Australia’s loneliness Epidemic: How to identify and manage feelings of loneliness.
Feeling Alone? Let's dive deep into the planet of loneliness.
Most of us have experienced this overwhelming negative feeling of loneliness at some stage in our lives. Given how common this feeling is, it raises the question of why it is such a taboo issue to talk about? These feelings can be exacerbated by comparing our lives to the highlights of other people’s filtered lifestyles on social media. You won’t find many people sharing how lonely they feel on their Insta feed. But this is not reality, is it?
Let’s be real – we need to talk openly about loneliness, to understand that it can be difficult to manage and it can cause significant heartache and pain. Let’s talk about it so we can explore viable and bespoke strategies to suit your individual needs. May Sarton once wrote that “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Being alone is a great thing if you’re seeking solitude.
This blog explores the complexities of loneliness: What is it? How can it present itself? Sharing some management strategies to overcome these sometimes extreme feelings of sadness.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a negative emotional state. It’s often experienced when there’s a difference between the relationships you wish to have and those you perceive to have. That feeling of being alone regardless of your amount of social contact. Loneliness is not a constant state, it’s a transient state that will pass in time.
Recently the Australian Psychological Society together with Swinburne University produced the Australian Loneliness Report. The research shows that one in four adult Australians are experiencing loneliness. In addition, 51%, more than half the nation, said they felt lonely for at least one day a week (Australian Psychological Society 2018).
The feelings associated with loneliness are universal and complex, yet individually unique. With no single cause and no single solution. To illustrate the uniqueness of loneliness. Compare a school child who wishes the other children would include him, a grieving widow, and then a socially awkward teenager. All are experiencing loneliness. However their needs and strategies to resolve these feelings will differ.
Loneliness is manageable and strategies can be implemented to reduce negative feelings. As a psychotherapist, I want you to understand how important it is to deal with loneliness, as it is closely linked to several mental health issues.
What causes loneliness?
As mentioned above, loneliness is unique to each individual and has many causes. For some people certain life events may make them feel lonely, while for others it’s certain lifestyles that can contribute to loneliness. Common causes for loneliness include:
- Having a small circle of friends
- Ending a romantic relationship
- Little social interactions
- Single parenthood
- Overuse of social media
- Loss of a loved one
- Immobility (ie. like living in a nursing home or loss of independence)
- Retirement or losing a social contact at work
- Contextual loneliness (isolation/lockdown)
- Working from home
- Changing jobs
- Moving to a new area without your existing networks
- Key events in the year (eg. Christmas, Valentines Day, Mothers Day etc..)
- Estranged from family or friends
- Belong to a minority group without those from your community nearby
- Living with a disability
- Excluded from social groups due to their poor economic situation.
- Experiencing discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender or race.
- Suffering from mental health issues
- Have previously experienced abuse.
So let’s break this down further and identify the five types of loneliness a person can experience. Where do you find yourself placed in this list?
Five Types of Loneliness –
Emotional loneliness is the negative feelings attached to a person’s state of being alone. It may arise when:
- A person may feel sad or dissatisfied with their social connections to other people, causing emotional distress.
- a change or absence that evokes an emotional response, such as the end of a romantic relationship
- a person’s emotional needs are not being met within a relationship (romantic, friendship) or outside
Social loneliness arises from a person’s degree of social awkwardness, nervousness or anxiety in social settings. A person’s awareness of this may derive feelings of loneliness within an environment that other people socialise with ease
Loneliness which arises out of physically being alone. Some people may develop feelings of loneliness when isolated or alienated from other people. However, isolation may not cause detriment to other people, in fact they may enjoy it.
- Loneliness can be a product of a situation. For example, moving to a new area and not having close connections. Or losing your job and having decreased social interactions
- One current example of situational loneliness is the impact of COVID lockouts and isolation on social well-being. Some people may feel increased loneliness due to their inability to socialise, due to the pandemic.
- Physical limitations and / or mental health problems can cause situational loneliness for people. If others misunderstand the situation, struggling individuals may feel isolated and lonely.
Loneliness may become chronic when an individual has felt lonely for an extended period of time. So long in fact, that the feeling becomes a normal part of their existence. -It may become a part of their lifestyle or who they feel they have become.
Impacts of Loneliness
Loneliness can have a wide range of negative effects on both your physical and mental health. It can increase the likelihood of experiencing:
- Depression by 15.2%
- Social Interaction Anxiety by 13.1%
- An overall poorer quality of life
- Poorer physical health
- feels like you constantly have a cold
- lack of good sleep
- gaining weight (by eating more while binge-watching shows and being a couch potato)
- increased risk of: heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, high blood pressure, inflammation.
- issues with learning and memory.
Poorer Psychological health
( increased stress levels, higher risk of suicide, poor decision making, anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour).
5 Loneliness Management Strategies
1. Identify it.
While you may feel a sense of discomfort in sharing the loneliness you feel, remember that you are not the only person feeling this way as exemplified by the statistics above. Ask yourself a few simple questions and be honest about how you are feeling: Is your loneliness situational or chronic? What are the emotions you are experiencing? What does loneliness look like to you? Consider recording these thoughts by:
- Taking a quiz
- Tracking your emotional and physical state daily
Once you’ve gained clarity over it, you’ll be able to share this with others more easily and reach out for support and company.
2. Engage in opportunities to form connections with people (friendship, romantic relationships) If you’re feeling anxious, then ease back in slowly. Try:
- Starting a new hobby or sport
- Volunteering in local community
- Attending social events
- Creating an online dating profile
- Re-spark existing healthy connections – it’s the quality of time spent with friends opposed to quantity that matters.
3. Practice self-love
4. Shift your thinking – recognise and appreciate some of the benefits of being alone
- It’s a time to self-reflect – you may better understand your values, needs and wants.
- It’s proven to increase creativity
- Use this time as a form of restoration, and rest both physically and emotionally (for a period of time), like recharging your batteries.
5. Seek professional support
Professional support can provide a buffer against loneliness. Be brave and reach out. Not only will you help break the associated stigma associated with sharing feelings of loneliness, but you’ll also receive the right level of care and support that you need to enhance your health, wellbeing and happiness. A therapist will:
- Challenge patterns of thinking (inability to make friends, etc.)
- Provide emotional support
- Provide a safe space for you to explore your thoughts and feelings.
- Help you work through any worries, anxieties and/or fears relating to loneliness and/or building new connections.
- Create a plan to reduce loneliness and work towards meaningful goals. Identify any mental health concerns
While it may seem like no one really understands and/or recognises your loneliness, please remember it’s often more common that most people realise. There are many strategies you can consider today. Start from a place you’re comfortable with and move towards a life that feels more fulfilling and less lonely. Please note that what works best can also differ pending the causes that initiated the loneliness.
Take small steps. Be kind to yourself as you start to explore and attempt new ways to reduce loneliness in your life. If you’re still struggling, consider speaking with a counsellor. Or reach out to some of these supports.
Do you need Counselling Support?
If you or a family member are struggling with loneliness, consider counselling support. Contact Kylie Lepri for a FREE 15-minute phone call to discuss your situation. Discover how Psychotherapy can help you. Call us now on 0404 032636 or book your free phone call online.
The team at Kylie Lepri Counselling are all registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists. Specialising in Individual, Relationship and Family therapy. Providing online and in person support to clients all over Australia. Get Kylie’s FREE e-Book: 5 Proven Strategies to help manage stress today, by joining her newsletter below.