solitude can be, in fact, beneficial to us all as it creates an opportunity to:
- Create a better relationship with ourselves
- Practice self-care
- Be reflective
- Engage in soothing activities (such as listening to music, reading books, creating art)
Causes of Loneliness
As mentioned before, loneliness is a part of a shared human experience. We all face situations that increase the risk of feeling lonely such as:
- Dealing with a break-up or a divorce
- Experiencing the loss of a loved one
- Moving to a new location
- Feeling isolated in a new workplace
- Going through relationship difficulties with friends or family
- Old age
Then, there are difficult life circumstances that we’re born into which can exacerbate loneliness, for example:
- Having no family
- Being the primary caregiver or a single parent
- Being isolated from a minority group we belong to
- Facing financial or mobility issues
- Disability and chronic health issues
Lastly, so many of us experience discrimination because of our:
- Sexual orientation
- Mental health issues
Is loneliness a mental health problem?
Loneliness in itself is not a mental health problem. However, it is tightly connected to it and can significantly influence the state of our psychological wellbeing.
Social anxiety, for example, might stop us from spending time with other people, while depression makes us withdraw from any social interactions and further push us into isolation.
This 2020 research suggests that depression and loneliness create a vicious, self-perpetuating circle. It means that the more lonely someone is, the more depressed they will feel and vice versa.
If you’re struggling just know you’re not alone. Learn more about depression counselling, to see if you might benefit from professional help.
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How does loneliness affect our mental health?
Loneliness causes a lot of emotional pain, which, when experienced chronically, can lead to:
- Increased stress levels
- Poor decision-making
- Impaired memory
- Antisocial behaviours
- Progression of Alzheimer’s disease
- Misuse of alcohol and drugs (potentially leading to addictions)
- Struggling with low self-esteem
Feeling lonely also affects our physical health, resulting in:
- Lower immunity
- Changes in brain functions
- Heart problems such as stroke or cardiovascular disease
- Poor sleep hygiene
- Daytime fatigue
Tips On How To Deal With Loneliness
The good news is that there’s so much we can do to feel better when we’re lonely. Here are 7 tips on any ways to deal with loneliness:
Awareness is Key
Feeling lonely signals that something isn’t working out in your life. In order to cope with loneliness, you need to understand how it impacts your functioning. Make a conscious effort first to observe and notice these negative effects of feeling isolated. To do this, you can start by writing on a journal the times you’ve been lonely during the week and note down how it felt, what thoughts went through your mind, and finally how did you cope. With this new knowledge, you can start addressing the negative impact of loneliness by, for example, adopting more helpful ways to respond to it.
Find Your Tribe
Seeking individuals who share your interests and values might be a bit more challenging, but it’s worthwhile since your bond can be much more meaningful. Try joining a club, attending a local event or volunteering. Not only will it bring higher life satisfaction but also evoke a profound sense of gratitude for your life as it is.
Quality Over Quantity
While building new relationships is fun, improving the existing ones is much more critical. A crowd of strangers won’t help you feel better. The secret to dealing with loneliness lies in connecting with a few close friends. Strong social support can make a difference.
Become Your Best Friend
What will help you get through difficult times is taking care of yourself consistently and becoming your best friend through:
- Exercising systematically
- Having a healthy sleep hygiene
- Eating healthfully
- Spending time in nature
Use your creativity to translate your experience of loneliness into art. Try expressing what you’re going through by journaling, painting, singing etc. It might help you understand and accept the nature of loneliness better.
Loneliness is nothing to be ashamed of. Allow yourself to open up and share your struggle with a trusted friend. Getting vulnerable does not make you weak. Being honest like that is a sign of courage and great strength.
Seek Professional Help
“Just getting out there” and talking to a friend is not always the perfect solution. Feeling lonely is often a symptom of anxiety or depression. If that’s your case, reach out to a professional therapist. CBT and other forms of psychotherapy can help you manage the thoughts and feelings around loneliness and offer tools to support your wellbeing.
The stigma around mental disorders can discourage so many of us from getting vulnerable and sharing our experiences with others, which is why raising awareness about mental health issues and seeking professional help when needed is so important.
Do not hesitate and contact us for a free 15-minute consultation.