At some point or another, we will all experience loneliness. There are lots of reasons why you might feel lonely, and what makes you feel lonely might not be the same for someone else. Lots of people equate being lonely with having minimal contact with other people, but some people enjoy spending lots of time alone. How people perceive loneliness is personal to them, but if you find that your feelings of loneliness aren’t fleeting, you may begin to experience negative mental health effects as a result.
In this blog, we’re going to talk about loneliness and how it can impact your mental and physical health, as well as what to do if you feel overwhelmed by your loneliness and what treatment options there are to help you get back on track.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness generally refers to how much social contact you would like to have versus how much you actually get, but it can also refer to the quality of your social relationships.
For example, if you have lots of friends and family but feel like no one is really there to support you or listen to you, you might feel just as lonely as someone who doesn’t have many friends or family. You can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely if the strength of social relationships is lacking.
Why Might I Feel Lonely?
There are lots of reasons why you might feel lonely, and as mentioned previously, the reason you feel lonely might be different to the reason someone else is feeling lonely. Oftentimes, loneliness is brought on by significant life events. This might include:
- Losing someone close to you and experiencing bereavement
- Moving to a new location away from your existing family and friends
- Moving to a new school or university where you don’t know anyone
- Starting a new job
- Going through a romantic relationship breakup
- Falling out with a close friend or family member
- Retiring from your job
Life changes aren’t the only reason you might be feeling lonely. According to Mind, there is research that suggests that some people are at a higher risk of feeling lonely due to belonging to a specific group or living in certain circumstances. These could include:
- Being estranged from family
- Having few friends
- Being a single parent
- Being a carer
- Being in a minority group and living in an area where there aren’t people from similar backgrounds
- Having a disability, health, or mental health problem
- Being a victim of abuse
- Having little money to partake in activities
Sometimes, you might just feel lonely, even if you have lots of people around you, don’t fit into a specific group, and haven’t experienced any big life changes. This type of loneliness could be brought on by low self-esteem.
Is Loneliness the Same as Social Isolation?
Social isolation and loneliness are technically different things. You might purposefully withdraw from those around you due to health issues or because you don’t feel confident, resulting in isolation. Isolation is linked with loneliness and so the terms are often used interchangeably, but they are two different things because you can feel lonely without being isolated.
Is Chronic Loneliness a Type of Mental Health Issue?
Although loneliness has strong links to poor mental health, it is not a mental health problem itself. If you have an existing mental health condition, you may be at a higher risk of feeling lonely on the basis that you might not know who to talk to about your problem, or you might find that people make misjudged assumptions about your mental health problem that make it hard for you to form meaningful bonds free of stigma.
On the other hand, you might feel lonely because of the type of mental health condition you have. For example, if you have social anxiety, it might lead you to isolate yourself from social interaction out of fear, resulting in feelings of loneliness as a result of the decreased social contact you have.
Sometimes, people feel lonely for other reasons and this can lead to mental health issues such as depression. So, although mental health and loneliness have a correlation, loneliness isn’t a diagnosable mental health issue, but this doesn’t negate the fact it can be incredibly detrimental to your physical and mental health overall. This is why it’s so important to tackle loneliness as soon as possible.
Can Loneliness Affect Physical Health?
Loneliness not only causes mental health problems, but it can cause issues with your physical health if it’s not addressed. According to research, loneliness can increase the risk of mortality by as much as 26%, and it can have the same impact on your body as smoking or obesity. People who are chronically lonely are also at an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
How to Deal with Loneliness
There are a few ways you can try to quell feelings of loneliness, but bear in mind that what works for you might not work for other people. If you think you’re experiencing chronic loneliness, it could be a good idea to speak to your GP or think about talking therapies to try and get to the bottom of why you might feel this way.
One of the ways you might be able to cope with loneliness is to reach out for peer support. If you have close relationships with people around you, talk to them about how you’re feeling, but if not, there are services out there that can help. Befriender services are run by charities and put you in touch with a volunteer befriender if you’re feeling lonely. Alternatively, you can join online forums like Side by Side where you can talk with people who have experienced similar situations and feelings to you.
Join a group
If you’re feeling lonely because you don’t have many friends or family members who you can talk to, joining a club or class that aligns with your interests and hobbies could be a good way to meet like minded people and seek social connections you may not have otherwise made. There are online classes if you can’t make it in person or feel too overwhelmed to go out in person, but online classes will still introduce you to new people who you can connect with over something similar.
Sometimes, talking therapies can be useful to people who feel lonely. Through talking to a therapist, you can explore what could be making you feel lonely, such as low self esteem, and ways to cope with how you’re feeling.
Loneliness Therapies at The Awareness Centre
If you’re struggling with loneliness and would like to explore talking therapies, we can help. Get in touch with us to discuss attending a session with one of our expert therapists and learn more about how we can provide a safe space for you to talk about your feelings and why you might be feeling lonely. We provide in-person, online, and telephone counselling seven days a week, allowing us to help you in a way that you’re most comfortable with. Call us on 020 8673 4545 to find out more.