Considering it’s so common, loneliness is not something we often discuss. It can conjure up images of an elderly person sitting alone and has unhelpful connotations of being unpopular. None of these come close to reality.
Feeling isolated can have nothing to do with your age, how many friends you have around you, or even how busy your social life is.
The more I’ve read to learn about depression the more loneliness crops up as a contributing factor. This makes sense when you consider that lack of connection in any form can be the beginning of feeling isolated. So, feelings of loneliness and lack of connection can precede depression and floundering mental health.
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Being alone and being lonely isn’t the same thing. There’s a notable difference between loneliness that’s draining and upsetting compared to restorative, chosen solitude.
Writing for Psychology Today, Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project identifies seven types of loneliness:
- New-situation loneliness. Such as moving to a new city or starting a new job.
- I’m different loneliness. Confronting feelings of standing alone.
- Being single loneliness. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being single but some miss having an intimate attachment.
- No animal loneliness. Felt after losing a much-loved animal.
- No alone time loneliness. You may have lots of friends around you but don’t feel that close connection.
- Un-trustworthy loneliness. Sometimes in life you can start to doubt that your friends closest to you actually have your best intentions at heart.
- Quiet presence loneliness. This is why some people struggle to live alone – they prefer to have the quiet company of another human being around even if they’re not in the same room or talking.
- These are all worth thinking about if you have a feeling of loneliness that you just can’t shake.
It’s worth investing time in really trying to identify what the root cause of your loneliness is. What is really driving your feelings? Is your loneliness causing unhappiness? If so, that’s something to address as lingering loneliness is not good for our mental health.
Psychologists often say that feeling connected to others is a key part of happiness. In this respect, the old cliché is true, turning the spotlight away from yourself and giving to others can be really rewarding. Volunteering can tick several boxes because you’re filling a need within your own community and making connections at the same time. Double win!
If you’re used to spending a lot of time alone, and have a feeling that it’s no longer serving you well, you may need to remind yourself to make time for others if you need to until it becomes a habit.
Some people are naturally more sociable than others but you don’t have to swing from one extreme right over to the other. Little pockets of time with others can start to break down that wall. A quick chat with a neighbour on your morning walk or with the person who makes your coffee can chip away at feelings of isolation. You don’t have to suddenly cram your diary with events and late nights!
As with many things in life, being aware of loneliness can be the beginning of changing it. By its nature, loneliness can make people feel more negative or critical so they may push friends away rather than seeking them out. Even taking that on board can be the start of fixing it.