You're not alone with your loneliness

Published on: 14th February 2018

The world grows ever smaller, more connected, more crowded, and ironically, increasingly lonely for many of us. The feeling of loneliness can be especially noticeable around Valentine’s. Persistent loneliness can be emotionally difficult and impact on our wellbeing. For instance, lonely people tend to sleep poorly, and experience increased depression and anxiety.

It's important to recognise that loneliness is not the same thing as being a private person, or a "loner", because some of us need and enjoy time to ourselves. Loneliness, instead, refers to the difference between the amount of social contact you have and the amount you want; is about feeling isolated. The opposite of loneliness isn't popularity though - you can have dozens of "friends" and still feel lonely.

If you want to stop feeling lonely, here are some ideas that may be helpful:

Practice your social skills
Plan activities that will give you a chance to practice your social skills. Approach people rather than waiting for them to talk to you. Speak to your neighbours, contact people that you know and like, or speak to the shop assistant when visiting the local shop.

Join activities or groups
Often we can become lonely because of a change in circumstances, such as bereavement, divorce or relocation. If you increase opportunities for social interaction, through joining organized group activities for example, you can break that vicious cycle.

Use technology
If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch is by using a computer. Libraries and community centres often hold regular training courses for people to learn basic computer skills.

Change negative thinking
In social situations, lonely people immediately think the worst. You find yourself focusing on everything that went wrong, or wondering if you’ve made a bad impression. You tend to remember more of the negative things that happened during an encounter, and fewer positive things. Often it’s because of negative thinking.

It is common for us to think: “I am boring, who would want to spend time with me?” or “no-one will like me” – this can then lead to avoiding situations because it feels too overwhelming. Learning to challenge and change negative thinking is one of the most successful ways to overcome loneliness.

Stop comparing yourself to other people
Comparing yourself to others can lead to an idealised fantasy about their lives, which is not accurate. Thinking “everyone is happier than me” and “everyone else has fulfilling relationships” is bound to make you feel worse. Again, recognising and challenging those thoughts will lead to feeling better.

You’re not alone with your loneliness. If you feel that it has become such a problem that you feel anxious or low in mood, help is available from the steps2change, free NHS service. For example learning how to be less socially anxious can really improve your confidence and is something that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is very effective at.

Similarly, improving your self-confidence can be achieved through sessions of counselling for depression. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) can also help people with depression to identify and address problems in their relationships with family, partners and friends.