We can all feel lonely sometimes, but it seems that in the age of social media and growing social anxiety loneliness has reached “epidemic” levels. The issue appears to be especially problematic for younger generations.
A poll from YouGov - a polling firm and market research company - found that 30% of millennials say they feel lonely and 22% of millennials said they had zero friends. Of the people involved in the poll, 27% said they had “no close friends,” 30% said they had “no best friends”, and 25% said they have no acquaintances.
It seems that loneliness is a global problem too, as in Japan as many as half a million people live in social isolation and one in five Canadians identified as lonely too. The British government has recently appointed a minister for loneliness to combat the issue.
Loneliness isn’t just about feeling alone, but it can be very damaging to our health. Loneliness is associated with higher blood pressure and heart disease and it has been shown to have a health impact similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Everyone’s experience of loneliness can be different. Some may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience. Or you may have lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely.
According to Mind the mental health charity, feeling lonely isn’t classified as a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely. For example, you may experience social phobia and find it difficult to engage in everyday activities involving other people. Research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.
For some people, certain life events may mean they feel lonely, such as experiencing a bereavement, going through a break-up, retiring and losing the social contact you had at work, changing jobs, starting at university or moving to a new area or country without family, friends or community networks. Other people find they feel lonely at certain times of the year, such as around Christmas.
Regardless of the reason why someone might feel lonely, it’s important to acknowledge that most of us experience loneliness at some point in our lives and it’s okay to admit that and to reach out for more support or social interaction. Before the internet, people were a lot better and actively going out with a view to meet new people and engage in physical conversations, but nowadays that seems to appear more difficult.
Here are some tips for how to cope with loneliness:
1. Accept that loneliness is normal: Just knowing that others around the globe are experiencing the same feelings of loneliness can be helpful. Remember that 40% of people will experience loneliness at some point in time.
2. Seek professional help: Meeting with a mental health professional is one of the most helpful steps you can take if you're trying to overcome loneliness. A therapist can help you explore what is behind your feelings and other issues surrounding your loneliness can be addressed as well.
3. Nurture existing relationships: Loneliness can make us pull away from our existing relationships. By nurturing the relationships you already have, you can put yourself on a path to overcoming loneliness. Try to schedule time each day or week to call or visit a friend. Invite someone out for lunch or start up conversations when you can. Use social media to reconnect with those you've lost touch with due to time or distance.
4. Practice positive ‘self-talk’: When you're feeling lonely, and you start to think negatively you're adding to your loneliness. Make an effort to catch these thoughts and replace them with a positive message instead. The process of positive self-talk takes practice, but it can be part of a simple cure for loneliness.
5. Find a hobby: Boredom adds weight to loneliness. If you're already struggling with feelings of loneliness or social isolation, find something to occupy your time. Make sure that what you choose has some social aspect to it. Take some time to explore hobby options and then get out there!