As we enter into the autumn with its shortening days some people begin to feel lonelier. The sunshine of summer seems to keep feelings of loneliness away but in the cold, wet and dark days of autumn and winter it is more difficult. This time of the year can mean that we get out less often and therefore can feel cut off from our friends and family. Some, especially older people who have lost their life-time partner, may not see anyone for days.
It is important to distinguish between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness is being unhappy when you are alone. A feeling of emptiness. People can feel loneliness differently. For some it is a sort of slightly uncomfortable feeling - that your life isn’t complete. For others is a heavy weight of nothingness.
These feelings can exist even when you are surrounded by lots of people. They can occur even when you are in a long-term relationship and discover you have nothing in common but stay in it for a particular reason - for example so that your children have both parents. Teenagers and young adults can feel lonely even though they constantly use all the modern forms of connecting - Twitter, Facebook, texts and emails. In fact, the increased use of electronic communications can actually mean we have less face-to-face contact and so are at a greater risk of feeling lonely.
Loneliness is a state of mind that, if not tackled, can lead to depression and a downward spiral of isolation. The challenge is to do something about it. Tackling loneliness means that you have to take control of your life, and that can be challenging. Sometimes friends can help; sometimes you will be able to do it yourself. And occasionally you may need the help of a professional such as a counsellor.
But it is important to remember that loneliness is also a normal part of being human. When we say goodbye to someone who is leaving for a number of months or years - perhaps because they are going to another country for work - or when someone close to you dies, it's normal to feel loneliness. It is whether we get trapped in that loneliness or accept it and move on that is important.
The way that modern relationships develop is leading to more and more people living alone. Because of this we need to ensure that we have regular quality contact with others. Electronic communications can help but are not the solution. We can fool ourselves that we have hundreds of friends, but gradually it will dawn on us that we never see them. And humans need the stimulation of physical and visual contact.
Because you are reading this article it is likely that you either suspect that you are lonely or know someone who is. Realising that you are lonely is the first step to tackling this problem. From here you can now decide if you want to do something about it. Getting structure into your life and looking to do activities that you like are the next steps. But it may not be easy so try to get someone to support you as you change.
The role of positive thinking is also important and that’s where trained counsellors can help - you can do it, you will do it. Believe in yourself and take that first step to freedom from isolation.
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