Are you alone or lonely?
Feeling lonely isn’t the same as being alone, although the two can go hand in hand. Some people are happy spending lots of time by themselves. Others may feel desperately lonely even though they’re surrounded by lots of people – it’s all about how you feel inside.
“It’s healthy to spend some time on your own, but loneliness is different because it’s a sad feeling,” says Lucie Russell from young people’s mental health charity YoungMinds.
Mental health charity Mind says loneliness is about ‘not feeling part of the world’. Loneliness makes you feel emotionally isolated – like you’re not connected to people, or you don’t belong.
Feeling lonely? You’re not the only one
“It’s completely normal to feel lonely in today’s world,” says Lucie. “It’s not weird and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. If anything, it would be unusual if you didn’t have some experience of loneliness.”
Log onto social media and it can seem like everyone else is having an amazing time. “There’s so much pressure to seem like you’re popular and post loads of great photos,” says Lucie. “Even if you’ve got lots of friends on Facebook, you might feel you have nobody to actually talk to about your problems.”
It can seem like everyone else has it sorted, but that doesn’t mean they do. And if you feel like you’re faking it, you won’t be the only one.
What makes people feel lonely?
Loads of situations can potentially make you feel lonely. There might not be a clear reason, but you could be lonely because of:
- Moving to a new area, or your friends moving away
- Finishing school, college or university
- Being unemployed or having money worries
- Falling out with your friends or just growing apart
- A relationship breaking up
- The death of someone close to you
- Having to care for a family member
- Shyness or low self-confidence
- Physical or mental health conditions
How to stop feeling lonely
“If you’re lonely, the situation is never irreversible,” says Lucie. “It can feel like there’s no way back up again, but there always is.”
Try taking these steps:
Go online: The internet can be a good place to start – try TheSite’s discussion boards, for example. “It’s about taking small steps,” says Lucie. “There’s a lot of support available online, and it can make you feel a bit less isolated if you’re not ready to take the step of going to talk to new people in person.”
Start doing something new: Starting a new hobby or joining an evening class can be a great way to make new friends and give your confidence a boost. Local councils and libraries will have details of courses in your area – some could even be free. It may seem like a scary idea, but you probably won’t be the only person who feels that way. Having a shared interest means you’ll have something to talk about right from the start.
Join a support group: If you don’t feel ready to meet new people, or it’s going to take more than a few new faces to make you feel better, you could find it helpful to join a support group. There’s no pressure to make friends, it’s simply somewhere to talk to other people who are dealing with the same kinds of issues and feelings as you. You can find details of local self-help groups from NHS Local, GPs, libraries and charities such as Mind and Depression Alliance.
Talk to a counsellor: If loneliness is getting you down, talking to someone can really help. You may want to consider counselling to explore how you’re feeling. You can also contact Samaritans any time if you need to talk – it’s free to call them on 116123 from any phone including mobiles.
How loneliness can affect your health
Human beings are naturally social, so being lonely isn’t good for us. “Having no contact with other people, or no satisfying contact, can affect our wellbeing,” says Lucie. “We need to feel loved and cared for, and we need to have someone to talk to.”
Loneliness can contribute to mental health conditions, including anxiety and stress, and depression, which can make you feel lonelier. That’s the cruel thing about loneliness – it can be a vicious circle. “If you’re lonely, you don’t feel like anyone will want to talk to you or be friends with you,” says Lucie.
Research has shown it can also affect your physical health, including your blood pressure, the strength of your immune system and even your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
So it’s understandable if feeling lonely is getting you down. But you don’t have to feel that way forever. It might seem like it now, but really that’s just the loneliness talking.
Photo of boys shadow by Shutterstock
- Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
- Got a worry about relationships? Whatever the question, get free anonymous advice from one of our relationship experts.
By Anne Wollenberg
Updated on 07-Aug-2014