It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and Mental Health Awareness Month in the States and some other countries. The theme for this Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness. Loneliness is a word that isn’t too unfamiliar to me. Even though I see myself as a sociable person, I have experienced it several times given different circumstances. Luckily, each time I was able to find ways to deal with the loneliness.
I, therefore, decided to share what has helped me cope with loneliness. But let’s first look at what loneliness actually is and when we might feel lonely. Although loneliness is commonly identified as not having any friends and feeling alone and sad, we may experience it even if we are surrounded by other people. We don’t necessarily have to be alone to feel lonely. On the contrary, some people might be alone but not feel lonely. Experts, therefore, believe that loneliness is a state of mind.
Effects of loneliness
Although loneliness is not classified as a mental health problem, there are links between those two. Having mental health problems will increase the likeliness of loneliness. Subsequently, feeling lonely may contribute to mental health problems. It can have negative effects on both, physical and mental health. According to several studies, loneliness can increase the likelihood of mortality and the risk of stroke, dementia and premature death. It can also negatively impact our brain function, memory, learning and decision-making. Some studies suggest that loneliness is associated with social anxiety and isolation, poor social skills and self-esteem, introversion, depression, stress and sleep problems.
Causes of loneliness
Loneliness may make you feel misunderstood, empty, broken and feel down, sad and unwanted. Although we all can feel lonely at certain times, the feeling of loneliness is very unique to each of us. There are different causes of loneliness. The most common are moving to a new place to live, the loss of a loved one, a break-up, or when we feel isolated at work or have lost social contact with others. This was most obvious during the pandemic when we were all in lockdown and had to stay at home by ourselves.
Loneliness isn’t, however, only a matter for older people. In fact, it’s actually younger groups that are reported to feel more lonely these days when compared to those over 75 years old.
Learning to deal with loneliness
I have had to find ways to deal with loneliness several times. I moved countries a few times on my own. Then together with my husband, we moved to a new place several years ago. We moved to the south coast, where we love it, however, we didn’t know anyone when we moved here.
I also experienced loneliness a few months ago. It was after I had returned back to work full time following my accident. I experienced a setback in my recovery, and it negatively impacted my mental health. I felt like I was falling into depression but didn’t know what to do. The fact was that I didn’t talk about my pain to anyone at work as I didn’t want to cause problems. I also felt like no one would understand as I couldn’t understand myself what was going on. I realised, however, that by not communicating my feelings honestly, I was only adding to my loneliness and depression. Luckily, with the support of my husband, I was able to combat it.
When we recognise and acknowledge our feelings, we have a better chance of figuring out what is causing them. I didn’t want to feel lonely or depressed, so I knew that I had to do something about it. There are several ways to help deal with loneliness. Having looked at what is recommended for combating loneliness I found that several of the methods were the same as the ones that helped me deal with loneliness.
Ways to deal with loneliness
1. Strengthen your current relationships – when it comes to friends, it’s not the quantity but the quality that matters. Having a few true friends is better than having a large number of friends you can’t truly rely on. Therefore, it is important that we try to strengthen our relationships by remaining in contact with our family and friends. Try to call or text them if you haven’t done so for a long time. Sometimes spending some time in the company of good friends is what we need to feel better.
2. Make new connections – when we moved to a new place where we didn’t know anyone, the only option was to make new friends. I found and joined an online group called Streetlife lunches when I moved to the south coast and have met a lovely friend who I still keep in touch with. You can find local communities online, many are on Facebook as well, or you could create a Meetup group of your own. There are many opportunities to make new friends, just make sure that you join a safe and trusted community group.
3. Hobbies – whether you are seeking the company of others or you prefer spending time on your own, a hobby is a perfect way to deal with loneliness. Depending on your hobby you can join a gym or an exercise class, a church or a club, where you can meet new people with similar interests to your own. After many years I returned to my passion for writing after my accident. As I was in the hospital at the time of the pandemic, I couldn’t have any visitors. But I had so many thoughts in my head and I had to empty them somehow, so I took a pen and put my thoughts down on paper. Writing became my therapy, and later on, I created the Journeyofsmiley Blog. With time, I also joined some blogging groups where I found some amazing bloggers that I keep in touch with. This year I also joined Hope Writers and found some great writing friends.
4. Volunteering – whilst this is a great way to deal with loneliness, helping others also positively impacts our wellbeing and mental health. Through volunteering, we can meet and connect with other people which can lead to new friendships. You can read more about the benefit of volunteering for our health in one of my previous posts. And volunteering can also reduce depression, loneliness and isolation as we meet and connect with other people which can lead to new friendships.
5. Get a pet – getting a pet doesn’t only provide you with companionship, but it also gives you the perfect opportunity to meet other people. I often see dog owners stopping and chatting to each other on my own walks. And by taking your dog for a walk, you are also doing something that’s good for your health.
6. Spend time in nature – not everyone is a social butterfly, and some people actually prefer to be on their own. Many such people avoid loneliness by spending time in nature. Going for walks or gardening is a great way for them to deal with loneliness. No wonder, as being in nature has many proven benefits on our wellbeing. And even if we don’t meet any people whilst out, walking has a significant impact on our mood. It just has so many benefits. Did you know that it is also a great way to combat autumn anxiety? Walking definitely helped me on my recovery journey, and I shared my story on the National Alliance on the Mental Illness (NAMI) blog.
7. Communication – and this is a big one! I learnt that opening up and having an honest conversation about my feelings actually prevented my mental health and wellbeing from worsening further. It can sometimes be hard to find the right words to express ourselves, especially if we don’t understand what is happening to us ourselves and why, however, we can always try to talk to someone that we trust. It can be your partner, a close friend or even a therapist.
8. Lean onto God – at any stage of my life when I felt lonely, I always try to remind myself that if there is no one else, there is always God. With God I’m never alone, He is always with me. However tough times may have been, God was always with me. After all, He promised that He will never forsake us, we just have to trust Him. So let’s pray and ask God to put the right people into our life.
Acknowledging your feelings can help you feel less lonely
Understanding the effect loneliness can have on our lives and how it makes us feel is essential. Many people feel ashamed to admit that they feel lonely. It may be because there is a stigma attached to loneliness which is often associated with otherness and social isolation. However, it is critical, to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge our feelings, as only then we are able to initiate the necessary change. And there are ways to deal with loneliness. The above tips will help you to deal with it. But also be prepared, it may well require some work and perseverance as change is unlikely to happen from one day to another. So get out there and see which of the methods would best work for you. Sometimes, however, it isn’t so much about surrounding ourselves with others but more about our ability to communicate that really matters.
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