Understanding and managing loneliness

Published 19 April, 2024

We are all susceptible to feelings of loneliness – it’s a complex but universal emotion. That, in part, is because loneliness doesn’t just occur when we are physically on our own. It is actually a state of mind and therefore can happen even if we are surrounded by loved ones.

Impacts of loneliness

Feeling lonely is more damaging than you might expect; sustained periods of loneliness can have a lasting impact on your mental and physical health. It can manifest itself in a host of ways, leading to a range of potential mental health issues, increased stress levels and antisocial behaviour. It has even been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke. This is why it is so crucial to open up the conversation around loneliness and work together to find ways of managing it.

Managing loneliness

While feeling lonely may be inevitable from time to time in our lives, it’s helpful to establish some tactics we can use to better manage those feelings. Recognising loneliness at an earlier stage can greatly reduce the impacts and help you avoid mental and physical health conditions as a result.

Reconnect with those around you

Making contact with the people in your life is a good first step. Social interaction doesn’t have to take place in person – and it can be all too easy to dismiss friendships or connections because those people aren’t in our physical space. Give someone a call, send them an email – make the effort to reach out and you’ll likely feel better for doing so.

Something as simple as exchanging pleasantries with your neighbour or having a chat with the cashier in your local shop can go a long way. And if you don’t feel up for a conversation, you could try going somewhere such as a café so that you can surround yourself with others; even without direct conversation, being around others can still help alleviate feelings of isolation.

Learn to spend time alone

This one might feel daunting but learning to feel content being on your own can help you tremendously. Humans are social beings and therefore it’s common to seek connection with others. But this doesn’t mean that being on our own has to be an unpleasant experience.

Being alone gives you the opportunity to focus solely on yourself and your own needs. You can do things which you are genuinely interested in without any need to compromise; while spending time alone can be an adjustment, it’s worth investing some time and energy into practising it.

Pet therapy

Pets make wonderful companions; they offer unconditional love and profound emotional support. Animals – particularly dogs – have become highly attuned to our human emotions over the years. This means that they are able to interpret our feelings and gauge our emotional state.

Furthermore, caring for an animal brings with it a sense of purpose and responsibility which can greatly enhance your happiness. If pet ownership isn’t an option, there are multiple charities and organisations that provide pet therapy.

Unfortunately, the topic of loneliness and isolation is still taboo; it can feel embarrassing admitting to feeling lonely, but it’s arguably the most powerful thing we can do in the situation. By accepting the reality we’re facing, we can directly address and manage it.

As a parting message, please know this: you are not alone in feeling alone.

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