I felt inspired to write this post after a day on Sunday reading the various mental health blogs available on WordPress.
I feel partly encouraged, (by the amazing stories of people’s resilience) and partly disheartened. There is so much unhappiness and loneliness in this world, a world that should be more connected than ever before. Social media promises so much! We really should never ever be lonely again, with millions of people just a click away. But somehow those unforgiving forums can also distance us from others, and make us feel untrusting, unworthy and inadequate. In many ways, I think social media can actually make us feel more lonely.
A friend recently cancelled all her social media accounts. Brought up in this supermedia generation, she was ‘sick’ (literally) of the constant pressure, and could no longer differentiate between how she felt about herself and how she was judged on those platforms. She now reports that she feels a ‘huge weight has been lifted’. If this sounds familar, consider suspending your accounts for a period, (even if you can’t face deleting them completely). You may be surprised at how you feel!
Loneliness, or at least the feeling of being alone, seems to be a theme running through so many people’s lives. Literally, millions of us feel lonely, and 25% of us say we have no close friends. Loneliness over a long period can seriously impact our mental health, and reoccurring feelings of anxiety and depression are often a result.
Firstly, let’s underline that being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. As mentioned in previous posts, I am an only child and spent a lot of my childhood on my own. This has resulted, (rightly or wrongly), in my preferring my own company. However, like everyone, I have had times when I have had news to share, or an issue or idea I wanted to discuss, and no one has been there. This feeling makes us feel very small and sometimes even invisible, as it’s very easy to believe that suddenly no one cares. From there, it’s a very short path to feelings of worthlessness.
Feelings of loneliness can be temporary, such as when moving to a new area, or leaving home to go to university for the first time. It can be a longer term issue; not seeing or socialising regularly with anyone, or even when there are plenty of people around, not feeling heard or understood. In the worst cases, it is a life sentence, where one’s experience of the world is being unseen, uncared for and ignored. Loneliness is complicated, and experienced differently person to person, and unpicking why any one of us is struggling is difficult without an understanding of that individual and their history.
Is loneliness likely to be experienced more by those who are under-confident, who don’t put themselves out there, or who can’t or won’t reach out to others? Social contact isn’t easy. Some people are really good at it, while others struggle. Some people look as if they are good at it, and still struggle. Others avoid it wherever they can. Any sort of situation where a person puts their head above the parapet and reaches out, is a challenge and a risk. What if what we have to say, how we look, or what we do, is judged and found to be uninteresting, dull or boring? I remember working with a young person a couple of years ago, who told me that she would rather be disliked than considered boring. Being ignored or rejected is the antithesis of what we want as humans. Fears of rejection and fear of being unhappily alone are connected, especially if your view of yourself is weighed by what you believe others think of you.
The first step in considering how we can navigate these feelings and help ourselves to combat loneliness, is to remember 2 facts:
1. Loneliness is a feeling/state of mind. It’s not a situation.
2. Loneliness is complicated and inherently individual.
Why are you lonely? Identify your feelings. For example, do your friends make you feel lonely?Are you lonely because you have moved to a new area? Are you lonely because you feel misunderstood?
Very, (very) broadly, we can categorise loneliness into 2 different types. The first is the ‘temporary’ type, because we find ourselves alone on a Saturday night, because we are new to an area or a job and haven’t made any connections yet, or if we are just having a low day. The second type is not a temporary feeling, is much more ingrained and usually also encourages feelings of worthlessness.
If you feel that your loneliness fits into the temporary category, they are a few things you can try:
Try and be inspired by your alone state. Use the time productively.
Go for a walk, breathe in the fresh air. Notice the beauty around you.
Distract yourself for a few hours. Watch a film or read a book or prepare a fabulous new receipe.
Have a long luxurious bath.
Create something; art, a short story, poetry, something you have knitted or sewed or built.
Declutter and reorganise your wardrobe/the airing cupboard/your CD collection/your knicker drawer.
You know these feelings are temporary and that they will pass. Resolve to get out in the world tomorrow and proactively do something which requires you to interact with people.
If you feel your feelings of loneliness are more long term, you may want to try these steps.
Try and help someone else, whether it’s assisting the neighbour with their shopping or reading a wordpress post and leaving a nice comment when someone is struggling.
Volunteer. Have a look at Do-It.com and type in your postcode. Hundreds of great volunteering opportunities (and meet new people) will spring up before you.
Take small steps. Don’t make yourself worse by pressurising yourself too quickly into uncomfortable situations. Be proactive, but at your own pace.
Reach out to someone you have not spoken to in years such as an old school friend. If that goes well, consider organising a reunion.
Be interested in others and what they have to say. The easy and quickest way to make friends is to listen to others, and be genuinely interested in their lives.
Take pictures. Photography is highly therapeutic if you are feeling low.
Try to stop comparing yourself to others. What you see on the internet is what others want you to see, it’s not reality.
Adopt a pet. There is literally nothing that can make you feel as good as adopting an unwanted animal and then experiencing their unconditional love for you. If it’s a dog, you have the extra bonus of enforced walking, which can be very social!
Re-evaluate your negative thoughts. Think ‘I haven’t met anyone that I can connect with just yet’, instead of ‘no one likes me/listens to me/cares’. There is no doubt that there are people out there who will not only recognise your feelings and empathise, but who would also love to connect with you. They are there, it’s just a matter of finding them!
Practice self care and positivity. Never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend. For example. ‘You are useless’, or ‘You are always going to be lonely’.
Find out more about your local community and get involved. There may be a local issue that you can raise awareness for, or it may a group, society or committee needing your help. Underline to yourself how much you have to offer. You don’t have to be the person standing on the soapbox! You can be the person quietly helping behind the scenes. You will still be involved and valued for your contribution.
Organise a charity fundraiser for a worthy cause.
Take up a new hobby. (I’m seriously considering candle making at the moment!)
Join a gym or fitness class.
Join a walking group/book club/choir/ sewing bee/motorbike club. Whatever interests you!
Finally, I know it’s not easy. But if you resolve to take the first steps today and see what comes of it, you are making proactive and positive moves towards where you want to be. Try it! Who knows where it could lead!❤️