Despite advances in technology, and travel, more and more people are feeling alone. Here, we’re debunking six misconceptions about loneliness, and providing key steps to manage and improve it
Social ties are what unite us, providing validation, and making us feel seen and heard. But when those ties are broken, we can be left feeling completely alone, even in a crowded room.
And this is why it’s so important to really understand the impact of loneliness, to cut through the shame and stigma that so often keeps people from reaching out for help, and to shine a light on what it really means to be lonely. Let’s face this together.
MYTH: Loneliness is the same as physical isolation
FALSE: Being alone and feeling lonely are two completely different things. Some people can be perfectly content with just their own company for a set period of time, but the concept of loneliness goes deeper than physical surroundings – though that can be a contributing factor.
Feeling socially disconnected from others, not seen, or that no one ‘gets’ us is what leads people to experience loneliness. That emotional or mental understanding that ties us to our family, friends, and communities means that we can enjoy alone-time, knowing that we can connect with others when we choose to. But when that tie is severed, it can feel like we’re adrift, all by ourselves.
MYTH: You can’t feel lonely in a relationship
FALSE: Loneliness can appear in different areas of your life: you might be yearning for a deeper emotional understanding; stronger social connections; or to be part of something bigger, with a shared purpose in a community. And, while we can care deeply for someone and spend substantial amounts of time with them, no one person can, or should, be expected to meet every single one of our many needs.
Remember, you don’t need to feel guilty about being lonely. Just because one area of your life might appear to be going well, doesn’t mean you can’t need more from something else.
MYTH: Only older people get lonely
FALSE: The truth is you can feel lonely at any age and stage of life. Some people may assume that due to advances in technology, younger generations are more connected than ever, but numerous studies have shown that isn’t necessarily the case. A 2019 YouGov survey in the US found that one in five millennials reported having no friends at all. Additionally, the ONS shared that 10% of Brits aged 16–24 felt lonely often or always, compared with just 3% of those aged 65 and older.
MYTH: Loneliness isn’t that big a deal
FALSE: Firstly, anything that affects your mental wellbeing is a big deal, and is absolutely worth addressing. We all deserve to live meaningful, enjoyable lives, and if you feel disconnected from those around you, it’s not something that should be brushed off and ignored.
The fact is that loneliness is not only distressing, but has serious health impacts too. Loneliness is reported to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes, and could even reduce life expectancy by 26% – comparable to the effects of smoking. Plus, those who feel lonely are more likely to experience depression, and are at a greater risk of cognitive decline.
MYTH: It’s easy to tell when someone is lonely
FALSE: We may have preconceived ideas of what a ‘lonely person’ looks like, but there’s no one-size-fits-all image. There’s so much stigma that comes with the idea of saying you feel lonely, that people often cover it up pretty well and feel they can’t ask for help. Someone might be outgoing and the life of the party in social situations, but still feel disconnected. It’s vital we drop the judgements, and create a safe space for people to open up.
MYTH: There’s nothing that can fix feeling lonely
FALSE: Several studies have revealed that social connections can keep us happier and healthier, so don’t be disheartened if you’re experiencing loneliness right now. There is a way out; relationships can help us create purpose, meaning, and make sense of the world. It’s all about figuring out what you need. So, here are three steps to take if you’re feeling lonely:
1. Say it out loud. Or in a message. Whatever you do, vocalise it. This can be a scary thought, but the only way things can change is by acknowledging how you’re truly feeling. The act of verbalising can in itself be a release, and then once it’s out there, both you and your loved ones can start to proactively address it.
2. Really think about your needs. Recognising a feeling, and then understanding why we feel that way can be two different things. Take some time to home-in on where the disconnection is stemming from – e.g. do you not have someone who really shares your interests, or feel able to open up and discuss your emotions with? Once you understand that, you can put plans in place to address it.
3. Take the next steps. While it may be easier said than done, having shared how you are feeling, others can step up to help as well – you could put in more regular catch-ups or calls in your diary with friends. Or you might want to have a fun date night with your other half to run through some question prompts that can help you reach a deeper emotional understanding.
For those needing to connect over shared interests, you might want to look online for classes in the community, or Facebook groups you can join and connect with others who share your passions. A loved one might even want you to introduce them to one of your hobbies.
And if you want to feel more entrenched in the local community, you could get involved in volunteering projects or days, to meet like-minded people, and do good at the same time!
Experiencing loneliness can be extremely distressing, and the irony is that so many people feel the same way – but shame and stigma can mean that no one is talking about it. So remember, you may be feeling lonely, but you are most certainly not alone.
If you’re currently struggling with the effects of loneliness, help is always available. Learn more about lonliness on our Counselling Directory.org.uk.