Today's blog focuses on loneliness and isolation, which we know many people experience throughout their life. There are times in everyone’s life when we feel lonely or isolated. Whilst some people prefer to live alone, most people don’t want to feel lonely.
The mere thought that on any given day, night, week or month there are hundreds of thousands of people without social connections, someone to talk to, or simply living in the community feeling they have no sense of purpose.
Australia’s elderly population is more likely to live on their own than any other segment of the population. The connection between loneliness and social isolation is not a simple one. In short, whilst social isolation may lead to feelings of loneliness for some people, for others being socially isolated and having very few social connections may not have any impact on them at all. Conversely, a person with a number of social interactions and connections can still experience loneliness.
People can also feel lonely for straightforward reasons, like being away from home or having problems with friends and family. You can also feel emotionally cut off from those around you, or feeling alone because of what’s going on in your head that you’re not sharing with your friends or family.
Common Causes of Loneliness
Having low self-esteem can make us feel lonely, because we feel we’re not as good as others. After a relationship break-up it can be difficult to adjust to life as a single person again or you can feel lonely if you are in a caring role.
Caring for someone is a big responsibility and can take up a lot of your time. You might even often feel lonely and cut off from the outside world, as it can be so difficult to make time for yourself or you might feel guilty if you're not prioritising the person you're caring for. If you’re starting to feel lonely, it can often help to talk to people close to you or those in a similar situation.
When you’re young, loneliness can be a big problem as it’s not always easy to find a group of people you connect with or places to hang out. This can be especially true in rural or isolated communities where it might seem hard to find people who share your interests. No matter where you live, you can feel cut off from people at school or at home. Some common causes of loneliness:
Having a hard time with bullying or intimidation at school, college or work
Being a carer can be worrying and stressful at times. Whether you’re responsible for someone 24/7, or struggling to juggle work and your own family life with caring responsibilities, caring for someone close to you is tough.
Living alone and having little communication with family and friends
Finding it hard to talk to others because of shyness or social anxiety
Growing apart from people you’ve grown up with
Unemployment is a really big cause of loneliness and isolation as it means you’re at home all day without the opportunity to make new friends and keep busy. You can also feel like you don’t have much news when you meet your friends, or feel like you don’t want to see people
Certain stressful events or worries can be a cause of loneliness, if you feel like you’re the only person going though something or your life is different to people around you.
The sudden or expected death of spouse, a family member, or a close relative may cause immediate feelings of loss and abandonment
There are lots of coping strategies for dealing with loneliness and isolation. A lot of them depend on what’s causing these feelings. For instance, if you’ve moved out of home or to a different country for college or a new job, it’s natural you’ll be lonely at first. If there’s no clear reason why you feel lonely, it might be a sign something’s wrong. Some tips for coping with loneliness:
Get busy Keeping yourself busy is a really effective way of dealing with loneliness. If you’re in a situation where you’re bored or not interacting with others, you may find it useful to join a local walking group or swimming group or volunteer fr a cause that you care about or think you might be interested in. Feeling needed and useful is really important sometimes.
Know you’re not alone It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. For example, leaving a job or re-locating can be a scary time for everyone. Life feels very different and the future is uncertain. Remember that everyone goes through lonely periods in life.
Boost your self-esteem A lack of confidence can hold you back in social situations. Meeting new people can be stressful when you don’t feel good about yourself. Think of one thing about yourself that others admire, and build on that.
Explore your interests Taking up a hobby you’ve always wanted to get into can help you combat loneliness and isolation in different ways. If you’re on your own in a new place it can be a great way of meeting new people and making new friends. If you’re feeling lonely for no obvious reason, taking up an evening class or sport can help take your mind off it.
Enjoy your own company It might feel weird at first if you’re used to being surrounded by other people. But, spending time alone can be really liberating. The freedom to be alone with your thoughts can be a great way of winding down. Try and feel comfortable with just yourself for company. Generally when we think of people we want to be around, they are people who are self-assured and this can be an attractive trait. Learning to be on your own and like your own company is a step towards this kind of confidence.
Coping with Loneliness
If you are a carer talk to your family and friends and see if they can help out a bit more, particularly if they know how you feel. They may want to help but don’t know how best to do this. Be honest with them and tell them what they could do to help. Be specific. Perhaps you’d like them to come round and have a coffee each week, or help by doing some shopping for you and then dropping it round in person. They may be able to give you a break if they can sit with the person you care for while you go out for a couple of hours. If you don’t feel comfortable having them around perhaps they could still support you over the phone and/or online. Arrange a time each week when you speak to them even if you haven’t got anything special to tell them.
Try not to worry
Feelings of loneliness often come and go during life. Sometimes the best thing to do is accept your feelings and remember you’ll probably feel better after a while. If you’re lonely because you’re homesick, think about the point in the future when you’ll be reunited with your friends and family (see long distance relationships for more). Also try to enjoy whatever new experiences you’re having away from home. If you’re persistently lonely for no obvious reason, it can also be a sign of depression and something you should talk about, whether it’s to family, friends or a counsellor.
Sometimes when we feel lonely or isolated, we can become more vulnerable to outside influences. Here are some tips on taking care of yourself online.
Take what you see online with a pinch of salt
What people put out there on the likes of Facebook or Twitter can make us feel worse if we’re feeling low.
It can seem like everyone is having more fun with more friends than you, at every festival, having crazy night’s out feeding our feelings of inadequacy. Remember people project the best of themselves so try not to get sucked into a spiral of envy looking at other people’s photos and posts.
Think it through before you join any groups or clubs-When you’re lonely the idea of belonging somewhere becomes more attractive. Cults and gangs often target lonely people, knowing they might be vulnerable.
Don’t become too dependent-While online communities can be a great social outlet, don’t become too dependent on them. Make sure you balance your social life and make the effort to talk to people in person.
Build trust gradually-Sometimes when you’re lonely, you can place too much weight on new friendships and relationships. Build trust gradually, take it slow and accept your new friend as they are. Take your time with new relationships.