Being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. Feeling lonely has very little to do with how many friends you have, it’s about the way you feel inside. Some people who feel lonely may rarely interact with people, while others may be surrounded by people. You can feel lonely through all kinds of walks in life, for example, illness, break-up, bereavement, going to university, or moving cities. Often if you are feeling lonely you might display a positive attitude and project the appearance that everything is okay, but deep down you might be feeling very alone.
Although most people need social contact to maintain good mental health, everyone has different social needs. You may be content with a few close friends, or you may need a large group of varied acquaintances to meet your social needs. Feeling lonely in itself isn’t a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem increases your chance of feeling lonely, and feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health.
If you are feeling lonely, you may feel shame towards yourself and view yourself as unworthy or inadequate, therefore making it even harder to reconnect. Try to remember that everyone experiences loneliness sometimes. Although it is a horrible experience, there are some ways which will help you to cope with loneliness. Depending on the reason you are feeling lonely, will depend on what things might help you.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness is an effective way to help you reconnect with the world around you and help you stay focused in the present moment. For more information on “The Very Basics of Mindfulness”, click here.
- Meditation – Often when you are feeling lonely, you may find you are having more negative thoughts than usual, which can impact your mood and well-being. By taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to meditate, it will help quieten the mind and leave you in a calm, peaceful state. If you meditate first thing in the morning, it is a great way to start the day as that feeling of calm and peace will stay with you throughout.
- Mindfully accept the feeling of loneliness – Loneliness is an emotion just like anger, happiness, sadness, jealously. We cannot stop these feelings, nor can we push them back out, but we can learn to mindfully accept them. For example, when you’re feeling lonely you might often find yourself ruminating about your loneliness, you may have thoughts such as, “Why am I feeling lonely”, “I don’t have any friends”, “Maybe I deserve to feel lonely”. This negative downward spiral can have a big effect on your well-being and will only make you feel worse. By practising to mindfully accept these feelings you will start to recognise these thoughts early on and instead think, “I’m having feelings of loneliness”, which will help avoid the downward spiral and bring your attention back to the present moment.
- Reach out – When you are feeling lonely, you might react by withdrawing into yourself and avoiding social situations, which will only make you feel worse. It is so important you realise you are not alone. Try reaching out to a friend or family member and talk with that person about how you are feeling. When you make the first move by opening up to others, you will find that there’s so many other people out there who are feeling the same as you. If you do not have a friend or family member to talk to, try to reach out to a teacher, counsellor, or online.
- Pets – Pets can be complete life saviours when it comes to loneliness. When my health was at its worst, I truly believe my dog saved me from loneliness. They give you constant love and affection, they are always loyal, and even if you are feeling undeserving of love, your dog will love you unconditionally.
- Relationships – If you are feeling lonely within a relationship, you might believe that if you end the relationship you will feel even lonelier. But by staying in a toxic relationship you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Remember, being on your own is far better than being in a relationship that makes you miserable.
- Avoid categorising people – If you are feeling different from other people, or feel people don’t understand your situation, it’s important to try to spend less time focusing on the differences and more time focusing on the similarities. When you focus on the differences, you begin to place others into all sorts of categories such as age, gender, appearance, wealth, so making it harder to relate and connect with people. Yet when you look beneath all of that, you can see that we all share a common human experience. We all feel the emotions of pain, love, loneliness, fear, loss, sadness, and joy.
- Connect with people online – If you are struggling to find friends who understand what you are going through, then consider trying to find people online. If you suffer with an illness such as M.E., then an online community is especially valuable because you might not have enough energy to meet people or attend anything in person that can help you locally. A great place to meet people for the younger generation is through Instagram, because you can choose who you follow and who follows you back, plus you can make a separate account to your personal one. Just remember that if you want to find kind, positive and supportive people online, then your account also needs to be kind, positive and supportive.
- No social media – When you are on social media, it is very easy to start comparing yourself to others, but this often brings your mood down. Remember that what you see on social media is not always an accurate account of someone’s day to day life as individuals often share all the positives happening in their life, but keep quiet about any negatives. As an experiment, try turning all your social media off for one week (yes, a whole week!), and see if you notice any changes in your mood during that week. You may be surprised how much better you feel.
- Learn to be okay with being on your own – If the reason you are feeling lonely is because you have to spend a lot of time on your own, for example, if you are ill and unable to leave the house, or you live alone, then it is important to learn to be okay being by yourself. Try to plan your day in advance, that way you will find you’ll end up looking forward to spending time on your own. For example, you could plan on a certain evening to watch a movie, take a bath, snuggle up in front of the fire and read a book, have a pamper night, or simply make the most of the peace and quiet and listen to some gentle music and have a snooze. By planning some nice things to do in advance, you will be less likely to see being on your own as an issue and more as some good quality “me” time.
- Be kind to yourself – Feeling lonely can be very stressful and can have a big impact on your general wellbeing, which might make it even harder to make positive steps to feeling better, so it’s important to be kind to yourself. To read about “Why You Need to Practise Being Kind to Yourself”, click here, to read about “12 Ways to Practise Being Kind to Yourself”, click here.
- Nature – If you are finding it hard to connect to people around you, then turn to nature and the world outside. There’s so much more life out there than you might think! Go outside and explore it, even if it is just your garden.
- Put your phone away – It is a lot harder to feel connected to the world through your phone than through your eyes. Try to start using your phone less, especially when you are in company or when you go outside, and instead focus on what is happening in front of you.
- Do something you enjoy – When you do something you truly love and enjoy, such as writing, painting, or going for a run, whatever it is, you immediately become filled with happiness and feel a connection to the activity you love. If you start to do this every day, you are more likely to have positive feelings and want to reach out and share or find other people who have the same passion as you.
- Find like-minded people – If you are able, try and join something locally where you can meet and connect with other people like you. My biggest recommendation would be to join a meditation class! The people who I met through my meditation class were some of the kindest, most supportive people I have ever encountered. It is important to also remember that age is irrelevant. When I first joined I thought I wouldn’t be able to connect with anyone as I was a lot younger than most people in the group, but when it comes to giving compassion and support, age is completely irrelevant.
- Be friends with the right kind of people – Make sure you are friends with people who are kind and supportive towards you. Although they may not understand or be able to relate to why you are feeling lonely, it is important you feel able to talk to them about it without feeling judged. It’s always better to have one or two close friends who you can talk to openly, rather than a group of people who you don’t feel close or connected to.
- Reading – When you read a book, all your attention is focused on the story – the rest of the world just falls away, and you can immerse yourself in every fine detail you’re absorbing. When you make strong connections to characters or storylines in a book, it can really help you feel that you are not alone.
- Music – Music can change our mood in an instant, and help us understand emotions and connect to our feelings. When you are listening to a song and the lyrics are similar to how you are feeling, you feel an amazing connection and warmth. Again, like reading, it helps you feel that you are not alone.
- Challenge yourself – If the reason you are feeling lonely is because you’re avoiding social situations, for example, you are not leaving your room at university and joining in with others, then it is important you start to challenge yourself. Depending on how hard this is for you depends on how big the challenge to set yourself. For example, if you have been lonely for a while, start with something small such as going to places where there are lots of people around, such as cafes, cinemas, or shops. If you feel comfortable with that, you could challenge yourself to go knock on your neighbours/roommate’s door and ask if they fancy a cup of tea, or try something even more challenging such as getting a job, volunteering, or joining a social club. Always remember to be yourself when meeting new people, that way the relationships you make are more likely to last.
- Make an effort – If your friends have stopped inviting you out or have given up contact with you, have a little think as to whether this might have been as a result of you not making any effort with them. Have you been replying to their messages? Have you tried to meet up with them? If the answer is no, then you might want to consider making more time and effort with your friends. Even if things are difficult for you right now, you could just send your friend a text saying, “Thank you so much for your support, I really appreciate it.” Just one quick text of thanks and gratitude can go a long way in a friendship. Having said this, if you are ill and your health is unreliable meaning you often have to cancel last minute plans, explain this to your friends so they are always aware you might have to cancel last minute, and help them understand you are not cancelling your plans with them out of choice.
I hope you find these tips useful and you are soon able to feel connected to the world again.
Metta, E xx