Written by: Jenny Smith
It is human and natural to want to feel connected to others and part of something bigger. We are social beings and relating to others, being heard and accepted and cared about are a big part of our innate nature. When these needs are not met we can be left with a strong feeling of loneliness. This can happen when alone or at times of being in a big social situation.
How loneliness can affect you
Loneliness can really affect your mental health and can lead to anxiety and depression, and vice versa having a mental health problem can lead to feelings of loneliness either because of finding social contact hard or feeling stigmatised because of your symptoms or diagnosis.
Reasons for feeling lonely
As a working parent it may feel really difficult to prioritise your social life, especially if you are a single parent or someone who has a partner who is very busy or away a lot. If you have recently moved you may also find yourself feeling isolated or if you have less money than others you can sometimes feel excluded from certain activities. There are lots of reasons and situations in which people can feel left out and lonely.
Aside from these circumstances, some people can feel a perpetual inner feeling of isolation that is there even if they are surrounded by friends and other social contact. This kind of loneliness can stem from a feeling of dislike for yourself, worries that others won’t like you or a general lack of self-confidence. It is also quite common for people to isolate themselves within their relationships and friendships for fear of being hurt or rejected.
Covering up loneliness
Lots of people get into habits and ways of behaving that are designed to cover up aching loneliness by constantly socialising even though the contact doesn’t really meet their needs, or by using things like drugs and alcohol to mask the pain. Alternately people may become very hermit like in their habits and have very little interaction with others apart from that which is absolutely essential.
Steps to change
Admitting to yourself that this is how you feel is half the work – Identifying who actually is in your life is a helpful first step in reminding yourself that you are part of a bigger web of connection. If you have friends or family, just sending a text or an email can be very grounding. Spending some time outside, going for a walk and risking saying hello to someone that you don’t know is both brave and a good way to bust the loneliness demons.
Make the most of any opportunities for social contact however small, say hello to other parents in the playground, have a brief chat with your local shopkeeper and think about whether there is a course or a club that you would consider joining where you would meet others with shared interests.
Strengthen your self-esteem
If you avoid spending time on your own it can be difficult initially to turn this around. However making small regular times to be with how you feel and accept yourself as much as possible with strengthen your self-esteem overtime. For some people, getting outside help is what makes the difference. If you find that despite your best efforts you are still plagued by hard feelings in social situations it may be helpful to consider trying some sort of therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Counselling. Your GP is a good first contact to find out what is available in your area.