Loneliness is something that most of us experience from time to time. Indeed, spending time by yourself can be a good thing. But, if lack of contact with others or feelings of isolation take hold, loneliness can become overwhelming, and may even harm your health.
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Recent studies suggest that those people who frequently experience loneliness have a 26% increased risk of mortality. The health-harming effects of loneliness are even comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes daily. However, the good news is there are plenty of things you can do to make your life less of a lonely one.
Accept you’re not alone
Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit that they’re lonely, as if they’ve failed somehow. Yet loneliness is extremely common. In the UK alone, more than nine million people, or a fifth of the population, admit to feeling lonely. Accepting that loneliness is a common issue and that there are plenty of other people in your shoes can make it easier to do something about it. Moreover, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up about feeling disconnected from the outside world.
Understand why you feel lonely
People experience loneliness for lots of different reasons. They might be newly single, bereaved, have moved to a new location or work in a solitary job. Find out what factors are causing you to experience loneliness and see if you can make any changes to improve your situation. For example, consider switching to a job role where you interact with more people if you’ve been spending too much time working on your own. If you’re self-employed and work from home, why not rent communal office space so you aren’t completely isolated? Spending a lot of time on social media can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, so get offline and meet friends face-to-face instead.
Occupy your mind
Avoid spending time dwelling on the fact that you’re lonely. If your mind is active and occupied, there’s no space for feeling isolated and alone. Take up a hobby, do some gardening, start a project at home – anything that gives you a sense of purpose and keeps your mind off the loneliness topic.
Kick loneliness into touch by getting out and meeting people. Arrange to meet up with a friend or start a new hobby, activity or course, which gets you out of the house and interacting with new people. Many people report feeling lonely even when they’re with others, so try to surround yourself with like-minded people who share the same interests or passions as you, so you’ve got something in common.
Helping others less fortunate than yourself is often a good way to put your feelings of loneliness into perspective. Plus, it helps to reduce your own sense of isolation. Consider doing some voluntary work in a charity shop, or reading to youngsters in a school. Even just popping in to see an elderly neighbour to check if they need any shopping doing can break the monotony of being alone.
Contact support groups
We tend to associate loneliness with old age, but recent research has shown that young people experience loneliness more than any other age group. In fact, 40% of 16-24 year olds claim they’re lonely, compared to 27% of those over the age of 75.
However old you are when loneliness strikes, it’s good to know that there are support groups available that can cater for your needs and specific situation. Such groups can put you in contact with people in the same boat as you. For those who struggle to get out of the house and feel socially isolated, some groups even offer a befriending service where you get regular visits from a volunteer.