“When the world feels scary, it can seem like a good idea to not go out and engage, but in the long run it impacts us negatively ... This is when the basic human needs of friendship and social engagement can be therapeutic.” – Aman Kaur, Mindstep Mental Health Coach for Remedy Healthcare.
Chances are, you feel lonely sometimes. Maybe you’ve moved to a new area, started a new job or perhaps your best friend has moved away. Feeling lonely from time to time is perfectly natural, and a little alone time can even be beneficial.
For others, the effects of loneliness can be more significant, but the good news is there are a range of measures that can be taken to both prevent and treat the effects.
A comprehensive report into loneliness in Australia revealed that one in four people feel lonely, with almost a third feeling like they don’t have a group of friends they can count on.
What you can do if you’re feeling lonely
There are ways to overcome this, starting with accepting that loneliness is very common, and that there’s no shame in admitting you feel that way. By starting small, even just engaging in small talk with your neighbour or at work, you can build up some confidence to engage with people you may not know very well.
Aman Kaur, Mindstep Mental Health Coach for Remedy Healthcare, says when people stop engaging socially, they miss opportunities to feel better and to reinforce positive feelings.
“As well as being distressing, loneliness also makes it harder to cope with life situations,” Aman says. “Friendship and social relationships have been associated with positive psychological outcomes.”
“To not socially engage gives us temporary relief from anticipated negative feelings, but in the long term it creates a pattern of behaviours that is hard to change. This strengthens the cycle of avoidance and loneliness. Social engagement is a life-saving factor when it comes to maintaining a healthy mind.”
From joining a sporting club or chatting with your neighbours, to even just talking to a trustworthy mate about how you feel, there are steps you can take to feel less lonely:
- Establish stress-relief techniques to help deal with potentially stressful social situations
- Try to maintain regular contact with people in your local neighbourhood and community
- Find a hobby, volunteer group, sports club or a special interest group you can join
- If you’re not already, seek and receive treatment for any existing mental health matters
Loneliness and quality of life
It’s easy to think that with most people connected to dozens (maybe even hundreds) of people on social media and the internet, loneliness is decreasing. In actual fact, it’s never been more common among both younger (15-25 years old) and older (75 years and up) people.
Despite this perceived increase in social activity, people living with loneliness often experience anxiety when it comes to personal interactions. Situations that include meeting people for the first time, speaking to strangers at social functions, or even having to talk with authority figures could provoke feelings of unease, poorer mental and physical wellbeing, and a greatly reduced quality of life.
In addition, increased levels of loneliness are related to more frequent experiences of negative emotions and depression symptoms that can make it more difficult to overcome such issues.
“When the world feels scary, it can seem like a good idea to not go out and engage, but in the long run it impacts us negatively,” Aman says. “When your house (emotional wellbeing) is crumbling, do you build from the roof or the foundation? This is when the basic human needs of friendship and social engagement can be therapeutic.
“Once you recognise these unhelpful thoughts, you can challenge them by generating alternate thoughts that help dispute and dispel these negative feelings.”
How to help others who are lonely
It could be a neighbour, a person from a different cultural background, a friend who has become ill or injured, a colleague who has lost a loved one, or a young person living with a disability. Even people who seem to be busy can experience loneliness, especially if life circumstances have changed.
There are some simple ways to help someone you think might be lonely. You can start by inviting them to something, even a casual coffee or a walk in the park can make a huge difference.
Don’t under-estimate the value of a five-minute chat to someone feeling lonely. Just by making conversation, talking to them about their interests, the weather, paying them a compliment or just chatting about anything can do wonders.