Posted May 10th 2022
What is loneliness?
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so we will all experience loneliness differently.
Loneliness is commonly described as the feeling we experience when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone.
You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while for others this may be a lonely experience.
You could also be someone who has lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely – particularly if you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you.
Sometimes, we can feel lonely even if we are around lots of people or have lots of friends.
We all can feel lonely at different times for different reasons which include times of difficult changes in our lives, like moving somewhere new, relationships or friendships ending, starting university, changing jobs, or experiencing a bereavement.
Sometimes, social media can make us feel isolated and disconnected from the ‘perfect lives’ we see on-screen on a daily basis. It can feel like everyone else is surrounded by friends and loved ones and having a good time. This can make things feel more challenging when we are feeling alone and not sure who to turn to for support.
Remember that social media is someone’s highlight reel. Although a picture, caption, or video may give an impression, it isn’t always the full story and your own feelings and experiences are valid regardless of what you see others doing.
1 in 14 people aged 16 or over in the UK say they are lonely
Loneliness and mental health
Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely. Experiencing poor mental health can have a significant impact on a person’s life and is very likely to lead to reduced social contact.
For example, some people may have misconceptions about what certain mental health problems mean, so you may find it difficult to speak to them about your problems.
Or you may experience social phobia/anxiety and find it difficult to engage in everyday activities involving other people, which could lead to a lack of meaningful social contact and cause feelings of loneliness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased levels of loneliness amongst the population, particularly for people who faced lockdown living alone and unable to regularly connect face to face with friends, loved ones or colleagues.
After finishing her university exams, Elin, one of our Research Champions, moved to London and started working.
“It was the furthest I’d lived from home, and, with no friends in the city, I was putting the elin in loneliness for some time. A year passed before I made a new friend. I had tried several new hobbies, but nothing stuck – people came and went.
“I felt low and, it sounds dramatic looking back, but I realised that my own sense of self had begun to fray at the edges. Our identities are partly defined by our relationships, so social isolation can raise questions and self-doubts you might not usually have time to consider.
“I missed familiarity, and the feeling of being ‘seen’ by people who understood me.
Almost every social encounter was a first impression – my social anxiety had also flared during this time, so it was a tiring feeling I had to prove myself over and over again.
“My main piece of advice is to lean into social hobbies that energise you, and that are easy to maintain while working a full-time job (or whatever your situation may be).
And be kind to yourself, we are stronger together.”
Finding our connections to ourselves, others, and the world around us, is fundamental to protecting our mental health and reducing feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness is when we feel we do not have the meaningful relationships we want around us.
Below are some things to do when you’re feeling lonely that will help you connect back to yourself and others and feel less lonely.
- Be kind to yourself
Spending time on your own might not seem fun, but the more time you spend doing things you enjoy and being kind to yourself the more confident you will feel.
It’s ok to have time just for yourself and take things easy.
- Express how you are feeling
It is important to have ways to express yourself, even if right now you don’t have people close to you who you can talk to.
Keeping a journal can help you to track your mood and reading over it might help you to see things that keep happening in your life that you might need some help with.
Some people like to express themselves through drawing, painting, music, fashion or sport.
Or, why not try volunteering?
Volunteering can be a great way to learn a new skill, give back to your community, feel good about yourself, and meet people passionate about the same things as you.
Use Vinspired to discover lots of volunteering opportunities near where you live.
- Find what sparks joy for you
You don’t have to be good at something to give it a go and enjoy it.
Join a hobby club, team or local group to help you connect with other people, build new friendships and have fun.
It can feel really nerve-wracking to turn up to a new place, especially if the people already know each other, but you’re likely to find people who are very happy and willing to help you settle in.
If there is something you absolutely love there will be other people out there who feel the same.
- Check in with your mental health
If you’re based in Wales, you can access free guided self-help tools through Silvercloud.
These easy-to-use and interactive online programmes are designed to support your mental health and wellbeing. Find help for anxiety, depression, stress, sleep, money worries & more.
Don’t struggle alone.
Remember to ask for help if you are feeling lonely. There are people out there to help you and to listen when you are ready. See our list of support organisations below that you can reach out to by phone and some by text.
- What can we do to prevent loneliness? – NCMH blog
- You’re not alone in feeling lonely – NCMH blog
- NCMH mental health leaflets
- Other NCMH Resources
- Age UK
Advice: 0800 169 65 65
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Advice: 0800 58 58 58
- Cruse Bereavement Care
Advice: 0808 808 1677
Advice: 116 123
Advice: 0808 800 3333
Advice: 0800 0502020
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