Puta ake i te mokemoke
Discover how to identify loneliness and coping strategies to manage it.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. We can be alone without feeling lonely, but 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. People are wired to be happiest with different degrees of contact with other people. 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. If you don't feel connected and that is impacting you, there are steps you can take. Overcoming loneliness can be difficult, especially if you are shy, but it can be tackled it in small steps.
How often do these apply to you?
- I lack companionship
- I wish I had more friends
- I feel left out
- I feel isolated from others
- I am unhappy about being so withdrawn
- People are around me but not with me
- I wish I had more friends
- I need more people in my life to feel happy
If you find yourself feeling these ways, then the information below may be helpful to you.
If you are feeling lonely, you are definitely not the only one. Statistics from the Ministry of Social Development’s General Social Survey in 2018 found that more than 650,000 New Zealander's had felt lonely in the previous four weeks.
Why am I feeling lonely?
There are many reasons why we might feel lonely. You may have 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 People who experience depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress often become withdrawn and isolated, cutting themselves off from others.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 sitting with negative thoughts such as “there’s something wrong with me”, “I’ll always be alone”, or “no-one else feels like this.”
What can I do to stop feeling lonely?
Contrary to what many people believe, loneliness isn’t just a result of being alone or an absence of friends. Sometimes we can pretend to be upbeat, positive and happy, but underneath feel a bit unworthy of healthy and respectful relationships, or not know how to find these.
Tips for conquering loneliness:
- Realise that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. Nurture your support network. Even if there is only one person to start with, you can build on it. Don’t underestimate the importance of what you have to offer and other people wanting to spend time with you.
- Expand your social network. Online social sites are an ideal place to meet people in person, and to explore hobbies, interests and social groups.
- One way to get more involved with other people is to volunteer in the community somewhere—this gives you a clear role and a reason to be getting alongside other people. Get involved with a local community organisation, church/temple/mosque, marae, or charity, and ask how you can help out? Let them know you’d like to be doing something around people.
- Keep an eye out for your inner critic’s attempts to sabotage you. Pay attention to thoughts such as: “I am too xxx (fat, skinny, ugly, boring, tall, short) for anybody to want to date me”, “I wish I were funnier and had interesting things to say”, or “People never seem to get me.”
- Negative self-talk is common. Other people are often also thinking the same things about themselves, when you wouldn’t feel that way about them at all. The same is true for what people think about you.
- Replace negative self-talk with affirming messages, such as, “I am perfectly lovable and likeable just as I am,” and “I welcome love, friendship and support into my life.”
- Fight the urge to isolate. Sometimes you have to force yourself to do exactly that which you are dreading, like putting yourself out there.
- Ask for what you need. Find your voice. Tell people what you need from them to alleviate loneliness. Friends respond to direct messages for help and support. Give it a try, you might be surprised!
- Weed out unhealthy relationships and create space in your life for relationships that fuel your spirit.
- Ask for advice on how to get started, from someone you respect. Talk to a mentor, an older relative, a kuia/koro/grandparent or parent, or a pastor/minister. They might have some great practical ideas for the next step you could take.
- Take action. Don’t wait for an invitation. Be willing to take a risk, be proactive and invite people to share in your life, whether it is for coffee, lunch, a walk, an event or a gathering in your home.
- Recognise the importance of being alone and enjoying solitude. Being alone is not the same as being lonely; it provides peace, quiet, freedom, space and the opportunity to connect with your deeper self.
- Some people have found helpful the idea, “I am not alone. I am by myself.”
Sometimes feeling lonely can really get us down. Likewise, sometimes when we’re down we withdraw from people and that can add to loneliness. If you have ongoing feelings of loneliness reach out to someone you know or to get professional support, it could be a family member, kaumatua/kuia, chaplain or pastor, boss, community leader, social worker, a health professional. Sometimes we need a helping hand to help us work out a plan to change things in our lives. There are people out there who will be pleased to lend you a hand.
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, or by going to your nearest hospital emergency department (ED).
Help someone else
If there is someone you know who you are concerned might be experiencing loneliness, there are a few things you can do. Do your best to make an effort to include them in activities, whether it be making simple conversation, going for a coffee or heading out to do some PT together. If someone is new to your unit or camp/base, make an effort to include them to help facilitate a smooth transition.
Barracks can be a particular space in which loneliness can grow. Keep an eye out for your neighbours and make an effort to try and chat with them when you see them. If they seem like the kind of person who keeps to themselves then knock on their door and invite them to a group event. Whether or not they attend is up to them but you’re making a conscious decision to be inclusive.
Some general ideas for promoting an inclusive work or living environment include having a Facebook page or group chat for everyone. Encourage people to post on there when they are hosting an event or doing a group activity and make it clear that everyone is welcome. Make sure that everyone in the wider group is on a page like this. Having a sense of belonging is really important in an organisation like NZDF, therefore it’s important to look out for our mates, and promote clear communication channels, even with people you might not talk to as much.