Do you have people you can talk to, go out with, or ask for help from? If not, then building support through building relationships with other people might be your first task.
Loneliness is more common than you might think and can affect people in relationships, in families, veterans, and those with successful careers. It has also been described as social pain, where we feel that we are not connected to anyone else. It can be a serious issue, which needs to be addressed.
This section details the impact loneliness has on people’s lives and outlines the importance of finding a way to manage it.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is not the same as being alone – we can be alone without feeling lonely, and on the other hand we can be surrounded by hundreds of people and still feel lonely. If we feel lonely it is probably because we don’t have the kind of close personal relationships that make us feel secure, comforted, and content.
Although other people might have an opinion on the subject, you are the only person who can decide if you are lonely. It is not necessarily about how many friends you have, or how much time you spend on your own, it is about not feeling connected. And if not feeling connected is bothering you, then it’s time to do something about it. Overcoming loneliness can be difficult, especially if you are shy, but you can tackle it in small steps.
Why am I lonely?
There are many reasons why we might feel lonely. It might be practical issues – like if you’ve recently lost a loved one (if so, you might want to find out more about grief) or just moved to a new area and don’t know anyone. It might be because you lack the confidence or the “know-how” to meet new people, and form new friendships.
It can also be a result of other psychological problems. People who suffer from things like depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress often become withdrawn and isolated, cutting themselves off from others.
And the way we think is very important. When we are lonely, we often make it worse by thinking negatively – “there’s something wrong with me”, “I’ll always be alone”, or “no-one else feels like this”.
Sometimes people feel so lonely that it seems like the only way they’ll feel better is by hurting or even killing themselves. If this is the case for you, please seek urgent help by dialling 111 or contacting your local mental health crisis assessment team(external link).
What can I do about it?
The first step to overcoming loneliness is to think about why you’re feeling like this. Different problems require different solutions.
Do you have enough social contact in your life?
Do you worry that you don’t have the “know-how” to develop relationships?
Is it hard for you to get conversations going, to think of things to say? Are you awkward and uncomfortable in social situations? If so, then doing some social skills training may be helpful. Although you can read about it from books and on the internet, the only real way to develop these skills is to get out and practise them with real people. Of course, this can be difficult, especially if you are the shy type, in which case it might be best to start out with a psychologist or a life skills coach. Your doctor should be able to suggest an appropriate specialist to help.
Is ‘Unhelpful Thinking’ in the way?
Are you always predicting the worst or putting yourself down? Unhelpful thinking is at the heart of loneliness: it is not being alone; it is what we think about being alone. The more we can think positively, the more happy and successful we will be. Expect the worst and the worst will happen. Helpful thinking can change the way you feel. Visit the Resilience toolkit for useful tools to assist with helpful thinking.
Do you have enjoyable activities in your life (especially things you do with others)?
These may be hobbies or interests, sports, or voluntary work. Being with other people while you’re doing an activity together is a great way to build relationships without putting too much pressure on yourself.
In the meantime, try to look for opportunities to get involved with others and say yes when the opportunity arises (even if it is a bit scary). And when you’re alone, try and enjoy yourself and feel comfortable. If you can enjoy and value your own company, there’s a good chance others will too.
If you’re struggling with loneliness, online communities can be a great source of connection and support.
Go to our useful digital resources page to find out more.