Are you feeling lonely? Here we share some simple steps to help you reach out and feel connected with others
There are many reasons we can feel lonely. Sometimes it’s as a direct result of a change in our circumstances – relocating or following a break-up – other times, though, there isn’t an obvious reason.
If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, it’s important to remember that this is absolutely not your fault. Trying to make changes can feel overwhelming, but there are steps you can take to help you feel more connected with those around you, as well as to make new, meaningful connections.
We’ve compiled five steps that you can take to help you reach out if you’re feeling lonely. Some people find these ideas useful, but remember that different things work for different people at different times. Only try what you feel comfortable with, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself – these feelings are temporary and there is absolutely no shame in saying that you’re not OK.
If you haven’t socialised for a while, it might seem daunting to meet new people or open up to others. But, you don’t have to make any drastic, overnight changes. Focus on the small things you can do right now that will help you to feel more positive and connected to the world.
Leave the house, even if it is just going outside to get some fresh air. Go to a local shop and cafe and talk to the people who work there. If you don't want to talk to anyone else, sometimes it's easier to talk to a stranger.— LOVE Food - Local Organic Vegan Ethical (@lovefoodcafe) January 9, 2020
Sometimes simply being around others can be enough to give us a sense of connectedness. Why not head out for a walk in the fresh air or pop down to the shops or a local cafe for some people watching? This can take the pressure off if you don’t feel much like talking.
Or, you could text a friend to ask how their day is going and if they’d like to meet up soon. If you can’t (or don’t feel able to) do this, why not send them a funny gif or a joke – that can help to make you smile, get the conversation moving and take your mind off how you’re feeling.
Create your own self-care toolbox
We all do certain things to cheer ourselves up or turn a bad day around. For some, that might be listening to a certain song, for others, it might be eating a particular food or going to a special place. We can arm ourselves with lots of little things like this, as part of a self-care toolbox.
“Perhaps there are things you already do in your life that give you a sense of calmness and connectedness,” says Dr Charlotte Whiteley. “Whether it’s playing an instrument, walking in nature, watching your favourite film or box set, speaking to a particular friend, or some other hobby. Continue doing these things and add to them.”
Disconnect to connect
Sometimes our phones can get in the way of real-life interaction. A lot of the time, we can fill the silence with scrolling, even when we’re not intentionally trying to avoid conversations. But, eye contact is an important factor for human connection so, even if you’re not speaking to others, taking your gaze away from your phone can be really helpful to prevent loneliness.
Why not try a social media break the next time you’re in a situation surrounded by other people? Whether you’re on the train to work, sat in a coffee shop or having lunch in the staff room, put your phone down. If you feel up to it, try to engage in a little bit of small talk and (even if you feel tempted), leave your phone alone.
Of course, if you’re feeling isolated, social media can be a great tool to connect with others. So, if you rely on your phone to help you connect with other people, why not explore how you might be able to use social media better to your advantage? Take a look to see if there are any Facebook groups for your local area or other networking groups that you can join to help you take part in conversations – and even make some new online friendships.
Allow yourself to be real
Sometimes it’s nice to appreciate our differences – to learn from one another and to hear from other perspectives. But, it can be isolating if we feel that we have nothing in common with peers or colleagues.
However, this lack of connection may be as a result of the way we are presenting ourselves to others, according to integrative counsellor Beth Roberts. “Feeling really lonely can be a sign that you aren’t showing your authentic self to others, so you aren’t truly connecting.”
One of the biggest barriers to a sense of connectedness can be in our inability to show our real selves. We can make assumptions about other people that prevent us from sharing our thoughts and feelings with others. One thing you can try is to let your barriers down a little. Of course, you can’t change who you are or the way you are – but you can try to help others get to know you a little better.
If you’re feeling disconnected from your colleagues, why not try attending (or organising) a work social event? Being away from your place of work can help you to break away from any expectations or limitations you may feel about letting people get to know the real you.
Ask for what you need
Reaching out when you’re feeling lonely doesn’t mean you have to pour your heart out and say exactly how you’re feeling. It just means acknowledging how you’re feeling and tuning into that need for human connection.
So, make eye contact, send that text, make that phone call – let people around you know that you’re feeling a little out of sorts. You are important, you are needed, you are loved, even if you don’t feel it right now.
Where to get help
If you’ve tried some of these steps and are still feeling lonely, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Visit your GP and let them know what’s going on, as they might be able to offer some guidance or refer you for further help.
Mental health helplines:
The Samaritans are available if you’re experiencing loneliness and need to talk to someone – they are there to listen. Call them on 116 123 or email [email protected], available 24/7 and completely anonymous.
Mind’s InfoLine offers thousands of callers confidential help on a range of mental health issues. Call 0300 123 3393, available 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except bank holidays).
British Red Cross’s Connecting Communities service offers up to three months of support to suit you. They help people feel better connected and enjoy the benefits of being more involved in their local community. Call 0344 871 1111, available 9:30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The Mix helpline is for people aged 13 to 25 because loneliness doesn’t just affect older age groups. You can talk to The Mix about any challenge you’re facing – for everything from homelessness to finding a job, from money to mental health, from break-ups to drugs. Call 0808 808 4994.
For a comprehensive list of support services for overcoming loneliness, take a look at ITV’s This Morning website.