Thoughts on loneliness

Loneliness is a huge 21st Century problem and it can even be described as an epidemic. It doesn’t discriminate and it can have a deep and lasting effect on people of all ages. In each of our life stages, we find ourselves going through a transition and a real evolution of self, which can be immensely isolating. Nobody can share that exact journey with you, nor can they empathise, as each person’s journey is unique. 

 

Human beings are social creatures and what we need above all else is connection. It’s as fundamental as our need for food and water. In reality, I believe we are living in a time of true disconnection. We might be connected by technology, but the screens all around us are disconnecting us from nature, from ourselves and from others. We need face-to-face interaction in order to thrive and right now we are living in a world where technology is superseding our connection to others, not enhancing it.

 

Feeling lonely in adulthood

At the beginning of our lives, from childhood through to the start of adulthood, ultimately we are trying to figure things out; who we are as individuals and how we show up in the world we live in. It can be overwhelming and can lead to loneliness or poor mental health. When young adults leave the family home and transition to living independently, all those safety barriers you have known have slipped away. We are desperately trying to fulfil the adult role, but find that we are still clinging onto our teenage years of soft rebellion. And many young people struggle being in this subliminal space where you are witnessing and becoming the evolution of yourself.

 

Life moves so quickly these days and with advanced technology comes major distractions. Many of us get caught up in analysing our lives, comparing ourselves to others, and desperately trying to understand how each and every piece of our puzzle fits together.

 

A lot of people are simply not comfortable doing nothing as they have this innate need to overachieve. This stems from the messages they see daily from celebrities, influencers and high profile people who are very visible and shouting out about it. They are extremely driven and fixated with their next dopamine hit. Everything is on demand and easily accessible, and I believe if we’re not truly happy with ourselves, then we’ll always be searching for the next best thing to fill that void. Young people are impressionable and get sucked into believing they should be as successful as these people, but it is often an unrealistic goal to get paid to live a certain lifestyle. We do not see the other side of the camera, all we see is airbrushed perfection.

 

And this is leading to children and teenagers feeling inadequate and putting pressure on their parents to enable them to live like their idols.

 

By your twenties, biologically, you are in your prime and there is a lot of societal and parental pressure to get married, own a house and reproduce. We are constantly surrounded and bombarded by messages making us feel we should strive to have or achieve certain things by a certain age. There is enormous pressure, and it’s difficult to escape from, leading to a sense of comparison between friends and trying to keep up with people’s posts on social media. Perfectionism and imposter syndrome run rampant.

 

Recently, more and more adults have been diagnosed with some level of Autism or ADHD, which could have been missed as a child. There are thousands, though, who never get diagnosed and live a life of struggling to fit into a society that isn’t built or adapted to their needs. It’s easy to see how people are often forgotten about or considered eccentric just because they see the world a different way.

 

Or perhaps this is the fallout from prolonged chasing to get that next dopamine fix, and social media and all its bells and whistles are no longer enough to satiate that need. There are endless choices everywhere we turn – we can buy anything we want, anytime we want it, we’re always in a rush, and more often than not, impatient and unhappy! Because we’re bombarded 24/7 with news, emails, social media, WhatsApp messages and more, there is no time to switch off. It’s a never-ending cycle and it’s exhausting. 

 

As the way we socialise has changed so much, it makes it harder to make new connections with others. Many young people are focussed on their careers above all else as there is huge societal pressure to be successful at a young age. This generation’s loneliness seems to be on the rise and they are vulnerable to the stress that comes with social isolation. When you’re working hard to achieve your goals and move up in your career, maintaining social connections can become challenging

 

Some are not yet comfortable enough with themselves and learning to become your own best friend and being your own cheerleader is very important. Now is the time to learn the power of being authentically you. This will involve you showing vulnerability and believing it is a strength, not a weakness.  Spending time with people that have common interests, no matter how small, or with those who have similar interests or goals is key. This is where you can show a bit of vulnerability, showing who you really are and what you really enjoy.

 

 

I would encourage people to learn to sit with their feelings as and when they come up, as too many people are suppressing their feelings for fear of being seen as weak, or worse, not good enough. Unpleasant feelings will come up now and again, but the answer is not to run away from them – acknowledge them so they feel seen and heard. By honing in on the feeling and the discomfort you might feel, you will be in a better position to understand if you need to make any changes in your life. The most important thing to remember is that feelings are temporary and they will pass – they do not define you as a person.

 

 

Feeling lonely as a new parent

 

For parents with young children, the increased stress associated with new caring responsibilities, the weight of social expectations, and possibly experiences of fertility issues or pregnancy loss feed into feelings of loneliness. Sadly, it’s still taboo to talk about it, and there’s a sense that many people feel like the world is telling them to just suck it up and get on with it.

 

Becoming a new parent can be bittersweet – exciting and overwhelming at the same time! It is a huge contrast between what pre-baby life looks like compared to what post-baby looks like in terms of both mental and emotional stimulation. Everything is busy after the birth as it is all so new and the parent has to learn and adapt. However a few weeks in, parents can feel quite daunted by the responsibility of just how dependent a baby is. They are constantly considering the baby’s needs and not caring about their own, and it’s likely they’re also too tired to bother a lot of the time!

 

Don’t be afraid to admit to others that you feel lonely or bored or that you miss your life pre-baby. Many new Mums worry what others would say or think of them and so Mum guilt becomes a never-ending cycle. There’s so much pressure out there to be this ‘perfect’ Mum and many withdraw socially for fear of being criticised or judged, sticking to superficial relationships where they don’t have to let others see them for who they are. It’s at this point that being authentic and vulnerable with those you are in touch with becomes key.

 

My advice would be that it’s really important to learn to spend time with yourself and to be OK with it. This will help grow your inner connection instead of seeing yourself as being disconnected from others. Look at this as an ideal time to get to know yourself and to become your own best friend, which is the ideal medicine for loneliness. It comes down to trying to have a life that is balanced, and self-awareness is a huge facilitator for change. 

 

Self-care and self-love are important throughout our lives, but possibly more so when you are feeling somewhat fraught, feel exhausted and do not look or feel your best. Self-care is about acknowledging that you have needs, that they are important, and that it is absolutely necessary to find ways of meeting them. When you feel cared for, you can better care for those around you. By regularly practising self-care and taking time to relax and recharge when you can, you will have better wellbeing, be more confident and have more positive interactions with your child. It all starts with you – self-care is a necessity, not a luxury!

 

Feeling lonely in our later years

 

There are several reasons why older adults might feel lonely, including retirement, declining health, the death of their partner, divorce, or having no children and no family living nearby. For those that do have children, by this stage they are all grown up and living their own busy lives, many miles away. In many places, the sense of community and neighbours looking out for each other is long gone and life can feel very isolating. 

 

For those that are retired, feelings of isolation and loneliness can creep in quickly as the daily social interaction provided by work colleagues fades away. This is particularly relevant for those who perhaps do not have strong friendships outside of work. Loss of identity is a big one in this phase as people often link their identity to their career and when that ends, they often struggle to find a new sense of purpose.

 

As we become older, we become slower and weaker and managing this can be challenging and depressing for some. We start thinking of our own mortality and sometimes people will begin to reduce their activity, even though they have more free time, which makes it difficult to form new routines. 

 

Many people approach retirement with dread for the challenges it can bring, but it could also be an opportunity to explore new interests and grow into this next phase of life. People think mainly of planning for their retirement financially, but social and emotional planning are just as important. This might mean staying engaged in activities they enjoy, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and trying to build new friendships and relationships.

 

The death of a partner is a big reason for people becoming  lonely. You are suddenly alone, scared and completely lost. You may simply not know how to live without them. People have described it as having half of their mind, heart and soul ripped away with the remaining half left unable to function. 

Retirement is a chance to reinvent yourself and try all the things you have not considered before.

 

Maybe you seek to become a mentor to a young person who can learn from your life lessons, experience and knowledge. This could lead to higher levels of self-esteem and a sense of purpose and identity, together with fewer feelings of boredom and loneliness.

 

If you are feeling isolated in retirement and missing human connection, you could always try a part-time job if you feel able to, as you may find it to be very fulfilling, giving you a new sense of purpose. Often you might be able to find jobs that are freelance, allowing you to create your own schedule. Working on your terms! This is good for you both mentally and emotionally.

 

If you are not keen to go back to paid work, perhaps volunteering would be a good fit. Volunteering for a cause you believe in can be so beneficial in terms of meeting new people and creating new experiences. It helps decrease loneliness, gain happiness and satisfaction, together with finding more meaning and expressing gratitude for what you have in life.

 

Becoming a befriender is something enjoyed by many retirees and there is a wide range of services to get involved in. It’s invaluable, as the companionship and mental stimulation deepens connections with the local community. There are many befriending services that focus on the elderly who might not have any friends or family to visit them and often their ‘befriender’ is the only social connection they have in the week. Often the visit will include social interaction and outings wherever possible.

 

I cared for my Mum for over 20 years and even though she lived in the annexe we built for her, being a busy professional myself, I didn’t always have the time or energy to spend quality time with her during the week. I was lucky enough to find a befriender who would come to visit her and it was the highlight of her week. They chatted, reminisced, had a cup of tea together and often played cards or games until her dementia progressed too far.

 

If you have enjoyed journaling in previous life stages, perhaps now is the time to share your life journey by writing a memoir. If you have children, this would be a wonderful gift for them and one they could pass down to future generations. 

 

What strategies can we adopt to become more connected and feel less lonely?

 

 

Try and limit your use of social media, as ultimately it increases feelings of loneliness which can lead to FOMO (fear of missing out). It is good practice to check in with yourself regularly.

 

Learning to do exploratory work like journalling can be very therapeutic at any stage of life. It can be as simple as just doing a quick brain dump of what is in your head every morning. But the real discipline comes in doing it every day so it becomes part of your daily routine. Morning Pages are a great way to start. Created by Julia Cameron and featured in her book “The Artist’s Way”, Morning Pages essentially are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, usually written first thing in the morning. There is no right or wrong way to do Morning Pages, the idea is just to write.

 

Morning pages can be about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. You can use them to provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritise and
synchronise the day at hand. Do not overthink Morning Pages; just write down three pages of anything that comes into your mind…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

 

By practising this daily you will start to realise that the same issues might keep coming up and then you can start asking yourself questions about why you feel like that and how you might be able to change it. This might also be a time to learn and practise mindfulness and meditation.

 

It’s really important to make time for the little things in life, to pause, take a breath, and allow yourself to just be. Sometimes we just need to stop and ask ourselves if it is the world that is busy, or is it really our minds that are busy? We are human beings, but we get so caught up being

human doings!

 

We have become a nation of “mindless scrollers” and the truth is we don’t take in half as much as we think we do and more often than not, many of us find ourselves “doom scrolling”. There is never a better time to focus on mindful awareness and to become more aware of the here and now.

We cannot predict the future. Even though the future might seem like a reality it is not. It is simply a vision we create in our minds. We need to try our best to take each day as it comes, focussing on looking outward not inward, to experience all life has to offer. 

 

Mindfulness is simply about being aware and alive in the now! It is a behaviour or quality and usually includes being aware of each breath, being aware of what is going on around you and being able to fully connect with people or situations. Think of how you find yourself being drawn in as you watch your favourite football team play against their biggest rivals, or that deep sense of peace you feel when you curl up with a cup of hot coffee and a really good book. Simply put, it is about being fully alive in the now! It is not some mystical, inaccessible practice. It is down to earth and practical, free and available to everyone, anytime.

 

Meditation is different from mindfulness in that it is the practice of clearing your mind. This is usually achieved through the use of specific techniques like mindfulness, breathwork or visualisation. Don’t be put off by the idea of meditating. It is a simple, but very helpful exercise in quieting a busy mind and dispersing unwanted emotions. The bonus is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more you begin to notice the benefits. It lightens the mind and lifts the spirit and it certainly deserves a place in your daily routine!

 

Mindfulness and meditation have many physical and emotional benefits including helping to lower blood pressure, slow your heart rate and ease anxiety and stress. A daily practice also helps to sharpen your mind, increase concentration, improves awareness of your body, and helps

to balance your emotions by enabling you to stay conscious of them. This in turn helps to create a sense of peace and reduces emotional reactivity. The point of meditating isn’t to sit perfectly still and in silence. 

 

Meditation is a practice, and there will always be thoughts that come out of nowhere to distract you. Meditation isn’t about trying to stop these thoughts. The purpose of meditation is simply to acknowledge these thoughts as they arise, and they will; and let them pass without judgement.

 

As loneliness is quite widespread, you might find some support online as there are many other people in the same boat and they too will be wanting to connect. You will be able to find people with similar interests by joining something like ‘Meetup’ where you can search by location and interest. Maybe some of the apps you use might have a discussion board or forum you could participate in.

 

You could also consider getting a pet. Dogs and cats give us so many benefits – preventing loneliness is one of them, together with companionships and unconditional love, and licks! Owning a dog brings connection with other people and a whole community of other local dog walkers.

 

For all life stages, if you still feel lonely when you are meeting and interacting with others, this could be a sign of anxiety or depression. It would be advisable to explore therapy for help with changing your thoughts and actions to help re-establish and build your resilience. It’s important to show vulnerability with your therapist, and you need to feel heard and accepted just the way you are. Feelings are always better out than in. 

 

Always remember you are good enough, just as you are!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top