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Loneliness Week 2023: Why There’s No Age Limit to Feeling Alone…

Sinead Murphy May 24, 2023 3:18:30 PM

With Loneliness Week taking place from 12 – 18 June, it’s the perfect time to assess what loneliness means to us and how we can form meaningful connections to feel less alone.

However, with different people requiring different levels of social interaction, how exactly do we define loneliness? Interestingly, the first result from a “what is loneliness?” Google search comes from Age UK: a charity dedicated to providing support, companionship, and advice for the elderly.

The organisation believes that “Loneliness is a subjective feeling about the gap between a person's desired levels of social contact and their actual level of social contact.” Age UK also insist that loneliness is “never desired,” and that overcoming these feelings can take a very long time.

Although loneliness is a major issue that affects older people (as many as 1.4 million say they often feel lonely), it is not confined to this particular demographic. In fact, research suggests that people aged between 16-29 are twice as likely to feel often or always alone than people over 70. This could be due to:

  • A shift in the way we work since Covid-19, with many organisations now operating remotely
  • Moving away from home
  • Starting university or a new job
  • The breakdown of a romantic relationship or friendship
  • Suffering a bereavement
  • An inability to socialise due to anxiety or depression
  • Excessive exposure to social media

While it appears that loneliness has no age limit, there are many steps you can take to overcome loneliness, boost your social interactions, and improve your self-confidence. From reaching out to potential new acquaintances to rekindling old relationships, let’s explore some of the things you can do to lessen the feeling of loneliness at any age:

 

Remember what you’re grateful for – When battling with feelings of loneliness, it can be easy to forget about the good things in life. Practicing gratitude can help you connect with positive emotions, appreciate good experiences and relationships, and ultimately help you become more mentally resilient. To get started, simply take some time each morning to consider 3 things you’re grateful for. You can also use prompts to help you along, such as:

  • 3 things I like about myself are X, X, and X
  • 3 people I’m happy are in my life are X, X, and X
  • 3 things that made me happy today were X, X, and X

Strengthen your relationships – Another way we can feel less alone is by improving the existing relationships in our lives. While personal and professional obligations may get in the way of working on relationships, it’s important to remember that maintaining meaningful connections takes a bit of effort. To do this, you can:

  • Reach out to a friend or family member reminding them of a special or funny memory together
  • Ask a question that will enable you to get to know each other on a deeper level
  • Reveal a vulnerability or personal challenge and ask for their help
  • Make note of a special or significant date and let your friend know you are thinking of them on this day. This could be a birthday, personal milestone, or a difficult date such as the anniversary of the death of a loved one
  • Plan a date for an in-person catchup – even if it’s just a quick coffee
  • Update them on something new that has happened in your life

Find your community - Forming new connections with like-minded people is another great way to overcome feelings of loneliness. That’s because building or joining a community serves as a social safety net, promotes diversity within your friendship groups, and helps to fulfil your psychological and emotional needs. In order to ‘find your tribe’ and establish these connections, you can:

  • Join/start a group related to a particular hobby or interest
  • Volunteer with a group working for a cause close to your heart
  • Join a faith-based group of individuals with the same religious beliefs as yourself

Express your emotions – Putting your feelings down on paper is an effective way to process your thoughts, manage stress, break the cycle of rumination, and minimise your worries by focusing on the root cause. Set aside 5 minutes each day to write down what’s troubling you and re-read your entry to see if you can gain any insight into your thought patterns. Once you’ve done this, you will be better able to replace these negative thoughts with positive self-talk.

Take a break from social media – Did you know that 15% of people aged 23-38 admit to having a social media addiction? Much like other forms of addiction, this is characterised as:

  • Mood modification (favourable change in emotional state when engaging with social media platforms)
  • Salience (a noticeable behavioural, cognitive, and emotional preoccupation with social media)
  • Tolerance (ever-increasing use of social media over time)
  • Withdrawal (experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when social media use is restricted or stopped)
  • Conflict (interpersonal issues caused by excessive social media use)
  • Relapse (reverting back to excessive social media usage after a period of abstinence)

A study published by Sage Journals found that a 10% increase in social media usage led to a 13% rise in feelings of loneliness. This is because social media can exacerbate loneliness in individuals who are already lonely, and trigger loneliness in those who may not have previously battled with loneliness. In both cases, excessive social media use can lead to:

  • Reduced self-esteem caused by constant comparison with others
  • Depression due to isolation and lack of in-person interactions
  • Suicide related to the pressures of maintaining a popular online presence

To help reduce your reliance on social media, why not try:

  • Setting a timer to limit your daily social media usage
  • Avoiding social media when you’re feeling lonely, sad, angry, or anxious
  • Replacing endless scrolling of social platforms with a wellbeing-boosting activity such as walking or reading
  • Curate your social media feed so that you only consume inspirational and uplifting content

 

Practice self-care - Looking after your physical wellbeing can be really effective in boosting your mental wellbeing. Try to introduce manageable change by going for short daily walks, taking the time to stretch, or listening to a guided breathing exercise to help clear your mind and feel better equipped to tackle feelings of loneliness with positive action.  

 

Reach out - Talking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling is a key step to working through your emotions and deciding on the best route forward. This might be a friend, colleague, family member, or a GP who can signpost you to further help, support groups, and suitable forms of therapy.

 

If your employer offers Vivup’s Employee Assistance Programme, there are lots of useful resources and downloadable workbooks to help you deal with issues such as loneliness. You can also access a 24-hour telephone helpline for responsive, confidential and totally independent advice should you or a colleague need mental health support.

 

 

 

Sources

Loneliness research and impact | Age UK

Younger Brits report higher levels of loneliness | Campaign to End Loneliness

Positive and Negative Experiences on Social Media and Perceived Social Isolation - Brian A. Primack, Sabrina A. Karim, Ariel Shensa, Nicholas Bowman, Jennifer Knight, Jaime E. Sidani, 2019 (sagepub.com)

10 Quick Ways to Strengthen a Friendship | Psychology Today United Kingdom

Social Media Addiction - Addiction Center

7 Medically-Backed Ways To Prevent Addiction In Social Media Users - Medical Device News Magazine (infomeddnews.com)

Social media breaks: Benefits and tips to consider (medicalnewstoday.com)