How Lonely Are You?

Loneliness is now being highlighted internationally as a serious cause for concern, with a Minister for Loneliness being suggested in some countries. Single person accommodation is a major area of growth and has been for some time and, whilst living alone isn't an automatic indicator of loneliness, it can certainly contribute to feeling isolated and detached from mainstream living. It does beg the question, how lonely are you?

Let's look at ways we can learn to manage our approach to loneliness.

Recent research shows that some people are more predisposed than others to loneliness, with Chicago University working on a pill to help the vulnerable manage their symptoms. What factors contribute to loneliness and how can we help?

Divorce plays a significant part in loneliness, as increasing numbers of relationships break down and couples then have to restart life as single people. Whilst being in a loveless relationship can be incredibly lonely, a divorce often results in us feeling battered, bruised, alone and unloved, our life plans now needing revision. Confidence is often affected. How to start again, perhaps with less financial security, after being off the singles scene for some time can lead to uncertainty.

It's rarely the case that several people in one's social circle divorce or separate at the same time and a newly single person can be eyed with a degree of wariness and unease by others, fearful that they'll disrupt the status quo or highlight any flaws in their relationships. So often one's social circle can vanish due to a change in relationship status. Former loyalties may be divided and how to deal with a newly single person may feel awkward.

What about the young? There are many times in life when we experience loneliness, feel alone and maybe an outsider. Older people may celebrate individuality, seek out quirkiness, pay to look different, but younger people often prefer to be the same and fit in. FOMO and social media can shine a spotlight on what an aspirational, successful life looks like.

Even young children may feel different from their peers, wonder why they're don't fit in or are not part of the gang. A change in circumstances can prompt those feelings; starting a new school, experiencing stressful situations at home, trying to maintain an 'okay' facade. Some young people go through identity crises, unsure of themselves, confused about their sexuality, who they are, all very isolating experiences. Having a sensitive grandparent, teacher, confidante or keeping channels of communication open at home can help in recognising and supporting a young person whenever needed.

Moving away from home for the first time is often stressful and lonely, especially if money is short and you're unfamiliar with your new location or social group. Student life can be difficult in the first year, when so much is new and 'everyone else' seems to be coping just fine. Knowing where things are, what to do, where to start can be a real challenge and some universities now provide mentors for first year students to help, counsel and advise.

Re-locating can be tough at first and may take a little effort to settle in. An important first step might be to search out local societies, groups like Rotary, the Women's Institute or National Trust. If you're interested in Amateur Dramatics many areas have their own groups and are often desperate for new members to help with different aspects of production. Register for classes at night school or at your local leisure centre and attend regularly; you'll gradually start to see familiar faces. Be enthusiastic about accepting invitations and friendly towards your new circle.

Many first time mothers find loneliness an issue. In fact 90% say they feel lonelier since having their children. They've perhaps taken a career break, are not working, have left their profession, albeit temporarily, and are alone with a new child, concerned at spending money but feeling out of their depth and unsupported. It can result in feeling isolated, uncertain of themselves and their new role, frustrated at previously having been so competent and in control. It can be tough to change a professional life for one spent immersed in daily child care. Guilt at feeling low, bored by the lack of stimulus and constrained due to the significant change in financial circumstances can result in feeling lonely and isolated.

Loneliness can be a confidence issue, especially if you've plucked up the courage to invite someone for a coffee and they decline, saying they're unable to join you. The mind can run riot if that happens; they don't like me, think I'm boring, etc. But pause and listen to what's been said, the reasons offered. There may be valid reasons, they're too busy to socialise, are equally unsure of themselves. Try again another time, but also widen your circle by speaking with other people too. Say yes to opportunities and invitations, but don't put all your eggs in one basket!

Retirement, redundancy, bereavement and loss of health can all be isolating events. Experiencing a change to your world after having had significant responsibilities, where you've been active and respected, can result in feeling discarded, marginalised. Older people who've been married for many years and are now alone can find it impossible to contemplate a single life after having been together for so long. Visitors may come to help with chores, shopping, meals, laundry, but it's often companionship and conversation that are most desired. It can be a reminder to those who provide care, that it's often companionship that is more appreciated than any actual assistance with chores.


Susan Leigh, Altrincham, Cheshire, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.

She's author of 3 books, 'Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact', '101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday' and 'Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain', all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.

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