Loneliness can have a significant impact on our mental and physical wellbeing, leading to feelings of sadness, anxiety and even physical health problems. It's essential to recognise the importance of social connections and work towards building a more inclusive and supportive society, where nobody is left to feel lonely.
Calm have created a dedicated guide to offer support for anyone struggling with loneliness.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a normal emotion. It can be temporary, or it can be so overwhelming that it makes it difficult to get on with your everyday life. If you’re struggling with your mental wellbeing because of loneliness or isolation, you can talk to someone at CALM.
There are lots of stereotypes around loneliness, but it’s much more common than you might think. 9 million people in the UK report feeling lonely some or most of the time. People often assume that only older people get lonely, but it’s something that can affect everyone, no matter of age, gender or background.
Loneliness isn’t about how many friends you have or who laughs at your jokes. You can be surrounded by friends and family and still feel lonely. Humans need social connection. Studies have shown that without it, we can even suffer from mental and physical illness. Loneliness is our bodies’ natural response to a lack of human connection – a warning sign to let us know we need contact, just like hunger tells us we need food.
Feeling lonely can be especially difficult if you don’t know how to find the social connections you want or need. But there's help out there, and loads of ways to move forward.
How does loneliness feel?
It can feel embarrassing or shameful to admit we feel lonely, but loneliness is a natural emotion and feeling. It does not mean you have failed in any way. The more we talk about loneliness and how it affects us all, the more likely we’ll be able to tackle it.
But loneliness is not just in your head. Humans are social creatures, which means we need to connect with others. Some studies have suggested that loneliness can be as bad for our health as addictions to smoking, drinking or eating. But the good news is, loneliness is something you can tackle. You can build up slowly, renew an old connection, find a support group or jump right in and commit to a new social activity – there’s loads of ways to tackle feeling lonely. You can find out more about that on the NHS website.
Why do people feel lonely?
People feel lonely when they have a lack of meaningful social interactions or connections. That could range from no social interaction at all, to going to lots of parties and events but not having anyone to really talk or share your thoughts, feelings or true self with.
There’s lots of reasons you might find yourself feeling lonely. You might have moved to a new place or taken up a new job, perhaps you’ve fallen out or grown apart from old friends, broken up with a partner, experienced a bereavement or perhaps you care for someone. Maybe you just don’t have time in between work and your responsibilities.
Social media can also complicate things as well. While this can be a great way of keeping up with old friends or meeting new, like-minded people, it can feel like a very lonely place if there is too big a gap between the face you present to other people and what is going on inside.
Loneliness can also be triggered by mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, as their symptoms can cause people to draw away from social situations and relationships.
Where can i find help?
Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline workers are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
Outside of these hours, calls the Samaritans on 116 123.
Contact your GP for an appointment to discuss how you’re feeling.
Join a CALM Club – CALM hosts communities that are passionate about art, football, walking, running and cycling.
Mind has more tips on how to tackle loneliness.
The Mix offers essential support for under 25's. Their site has lots of things you can do to help connect with others who are going through the same thing.
Dealing with loneliness
It can be really tough to start to deal with your feelings of loneliness or isolation, especially if you don’t know where or how to start. Here’s some ways you could start to build those relationships and connections into your life. There’s no right way, but here’s some pointers.
It can be a bit awkward reconnecting with an old mate, but it shouldn’t be. People drift apart for a whole host of reasons, if there’s someone you used to love spending time with, but haven’t in a while, send them a message, schedule a meet up or have a video call.
Talk about it
If you’ve already got a solid group of mates or family members, let them know how you’ve been feeling. People live busy lives and often social stuff is the first thing to fall through the cracks when things get busy. Sharing how you’re feeling and scheduling in a time to chat and catch up could be all it takes. Having it scheduled in will give you something to look forward to and time to plan if you feel worried or anxious.
Rejection is scary
Many of us are scared to make the first move in a social or even romantic situation because of a fear of rejection. It’s fine to be worried about rejection, but studies have shown that people who experience loneliness are more likely to pick up on signs of rejection. That means they often close themselves off to protect themselves, which can impact their ability to seek out friends and relationships. So our advice here? Feel the fear and do it anyway. Even if people don’t respond, remember this says more about them than it does about you.
Join your local Community
Got a passion? Use it. Having something in common with a stranger is a great way to connect with people. Search online for groups or communities in your area that have the same interests – from cycling to dungeons and dragons, there’s something for everyone. Don’t have a passion? Try something new. You never know who you’ll meet and you might even come out with a new skill. Crochet scarf anyone? CALM even have some communities of their own – find out more about CALM Clubs.
Social media can make us feel more connected than ever, joining communities of like minded people online is a great way to feel validated – especially if you feel like there’s no one like you in and around your area. Be wary of relying on social media too heavily, as it’s no substitute for real human connection and it can make our loneliness feel worse if we get stuck in a cycle of comparing our lives the social media feeds of the people we follow.