Loneliness has been coined a silent epidemic, and in excess, it is actually detrimental to our health, both mental and physical. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, it is not confined to the elderly: Millennials are the loneliest generation, with 30% of those surveyed in a YouGov poll reporting that they always or often feel lonely. As John Donne said in the 17th Century: “No man is an island”, a proverbial expression which touches upon the fact that humans are social creatures and as such, suffer when socially isolated. And no wonder, for our ancestors, banishment and social isolation meant death, and so there were survival incentives for being in company. But friendship and love is about more than survival value, it also gives value to survival.
There are many causes of loneliness; perhaps a relationship has broken down, or a loved one has passed. Maybe you have relocated to a new city and don’t know many people in your area, or perhaps you feel misunderstood and lonely around the people in your life. Or maybe you have been single for a while and are fed up with waking up in an empty bed. Whatever the cause, there are many ways to alleviate loneliness, and in this article I will explore a few ways you can start to tackle it.
Don’t Feel Ashamed About Being Lonely
First and foremost, do not feel ashamed about feeling lonely or not having a strong social group. This applies particularly to those who are young and lack companionship or friendship. If you feel like the only person in the world who is not out on a Friday night or doesn’t have an established friendship group, then you can breathe a sigh of relief; about 1 in 5 people surveyed in the 23–38 age range group identified as having no friends. Furthermore, a large barrier to making a change for me was that ‘coming out’ as lonely so to speak, was daunting. I felt that being lonely was a comment on my own character and self-worth, and feared that I would be stigmatised for being friendless.
This internalised fear may be the greatest barrier to you meeting a best friend or a lover. With this in mind, the number one thing you can do right now to meet others is change your perspective on what it means to not have an established friendship group or romantic interests. Some of us may have had mental health issues which prevented us forming friendships in our formative years, whilst others may have moved and lost touch with acquaintances. Sometimes it’s even simpler and people just didn’t hit it off with their hometown peers; not to worry, there are plenty of people out there in the same boat.
What really matters is that you are ready to socialise now — so make the first move, be it joining a club, a dating agency or both. When we feel alone, it is easy to hole up, punishing ourselves by scrolling others’ feeds and denying ourselves the same pleasure out of a belief that it would be “weird” to go somewhere alone. Conquering this understandable — though false — belief is the first and hardest step. But rest assured, it’s a worthwhile one.
Evaluate Whether You You Feel Lonely, Or Whether You Are Alone
Loneliness is a feeling, and does not necessarily mean you have no friends or love prospects as such. On the contrary, It might just mean that you feel like you can’t share your true self, or that you hide your passions and put on a fake front when in company. If this is the case, and you feel lonely because you have to hide part of yourself with friends, then try finding new friends through mutual hobbies; join local clubs and societies where like-minded people congregate and you can be true to yourself.
Moreover, don’t judge friends for not sharing some of your passions; different friends are good for different things, and perhaps your current friends are good for going out and letting loose (even if they do not share your love of philosophy, for instance). Finding out why you feel lonely is key to overcoming the emotion.
Focus On The Quality (Not The Quantity) Of Your Relationships
Sometimes we feel lonely because we are comparing our social lives to others, and feel lonely relative to them. If what you are feeling is perceived loneliness — and not necessarily because you have no friends — then try and focus on the quality of your friendships over the quantity of them.
Are your friends there for you when you are down? Do they take an interest in your life and love you for you? If so, then so what if you have 2 or 20? One good friend is worth twenty casual acquaintances. With that being said, if only having two friends means you don’t have enough variety of characters or enough social events to attend, then consider going to social events with your close friends and meeting people together.
Reach Out To Old Acquaintances
Sometimes we haven’t lost friends, we have just drifted because of time, circumstance and work. If that is the case, then consider rekindling old friendships and getting together with old acquaintances. It is easy to think that too much time has passed and they won’t appreciate the gesture, but from experience, people are often delighted to hear from an old friend.
Meeting new people is exciting and enriching, but rediscovering old friendships and flames can be just as rewarding. Saying that, make sure you are not reaching out to people who you stopped conversing with for a good reason; texting an ex-girlfriend whilst feeling alone isn’t fair on them or healthy for you, and is best avoided.
Reach Out To New Acquaintances And Be Proactive
When you meet new people make sure that you reach out to them afterwards. Speaking from experience, it is easy to not message someone out of a fear of appearing “too keen”. Moreover, this often leads to a tragic situation where two people who like each other sit and wait for the other to message, and take the silence of the other as evidence that their love or friendship is unreciprocated. If you’re feeling lonely, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose, so message that person you hit it off with, and make sure that you make it clear to people you want to develop a friendship or relationship.
Make An Effort With People
Friendships — like any relationship — take work, and if neglected will naturally wither. We often love the idea of friendship when we are lonely, but perhaps we aren’t putting enough time in with our friends when we are busy or occupied, which is why they don’t reach out. It’s understandable that between work worries and financial stress, friendships can be left on the back burner; but make sure to stay in touch with your friends and to check in on them every now and then.
Confession time: I am terrible at keeping in touch with friends when I am occupied by work, and then bemoan the lack of social events I have lined up when I have the time to socialize. If you see this same tendency in yourself, then schedule time to fit friends in even when you are busy, and make sure to send the odd text checking up on them — you get what you put in!
If you are struggling to socialise because of depression, social anxiety or other mental health disorders, then seek professional guidance. Everyone deserves friendship and companionship, and as someone who lacked both during a mental health crisis, I can say confidently that with support and guidance you can have both. Crisis text line have a great page for those who are feeling lonely, and offer a crisis support service which can be accessed via text. In their own words: “Reach a counsellor by texting HOME to 741471 or use the mobile text button below to text from your phone. You’re not alone.”
Written by Ross Carver-Carter
Ross Carver-Carter is a Politics and International Relations graduate with a passion for promoting mental health literacy in the workplace and beyond. He has written extensively on wellbeing and the reality of living with a mental health disorder.