10 ways to help overcome loneliness
Loneliness is an increasing problem. Office for National Statistics data shows that the number of chronically lonely people in Britain has risen to 3.83 million – half a million more than in 2020, when 3.24 million people were chronically lonely. Loneliness also has a serious impact on physical and mental health. The World Health Organisation considers that the effect of loneliness “is comparable to that of other well-established risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.”
If you are experiencing loneliness, what can you do to overcome it?
1. Admit that you feel lonely - it’s OK to feel lonely
The first step to solving any problem is to admit there is a problem. Loneliness can generate feelings of shame because we think that feeling lonely means that we are unlikeable or socially incapable. These feelings of unworthiness can compound loneliness, making us less confident. This in turn impacts our ability to connect with others and socialise.
So remind yourself, it's OK to feel lonely.
2. Remember everyone feels lonely
We may underestimate other people’s sense of loneliness. We look at social media posts of holidays and nights out and we imagine that everyone else is living happy lives. That we are the only ones who experience loneliness. However, this is not true. Around a quarter (27%) of adults reported feeling lonely always, often or some of the time, according to the latest ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.
And it’s not just older people who are experiencing loneliness. The Campaign to End Loneliness reports that the loneliest age group in 2023 was people under 30, who were twice as likely to be chronically lonely as those over 70.
So remember, it’s part of being human to feel lonely. It’s part of our primal instincts to need other people in order to gain safety and comfort.
Loneliness is a feeling like any other and, by admitting you feel lonely, you can start to get help.
3. Recognise what loneliness looks like for you
Loneliness can be difficult to recognise, not just because we are reluctant to admit it, but also because it doesn’t always present like the stereotype. We think that if we are not sitting on our own at home, without a social life or friends, we can’t be lonely. This is untrue. You can still feel lonely in a crowded room.
Also, loneliness feels different for everyone. You don’t necessarily feel unhappy. You might be feeling annoyed, tired, anxious, unmotivated or depressed. Lots of people describe loneliness to me as feeling invisible or feeling like nobody really knows them.
If you notice any of those feelings, stop and reflect on what might be going on underneath. Is loneliness an issue?
4. Understand the difference between social isolation and loneliness
It’s also important to consider the difference between social isolation and loneliness. Social isolation is having a small number of social contacts. Loneliness, on the other hand, is feeling that our social connections are not fulfilling.
In other words, social isolation is being alone, whereas loneliness is feeling alone. It’s our perception of how connected we feel to other people. This is why you can still feel lonely despite having a partner, friends and an active social life. It’s also why it’s harder to spot loneliness in other people, because we can’t see inside their heads to know how they’re feeling.
The good news is that as loneliness is a subjective feeling - it is one you can work on changing.
5. Develop deeper connections
So how do you reduce feelings of loneliness? A first step might be to take stock of your relationships and think about how you could improve them. You may have family and friends but how connected are you within each relationship? What could you change to make things better?
Remember its quality not quantity. You don’t need hundreds of close connections so focus on one or two relationships. Concentrate on the people you think are the most genuine, or your key relationships.
One idea is to commit to spending 15 minutes a day with the people you love. This could be physically or on the phone, but the important thing is to speak rather than text and to concentrate on really listening and giving the person your attention. Could you take some time each evening to call someone to touch base, jump on the trampoline with the kids or go for a quick walk with a partner where you can really talk?
6. Build stronger connections with yourself
Brene Brown says “To form meaningful connections with others, we must first connect with ourselves.” This could be through taking time to reflect, such as by journaling or meditating.
Spending time in solitude can also help you realise that you can enjoy life alone and create your own happiness. Find some activities that bring you joy and comfort and spend time doing them on your own. This could be walking in nature, being creative, listening or making music.
7. Help and be helped
Look for ways to give service to others. When we are lonely, we can turn inward and lose our sense of self. Doing things for others can help you feel that you have value in the world. Volunteering for a cause you believe in can help you develop a sense of meaning, but helping could also be something simple, like calling on a neighbour or offering someone a lift.
The other side is to accept help. Research shows being vulnerable can help create greater connections. So why not practise opening up to someone about your feelings? If this seems too much, try starting small by asking for advice or just giving someone a smile. It can be nerve-wracking, but it will get easier each time you do it.
8. Work on improving your self-confidence
Loneliness and lack of self-confidence can work in a vicious circle. When you feel lonely, you can feel worthless. This can lead you to isolate yourself from others and be less open about your feelings. This then means you feel more lonely as you lose connection with others.
To help boost your self-esteem, try listing the qualities you have that others value, and the qualities you would like to have. Some other helpful questions to consider might be; what do you like about yourself, what skills and talents do you have, what challenges have you overcome? If you find that hard to do, imagine what a good friend might say about you.
9. Change unhelpful ways you might be dealing with your loneliness
Sometimes we can choose unhelpful ways to deal with our loneliness. We can fall into overeating, drinking, or other addictive behaviours, for example. Or we can isolate ourselves from others in an attempt to avoid the pain of the lack of connection. Once you spot that you are doing this, you can put in steps to change these behaviours to something more helpful.
10. Seek counselling
If loneliness is affecting your mental health, it might be time to reach out for professional help. Counselling can support you and help you gain insights into your feelings. It offers a non-judgmental space where you can be honest and talk about what’s going on for you. It could help you find out what has led you to this point in your life and explore what you might be able to do about it. It can also give you the strength to face the changes you need to make.
This is a subject I help clients with, so if you’d like to learn more about how we can work together, get in touch.