Loneliness is something we all experience at some time or other. But when it becomes a regular occurrence over a long period of time, it goes from a regular human emotion to a real problem that needs addressing. There is no single cause or set of symptoms for loneliness – individuals suffering from loneliness may experience feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, or anger. It can be caused by social isolation, the loss of a loved one, the death of a friend, or a divorce. It can also be brought on by a change in environment, such as moving to a new city, marital problems, or the loss of a job.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is a feeling of isolation, despair, or emptiness. It is a state of mind, not necessarily a set of life circumstances. A person can have a circle of friends and family, and still feel very lonely. Loneliness has been defined as “The unpleasant experience that occurs when a person’s network of social relations is deficient in some important way.”
Loneliness is a subjective experience that can be difficult for researchers to measure. One of the ways that researchers have tried to define loneliness is by determining the number of social relationships that a person has. People who have few social relationships are more likely to be lonely, but having a number of relationships may not necessarily mean that a person will not be lonely. This is because relationships differ in quality. For example, if a person has many superficial relationships, he or she may feel lonely even if the quantity of relationships is high.
Loneliness is an emotional state that causes a person to feel alone, even when he or she is around other people. It is a subjective experience, and a person may feel lonely even when surrounded by others who love them.
Causes of Loneliness
Loneliness can be caused by a number of different factors, or in some cases nothing at all. Loneliness can be caused by a lack of relationships, or by a lack of relationships of a certain kind, such as close, meaningful relationships. Other causes include:
- Social changes, such as a divorce or the death of a spouse
- Emotional changes such as depression or anxiety
- Changes in living situation, such as a move to a new city or a new school
- Changes at work such as a promotion, layoff, or change in job responsibilities
Some studies suggest that loneliness is more common in older adults. Research has found that as many as 33% of older adults reported feeling lonely. In my experience working in care homes, this is probably an underestimate.
Loneliness is also common in children and adolescents. It is estimated that as many as 70% of children may feel lonely at some point during their childhood. Luckily, many of these cases will resolve on their own. Studies suggest that children who are bullied are more likely to feel lonely, however, and this can have long-term effects.
Loneliness vs Being Alone
It is important to make clear that loneliness is not the same thing as being by yourself. It is possible to be lonely even when you are surrounded by other people, or alone. Being by yourself can be a great way to relax or get alone with your thoughts, but you may still feel lonely if your mind goes into overdrive and you start to think about how lonely you are. On the other hand, time out can be very helpful for your mental health. It really depends how you feel.
It is okay to feel lonely, even if you are surrounded by friends and family. Everyone feels lonely from time to time, and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when you become chronically lonely, or when your loneliness is so intense that it ruins your enjoyment of life and makes you unhappy. Ultimately, loneliness is an emotion and only you can determine whether it is a problem.
Treatment for loneliness depends on the cause, and how severe it is. Loneliness is not a mental illness, but roughly speaking, it can often be treated like one. Some people use alcohol or drugs to manage their loneliness, but this is never a good long-term solution. At best, it might make you feel better for now but it will probably cause more problems in the long run.
If you are chronically lonely, it may be a good idea to seek out counseling. There are some therapists who specialize in loneliness, and they may be able to help you. Counseling may help you to identify the root cause of your loneliness, and come up with a plan to effectively manage it.
There are also some steps that you can take to treat loneliness more effectively. These include:
- Make an effort to reach out to the people in your life, even if you don’t feel like it
- Try new activities that interest you
- Try to focus on the things that you enjoy in life
- Take care of your physical health and sleep
- Surround yourself with things that make you feel good
- Read positive books
- Write in a journal
- Get a pet
- Spend time in nature
Notice that not all of these suggestions involve other people! That’s because loneliness is often a reflection of your internal compass, and the negative feelings associated with loneliness often improve when other aspects of your mental health are taken care of.
Consider Your Job
One of the most overlooked aspects of life that has a major impact on your mental health is your work. This is particularly important in the context of loneliness, since so many people report feeling lonely despite being “involved” in activities at work. To give a personal example, before covid my brother worked for a large production company doing mostly menial data management tasks. He lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic, and spent several months complaining of loneliness and lack of meaning in his life. With some encouragement, he decided to take a leap of faith and learn about voice over narration, since he had a long-standing passion for that line of work. Fast-forward a year, and he’s working as a voice actor and absolutely loves it. I asked whether he still felt lonely prior to writing this piece, and he laughed. He’s really happy now.
Changing your job is a major decision, and won’t always solve your problems. But if you’re feeling lonely and disconnected from others, consider it seriously as a possibility.
Loneliness can be a very unpleasant emotion, and one that can have a major impact on your mental health. But it is also very common. If you are feeling lonely, try to remember that a lot of other people feel the same way, especially given events of the past year. And even if you are feeling lonely, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the present moment.
If you feel like you need help, then consider seeking it. Loneliness is not always a problem that you can solve on your own. Don’t be afraid reach out to others and ask for help.