Recent research carried out by Brigham Young University Holt Lundstad (et al 2015) suggests that loneliness can have the same measure of impact on your lifespan and health as obesity, and as big a risk as smoking (Daily Express, 2015). Many people experience loneliness – people of all ages and from all areas of life.
Why people feel lonely
Loneliness happens for so many different reasons and I have come across it so often in my professional practice over these years. The modern way of living encourages less real contact with each other through the use of texting rather than talking and social media rather than really communicating. It seems gone are the days when people who are friends really talk to each other rather than just be someone’s friend in an online sense. Modern technology encourages social isolation. It is easy to forget how to communicate with others and far too easy to prefer to communicate using technology.
Life changing circumstances can also cause loneliness. Having a baby and giving up work is a life changing experience for many and this can be very isolating. New mothers, coming to terms with having left or taken leave from work adapting to life at home with a small and demanding baby. Redundancy or losing your job can be equally difficult. Work gives us a sense of social identify and provides a network of people to talk to; adding routine and structure to our lives. When this is taken away, the impact can be devastating.
Being isolated in some areas of your life can impact on your feelings of loneliness. You may have been isolated by geography and where you live or your health dictating the amount you can go out and meet other people. You can be isolated socially. When a loved one dies, the person left behind feels lonely, with a sense of emptiness.
What can you do when you feel lonely?
Learning to talk about your loneliness helps as talking can be healing. Firstly, it is important to find a way to acknowledge how you feel – that you do feel lonely, for whatever reason. Give yourself permission to feel lonely. In talking about how you feel more, you can learn to understand yourself more and make more sense of why you feel as you do. Many different feelings can be associated with loneliness such as anxiety and depression.
So having admitted you are lonely, you can admit to yourself that you need some help with how you feel. Learn to ask for what you need and consider your own needs and in doing so, get your own needs met. Learn more about how to connect with others in a way that is healthy, and honest, and in this way communicate what you want as part of the journey towards getting those needs met. It is OK to have needs of your own.
Counselling can help you with some of the issues around loneliness. Perhaps you feel isolated, depressed, or anxious? Or lacking a sense of belonging or commonality with others? Counselling offers the space to be listened to and really heard; to be understood. Through talking you can learn to make sense of what loneliness means for you and then establish what might be possible in order to change how you feel.
Daily Express ( 2015) Loneliness as big a killer as obesity and as dangerous as heavy smoking. [Available online 12.03.15]
Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris, T. and Stephenson, D. (2015) Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality - A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychology.[ Published online 11.03.15]