Loneliness: It isn’t the life we would choose.

We all feel lonely at some point – it’s a normal human emotion and having been a military wife for over 20 years I know first-hand how lonely life can be at times. Humans are a very social species: all our lives are built around a certain amount of social interactions and physical proximity and when things change or those connections are ruptured- perhaps through bereavement, family splits or even work situations- the loneliness and feeling of isolation can set in. Even the use of social media can play a part in the feeling of isolation!

MIND describes loneliness as ‘the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met’. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone.

One thing I’ve learnt is the difference between feeling alone and feeling lonely – and how we can feel lonely in a crowd full of people, but quite peaceful and content when alone…The key difference between being lonely and being alone is emotional attachment. Being alone is a state of being, while loneliness is a feeling. You don’t have to be on your own to feel lonely – you might feel lonely in a relationship or while spending time with friends or family – especially if you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you.

‘We all feel lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone’s experience of loneliness will be different.’

There are different types of loneliness:

  • Emotional loneliness – When someone you were very close with is no longer there. This could be a partner or a close friend. 
  • ​​Social loneliness – When you feel like you’re lacking a wider social network of friends, neighbours or colleagues.
  • ​​Transient loneliness – A feeling that comes and goes.
  • ​​Situational loneliness – Loneliness which you only feel at certain times like Sundays, bank holidays or Christmas.
  • ​​Chronic loneliness – When you feel lonely all or most of the time. (Taken from Marmalade Trust)

Other than being emotionally difficult, loneliness can affect people in many ways:

Physical Pain: Research shows that the areas of the brain that deal with social exclusion are the same areas that process physical pain- so the ‘broken heart’ feeling is real.

Depression: Loneliness is not a mental health problem but the two are strongly linked. Lonely people are likely to show more depressive symptoms.

Physical Health: Emotional stress is often linked with depressed immunity. And some research links loneliness and depression with poorer health and wellbeing.

Loneliness is something that I have seen a lot since the pandemic and the impact that has had on confidence and self esteem. One thing that helps is being honest about how you feel, and to accept that there is always something we can do to help.

How to help yourself: My tips

  • Make some new connections: Social networks are key, so try and join groups to suit your needs or hobbies and attend coffee mornings, this can be a big step for some but connection to other people is really important. Volunteering is a good way of meeting people and helping others can also really help improve your mental health.
  • Encourage visitors and go on visits: Ask family or friends to visit, or be a ‘tourist’ in your area. I love doing this, it’s a great way to get out and explore, and feel connected to the place you live.
  • Be honest with others. If you are truly struggling or are feeling down it’s okay to be honest and tell it like it is. Sharing your struggles is incredibly brave, courageous, and most importantly, honest. Be true to yourself and share with people you trust. Reach out to someone, it doesn’t have to be face-to-face; you could share a message on social media.
  • Look after yourself: Self-care is really important. My self-care blog has lots of tips but the key is to make sure that you put some time aside in your day to do something that makes you happy!
  • Focus on the positive as much as possible: Find something that you can look forward to, even if it is just a phone call with a loved one, meeting a friend for a coffee or watching a box set on the TV. Positive thinking releases endorphins and that will make us feel happy.

My final thought…

Look out for those around you, the chances are there are others in your community that feel just like you do, and if you’re not feeling lonely and are just reading this blog for information consider those around you and reach out. A small act of kindness to a neighbour or someone in your community may just make the difference.

Useful resources:
MIND loneliness advice
BBC news article – “I’m surrounded by people – but I feel so lonely”