Being lonely does not mean that you are weak. Loneliness can affect people of all ages and genders. For most people, this is a temporary feeling. However, it is important to recognise signs of loneliness, as well as understand the different reasons that may cause it. It is also important to remember that loneliness is subjective. This means that it is based on personal experience, so different people will have different experiences of what ‘loneliness’ is.
WHY DO PEOPLE FEEL LONELY?
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. Whilst it could affect anyone, some people have a higher risk of feeling lonely. Here are some common causes of loneliness:
Being in a new social environment, for example after moving house, schools, or job
Feeling like you don’t fit in with the people around you, for example because you have different beliefs or hobbies
Feeling like you can’t be open with your friends, or that your friendships aren’t emotionally deep
Feeling dissatisfied with your romantic life
Having little face-to-face contact with close friends and family
LONG-TERM LONELINESS IS BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY DANGEROUS
The effect of loneliness is different for each person. Some effects are more dangerous than others. Some researchers think that long-term loneliness can be as dangerous to health as cigarette smoking. Studies have concluded that long-term loneliness increases the risk of an early death by 14%. It can affect both mental and physical health. However, remember that loneliness is very common, so you shouldn’t worry about your physical health if you only experience loneliness for a fairly short period.
One doctor wrote that: “Lonely adults consume more alcohol and get less exercise than those who are not lonely. Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing us to premature aging”. What the doctor means, is that lonely people are more likely to have an unhealthy lifestyle, with poor eating and sleep patterns. This has a physical effect on the body as it affects the way that your cells behave, which could cause the body to age faster.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Loneliness must not be ignored. Whilst you should recognise your own feelings, and work through them in your own time, you should also take action to make yourself feel better
Take it slow – It can be scary to try to open up to people, or make new friends. Do whatever you are comfortable with, and don’t feel the need to rush.
Express yourself – Many people find it helpful to talk to someone they trust about how they feel. If you are not comfortable with this, you can also take some time to yourself to think about how you feel. Writing it down can also be helpful.
Think about your friends- Some people are nicer than others. Don’t put up with a “friend” that takes advantage of you, and treats you badly. It is better not to be their friend at all, than to get used by them.
New experiences – Taking up new hobbies can give you enjoyment even when you’re by yourself. It can also give you a chance to meet new people like you, if it is a group activity.