How can I overcome feelings of loneliness?
For many people, overcoming loneliness is about increasing the level of social contact that they have with other people and there are different ways to do this. However, if you experience feelings of loneliness that are unrelated to social contact, you may need to develop different strategies to help you overcome this. We discuss both types of strategy here.
‘The way I deal with loneliness is to go out and spend time outside, have a small conversation with the cashier as I pay for my things, phone my mum or see a close friend.’
For some people, feeling lonely is not about how many friends they have, but about feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. In this case, it can help to take small steps to feel more connected with the world around you.
Making contact with people you know can be a useful first step in helping you feel less alone. If you have friends or family, phoning someone, or sending a text or email, can help make you feel more grounded and remind you that there are people in your life. Sometimes just going outside for a walk and seeing other people in the street, perhaps saying hello to someone you know, can make you feel a bit better.
If you are with other people or in a group situation, it can be easy to stay quiet or hide behind your phone. However, this can make you feel lonelier in the long run. Although it may feel difficult, joining in the conversation, even a bit, can often help you feel less isolated.
Making the most of social contact
If you are lonely, it can help to make the most of opportunities for social contact, however small.
If you work, pick your children up from school, or have a friendly neighbour or shopkeeper, starting a conversation – or even just saying hello – can make you feel less alone.
If you are out of practice talking to people, starting a conversation may seem daunting at first. If you find it hard knowing what to say, try asking people about themselves and what they are interested in.
If you don’t get an enthusiastic reply, the main thing is not to take it personally. The other person may be having a bad day that is nothing to do with you or may feel shy too. You might get a more positive response from someone else.
Meeting people and making friends
For many people, meeting new people and making friends can help them overcome their feelings of loneliness.
Many people meet their friends through their daily lives – for example, through work, their children’s schools or through people they already know. But for people who do not work, or live away from friends and family, it can be difficult to meet new people.
One way is through making links with people with shared experiences, values or interests. Think about something that interests you. This could be anything from walking or watching films to making model cars. If you join a social group to do with something that genuinely interests you, you should find that you meet people who share your interests and get to do something you enjoy. You can find information about local groups, clubs or classes at your local library, in local newspapers or magazines, or online.
‘I have joined groups and made new friends, very good friends, and met likeminded souls. I am creating connections and starting to engage with the world around me.’
Here are a few ideas:
- exercise classes or walking groups
- social groups for lesbian, gay or bisexual people
- art, music or poetry groups
- church, religious and spiritual meetings and services
- dance classes
- gardening groups
- IT classes
- parent and baby clubs
- meditation groups
- political groups
- slimming clubs
- sports clubs
- voluntary organisations (See ‘Useful contacts’)
Meeting people online
For many people, the internet is a good way to connect with people and make friends. There are a huge number of forums, social networks and dating sites that can put you in touch with people you share interests with. Many strong and long-lasting relationships start on the internet, including many where people only ever meet online.
However, it’s important to use common sense when you’re online. You don’t always know who you’re talking to so you should think carefully about what information you want to share. It is a good idea to use well-known websites and never share bank details or personal information with people you don’t know.
If you feel lonely because of a mental health problem, you may find that going to a peer support group could help. In a peer support group, people with mental health problems can share their feelings and experiences with people who have gone through similar things.
The internet can also be a useful resource for peer support. There are many websites and blogs about mental health, and some organisations, such as Mind, also have online communities where people with mental heath problems can discuss their experiences and offer each other support.
Reading about, and talking to, people who have shared experiences of mental health problems online may help you feel less alone.
Learning to spend time alone
‘I never feel a sense of loneliness when I’m at home. I have made my home into a warm, tranquil place where I feel safe and secure.’
It may be that, despite your best efforts, you do not succeed in achieving the social contact that you feel you need. Or you may be someone who constantly seeks others out to avoid inner loneliness, and panics when left alone. In either case, it may be worth learning how to make the best of being alone and how to feel comfortable in your own company.
Periods of time spent alone can be rewarding. Being on your own gives you a chance to do something that you enjoy or really interests you. This could be anything, from visiting a tourist attraction to cooking something from a more complicated recipe than you would usually use. Focus on the pleasure it gives you and the fact that being alone can be a positive thing.
If you usually avoid being on your own, learning to be alone can be hard and may involve facing difficult feelings. However, having time to think and reflect on things when you’re on your own can be positive. Techniques like yoga, meditation, or keeping a journal, can help you to relax and replace frantic activity with a calmer sense of yourself.
If you spend a lot of time alone, you may also find that having a pet, such as a dog or a cat, can also help reduce your feelings of loneliness.