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More than 9 million people in the UK say they often or always feel lonely. And the impact of the pandemic has only added weight to this already sky-rocketing statistic.
Social connections are essential to living a meaningful, purposeful and happy life. These vital connections provide us with a sense of identity and belonging, acting as an antidote to loneliness.
That said, you don’t have to be physically alone to feel loneliness. You can find yourself in a crowd of people and still feel sad, withdrawn, and isolated inside. If you’re battling the depths of loneliness right now, know that these feelings won’t last forever.
Loneliness can have a direct effect on mental health—and vice versa. That’s why this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, running from the 9th-15th of May, will focus on the loneliness topic.
So in this article, we’re going to dive deeper into the signs of loneliness, how it can impact mental health and ways we can overcome it when it occurs.
Mental health charity Mind describes the link between loneliness and mental health as a cycle. If you have an existing mental health condition, you might be more susceptible to loneliness. And if you’re feeling lonely, you might be more at risk of some mental illnesses.
If you’re suffering from a mental health condition, you might find it hard to communicate to others how you’re feeling. You may also find yourself avoiding people close to you, social situations or activities you usually enjoy. These factors can increase loneliness and in turn, worsen mental health too.
On the flip side of the coin, feeling lonely can also impact your mental health. Loneliness can cause you to isolate yourself from others, knock your confidence and deplete your energy levels. This isolation can alter your routine, reduce social contact and disrupt connections. In this low state, susceptibility to poor mental and physical health increases.
Sometimes it’s hard to identify when loneliness is the emotion you’re feeling. You might think it’s just a low mood or you’ve been feeling lost. Here are some of the identifiers of loneliness:
Loneliness can feel like an isolating bubble at times—but there are things you can do to make it better. We’ve pulled together some top tips below:
Pinning down the root cause of your feelings isn’t always an easy task. When swarmed with loneliness, it’s hard to decipher the root of why you might be feeling the way you’re feeling. It doesn’t always have to be physical isolation that triggers the emotion. Other common causes include:
Tip: If you’re struggling to identify the cause, try writing down how you’re feeling. Writing emotions down helps you to gain some distance and perspective on things.
Connection is vital to a healthy mental state. It’s a key component to a life of contentment and a healthy remedy to mental health issues. So we must strive for more of it in our lives. This can happen in several ways:
Talk to people you trust about how you feel. Loneliness can have a stigma that might discourage you from reaching out to those closest to you. But sharing thoughts, feelings and emotions can help you process them and move forward.
Join a class or group. It could be a sport you’ve always wanted to try, an art class or a book club—expanding your circle of people helps improve your sense of connection.
Hugs. Studies show that hugging a loved one boosts connection, slows the heart rate and reduces stress.
Research finds that periods of loneliness can affect your self-esteem and overall identity. A healthy sense of self-esteem helps you gain confidence in social settings, boosting the possibility of connection with others. But boosting your self-esteem takes time, and it isn’t always easy— so remember to be kind to yourself. Try to make small changes like celebrating your successes, setting yourself small accomplishable goals or taking care of your health.
Green spaces and scenic surroundings can have a healing effect on mental health. Spending time outside provides a vitamin D boost, reduces anxiety, and increases social interaction. The outdoors offers new experiences, sights, smells, and a sense of awe—which contributes to feelings of expansiveness.
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