Loneliness is a very personal emotion that can feel very overwhelming. Some people will experience loneliness when they’re on their own for a long period of time; when they haven’t been able to see family or friends. Others might feel lonely in a room full of people, when they feel like they can’t connect to anyone there. Someone might even feel lonely in their own relationship.
Feelings of loneliness can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. While it’s not considered to be a mental health problem on its own, chronic loneliness can be a symptom of one or increase the likelihood of developing one. In this blog, we’ll explore the psychological impact of loneliness and how it relates to other mental health conditions. We’ll also look at options for reducing those feelings of loneliness.
What causes loneliness?
Loneliness is a complicated emotion. It’s not necessarily about physically being alone, but instead when you feel like you’re missing strong social relationships. You might find that you enjoy your alone time; that it gives you a chance to recharge your social batteries. Rather, your feelings of loneliness arise because the strength of your relationships with family and friends might be lacking.
The causes of loneliness will be different from person to person. Certain life events have been shown to cause loneliness for some people, while others will find certain times of year are more difficult. You might notice feelings of loneliness:
- During Christmas time or over the holidays
- After a break up
- When starting at university
- When you’ve retired or changed jobs, and so you’re missing the social contact of your co-workers
- During a bereavement.
These events don’t have the same impact on everyone, but it’s useful to be aware that, if you’re going through any of these experiences, you might have feelings of loneliness or poor mental health.
There is also research to suggest that there are some people who are at an increased risk of experiencing loneliness. Those who don’t have close family ties or social support, who are carers, or who are unable to leave the house for social occasions due to a disability or their financial situation are often more at risk of feeling lonely. Minority groups are also more likely to experience loneliness, especially when there aren’t people of a similar background in your local area or that you interact with frequently.
The psychological impact of loneliness
Loneliness and mental health are often closely intertwined. Loneliness is often associated with an increased risk of a range of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. In fact, loneliness and depression can involve many of the same feelings, which makes it hard to differentiate periods of loneliness from an overarching mood disorder. Both your mental and physical health can be impacted, with physical health symptoms including things such as:
- Brain fog
- Low energy
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Changes to appetite.
However, the biggest difference between the two is that loneliness is often considered a “transient” state. Once you’re able to fulfil your social need in the way that works best for you, many of the feelings associated with loneliness will fade. If you’re struggling with depression, on the other hand, there is a different root cause that will need to be addressed with a mental health professional. Support and treatment from a GP or from mental health professionals through talking therapies is often the best course of action for mental health problems such as depression.
Impact of loneliness on mental health
Not only can loneliness increase the risk of mood disorders and mental health issues, but mental health struggles can also make feelings of loneliness worse. When you’re already struggling with conditions such as anxiety and depression, it can be hard to go and see friends and family, or go out for social occasions. Social anxiety, in particular, can make it difficult to socialise, which can mean less meaningful social contact and so contribute to feelings of loneliness.
This can lead to a cycle that’s hard to get out of. Feeling lonely can affect mental health, which in turn makes it hard to engage in meaningful social interactions and relationships and can lead to social isolation. Without these strong social relationships, feelings of loneliness creep in and the cycle begins again.
How to lessen the impact of loneliness
As loneliness is different for everyone, the things that will help us feel less lonely will also vary from person to person. Some of the ideas below might not resonate with you, or what you think you need. The important thing is to take it slow and only try things you feel comfortable with.
Meeting new people with a shared interest
Joining a fitness or art class is a great way to meet new people and build more meaningful relationships because it takes some of the pressure off the first meeting. You already know that you have something in common: the hobby that you’re sharing together. This means you’re more likely to experience satisfying social contact, which reduces feelings of loneliness.
Reach out to loved ones
If you’re finding that you’re feeling lonely even when surrounded by family and friends, it may be that you’re just not feeling close or connected to them. Opening up to one or two loved ones and strengthening your relationship with them will help you to feel closer to them and start to reduce your feelings of loneliness.
Opening up with talking therapies
Therapy can provide you with the space to talk about your relationships and feelings so that you can understand why you might be feeling lonely, and come up with strategies together to help you cope. Through talking therapies, you might identify a root cause, such as low self esteem, that you can work on with your therapist to improve your overall mood.
Reducing the psychological impact of loneliness with The Awareness Centre
If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness and you’re looking for some professional support, The Awareness Centre can help. Get in touch with us today to discuss how talking therapies might be beneficial for understanding why you’re feeling lonely and giving you a safe space to share your thoughts.