Keeping connected
Tūhono tonutanga

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is the feeling of not having meaningful connections with other people in your life that you’d like. It's possible to feel lonely in a crowd, or at work and feel that you don’t belong.

Loneliness is a common experience for many people at some point in their lives.

Many things can contribute to feeling lonely

  • You could become lonely because you only have connections with a limited number of people.
  • You can feel lonely even when interacting with many people when the relationships don’t feel meaningful enough to you. This might be because you hold different values, beliefs, have different personalities or don’t share communities of interest.
  • Being isolated from your team, family/whānau, or community because of health issues or illness/injury, postings, change in work role or life situation.
  • Being unable to participate in sports or hobbies that you usually would, because of finances, or because they are no longer available.
  • Change in your living situation: a new child, on leave from work.
  • Being in an unfamiliar group or starting a new role.
  • Working or living with strangers.
  • Having moved away and miss home or familiar surroundings.
  • Feeling you don’t have people to rely on in the event of a crisis or emergency.
  • Only talk with others via social media.
  • There are changes in your community which surface feelings of loneliness.
  • You have experienced a loss of someone close to you or something you got pleasure from, and you may be grieving.
  • Separation or divorce.

A person can feel lonely even when they seem to others to be well connected, such as if they have many professional working contacts but may not be making deeper personal connections beyond this.

Many things may come along with loneliness 

  • You feel sad, distressed or unsettled because of this lack of connection.
  • You think you are unworthy or unlikeable, because of your disconnection.
  • You become socially isolated because you feel lonely, or it could be the other way around.
  • You feel embarrassed or whakama that you feel lonely when you are part of NZDF.
  • You change the way you behave, such as withdrawing more.
  • You are dissatisfied with your life because of your loneliness and want to leave the NZDF.
  • You don’t know how to make changes to stop feeling lonely.

All the lonely people | Karen Dolva | TEDxAdrendal

Seven facts about loneliness

  1. Loneliness can mean feeling hurt, sad or that you aren’t good enough if you fail something that was important to you.
  2. It may be you feel lonely because you belong to a minority group and perceive that you don’t fit with the wider group.
  3. Being lonely is different to living alone. Being lonely is also different to wanting time apart from others to re-charge your tank.
  4. Loneliness means that you can’t be your whole self when you are in these environments, as you feel like you won’t fit in, others might judge you, or that you aren’t part of their social network.
  5. You can feel lonely at any age.
  6. Loneliness can impact our mental and physical health (it may contribute to; diabetes, being more likely to be less active, higher cholesterol, and poorer sleep quality and social health. This is because when we have less strong or healthy social connections it tips over into all other domains of our hauora.
  7. Loneliness and social isolation are two different things, but each may overlap with the other. In other words you may feel lonely because you are socially isolated or because you feel lonely you may become withdrawn socially.

What is the purpose of feeling lonely?

People do better when we are supported by other people, and can provide them with support. Although it’s uncomfortable at times, loneliness is a signal to you to seek out additional supportive relationships. That discomfort can be a useful prompt to take action, even if reaching out to people might also feel a bit intimidating or scary. This balance of emotions helps us to navigate potential actual or perceived threats, while creating the social connections which help us to thrive.

Learn more about the Science of Loneliness.

Social anxiety 

Sometimes when you feel lonely it might be because you have withdrawn from people because you feel uncomfortable in social groups. If this causes you worry and you start avoiding being in social groups it could be that you have social anxiety. When someone is socially anxious it will often mean they are worried about what people think of them, being judged, or feeling inadequate. As a result of this, their comfort zone shrinks to the point that they become isolated.

You can get help if this contributing to you feeling lonely, or  if it's just a problem in its own right. We recommend you connect with the Social Workers, Chaplains, or a health provider to talk about support to work through the issue. With support, many people have overcome these issues, and you can too. 

Learn more on anxiety here.

When is it a problem for us and the team?

NZDF prides itself on working as a team, the ‘esprit de corps’ of military service, traditions and customs that celebrate groups or units and the valuable contribution that each person makes. If someone is experiencing loneliness it means our team is not connected.

It can mean that the person who feels lonely is:

  • Unable to give 100% to their role, tasks or team
  • Experiencing an impact on their mental health or wellbeing
  • Worried that their family/whānau are also affected because of changes in their mood or wellbeing
  • Dealing with poor sleep, exercise, nutrition, mood, self-esteem or confidence or a lack of self-care

In short, if you’re feeling lonely, we want to do something about it. And there are things you can do too. So take action.

It may be helpful to review this measure with a health or wellbeing provider - Social Worker, Chaplain or other health providers) and to seek support to make changes.  

Self-management - What you can do

When you are lonely it can feel hard to see how you could change things. There are some small steps that might be helpful to make a start on building your social connections. You could: 

  • Tell someone you trust how you feel.
  • Try something you haven’t done before. Try to do one new activity a month. For instance, join a hobby or club, start a new sport or activity, volunteer for a charity. These give you a natural opportunity to connect with people.
  • See one of the NZDF support providers to talk through strategies or tools you can use.
  • Start a new social activity or social club in your workplace.
  • Check out the self-help tips and strategies at

Helping someone who is lonely

If you know someone who is spending more time by themselves than usual – ask them about it first, tell them you wonder if they are a bit lonely at times. Suggest having a catch up.

You can help them out by going with them for the first few times until they find their feet meeting others and making new mates. Here are some other ideas:

  • Ask them to help you run a social event
  • Get them along to a club or hobby group
  • Go with them to volunteer

Don’t give up if they say no at first and keep checking in with them and encouraging them to join in with one of the activities. Get more tips and advice on helping someone who is lonely.

Getting help

NZDF is here to support you. Have a look at our Support providers page for more details.