Many people struggle with loneliness- the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems. Some people are more vulnerable and at higher risk of feeling lonely than others. In this blog we discuss the potential impact of loneliness on our mental health and wellbeing and explore some of the practical steps we can take to address it. Firstly, maybe taking time to reflect on why you feel lonely there could be many varying reasons for this. Knowing why and what contributes to or maintains your sense of loneliness will help you choose the right solutions.
When we are feeling lonely it is easy to get stuck in a downward spiral of negative thinking- the way we think has an impact on what we do, the less we do, the worse we feel, the worse we feel the less we do, and so on. Maybe you feel so alone that you have stopped seeing people and doing things, and your world seems to be getting smaller and smaller. The good news is, by building your confidence back up, by taking small steps and setting realistic goals enabling you to get out and about and start adding activities with other people back into your life again.
Things you can do if you often feel lonely
Begin by Nourishing Yourself
When we feel lonely and down it’s common to reach for comfort foods but if this goes on for a while then it can lead to weight gain, feeling sluggish and contributes to us putting activities off and we do less and eat more to self-comfort. For others they might not feel like eating. However, there is lots of evidence to show that by eating a regular healthy diet, you will give yourself energy and be able to think more clearly, and it’s good for your mental health too.
Spend some time exploring what makes you happier and closer to others
Think about the things you do that make you happy, like – going to the cinema, watching a movie, people watching… remember that lots of people that you watch may well also feel lonely like you do but like you, they can also come through feelings of loneliness.
Look at things from a different angle. Try and focus on the positive things in your life, now and in the past, like things you have learned or done well and positive experiences you have had with people.
Put some time aside to write down 2 or 3 things you are grateful for. Positive psychology research has found that doing this on most days can be effective in improving how we feel.
Maybe that sense of loneliness is so overwhelming that you don’t see the point in trying to change things anymore. Write Your Life Story- take the focus off how you are feeling just now and write your life story…. Or about a time or place that you once enjoyed. What might happen if you give it, one more try… what are your hopes and dreams? Lots of things are possible.
What if you’ve been feeling this way for quite a long time
Sometimes loneliness can make you feel so bad, you feel like there is no point in living anymore. Our book I feel so bad I can’t go on, shares all the reasons to stay alive… suicide is the end. It stops everything, you’ll never feel bad again, but then you’ll never feel good again either. But the worse thing is your friends and family will miss you dearly forever. Don’t give up speak to someone, a close family member or friend, your G.P, Samaritans, NHS 24 Then try to work on thinking about a new beginning… choose to stay alive, it’s like starting again. With time you can fix your sad feelings and get to feel positive new things in your life. Meet new people and love the ones you already know a bit more.
Activities that help combat loneliness
Get out of the house
Rather than being stuck at home, try to get outside, and walk, you never know who you may meet. Take a moment to notice what is around you- the trees, the sky, the buses that pass by… anything is a good, they’re also good conversation starters. Even if you don’t meet anyone keep your focus on the here and now and what’s going on around you this will help give you some short relief from negative thinking and loneliness.
Pay more attention to the world around us as we perhaps walk more and discover local places of interest and have the chance to look at our local area differently? Try to re-discover your sense of community – with people setting up local social media groups, or volunteering and helping neighbours with practical help.
Chances are, that other people around you are feeling lonely too. Ask them if it’s alright to chat. Ask them about stories from their younger years, talk about favourite childhood toys, books, games, or meals. What was their first job after leaving school? How did that shape their future choices in life? You may be really surprised at what you find out.
They will most likely enjoy reminiscing with you, and you’ll learn lots of things about their life and how it differs or maybe similarities to yours. This won’t cost you anything and may even tick the box for an act of kindness to someone else and to you too. Recognise any other things you can be thankful for – people, health, our local area, neighbours, work, opportunities, family, and friends?
What are you thankful for? Please share with us on our Facebook Page, we would love to hear other ideas.
If you want to Slow Down and Be more thankful, our book is a handy guide to learning to practice mindfulness and see things as they really are and help you to tackle the tough times with a clearer picture of what really is going on.
Create a happy jar or box
If you are feeling lonely, thinking of happy memories with people you love or have loved, and places and things that give us a feeling of happiness can re kindle those happy feelings. Collect small items that remind you of those memorable times, people, or places. It could be a small pebble form a beach holiday, a thank you card you received, a ticket stub from your favourite theme park ride, concert, a photograph, or anything at all that brings a happy memory to mind or a feeling of good times. Not only will you have fun collecting your items and choosing which ones go in your jar or box but it’s also always there for you to open and go through when you’re feeling a bit low, lonely, or just need a bit of cheering up.
Join a Peer Support Group
Many communities have local peer support groups, where you can enjoy the company of people who have similar interests to your own, perhaps get outdoors, make new friends, and enjoy new or old hobbies. A walking group or heritage group. Local community gardening groups who help look after village and town gardens/plant pots and work towards winning awards for keeping their town nice. Other groups might be local country market groups, groups who look after paths and woodland areas, local football groups and historical groups and other social groups.
Community garden projects are increasingly popular – bringing local people together and giving something back to their environment such as allowing areas to grow wildflowers and plants rather than simple grass verges.
Take up a new activity
Make changes in areas of our lives or relationships that need repair or altered direction? Spend time with others such as family, and friends walking and talking. Or perhaps reconnect to important people from the past who we have somehow lost contact with along the way.
If you don’t feel like doing anything, then just try to do any of the above things anyway, just this once and see what happens. For example, it never feels good to think about tidying the house, but once you’ve done it, you may notice a real sense of achievement. So, fill your time, talking walking eating seeing and you’ll soon feel better even if it’s only for a short time. You can then build on these activities over the coming days and maybe even start to seek additional help such as counselling or a talking therapy for ongoing support.
If it’s not easy for you to get out and about, communicate differently – such as using video calls, embracing the added immediacy and connection this offers with family and friends.
If you want to look further at living life to the full then sign up for our free course where you can learn more life skills, be happier, calmer, and able to cope with things better visit www.llttf.com
Loneliness and how we think
Remember we said how we think affects the way we feel and what we do? You can use our ‘Unhelpful Thinking Styles’ worksheet to help you to work out if you are ‘mind reading’ – imagining what other people think about you. It will also help you spot other common unhelpful thinking styles and learn how to respond differently when thoughts like this pop into mind.
So, what do we do about these unhelpful thoughts that go round in our heads? Is it possible just to not think about something when it is in our heads? It can be difficult to just forget something that is bothering you, so here is an effective way to deal with unhelpful thoughts and bust them for good.
Our Amazing Unhelpful Thought Busting Program (AUBTBP) has 5 steps. Find our associated worksheets and resources here, for free download.
Step 1: Label It– spot unhelpful thoughts as soon as they enter your head and give it an ‘unhelpful thought’ label. It is important to recognise an unhelpful thought for what it is- it isn’t real or truth. Is it an unhelpful thinking style, mind reading, or are you catastrophising? Criticising yourself and beating yourself up? You can use the unhelpful thinking styles worksheet to do this. When you label an unhelpful thought, it loses its power and loses its strength.
Step 2: Leave It– let it be, imagine it’s in a corner by itself, just let it be. An unhelpful thought is like a celebrity, it thrives on attention! Leaving it lets it shuffle away. If the thought is still really loud and insistent, then you need to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Stand Up to It! – Unhelpful Thoughts are like bullies! So, stand up to it, like you would to a bully. Unhelpful thoughts sound strong but are weak underneath and remember that it is only a thought and not the truth.
Step 4: Be kind to yourself – If an unhelpful thought is telling you you’re useless or bound to fail, give yourself the same advice that a loved one would tell you. Think of someone you trust – what kind words of encouragement would they say?
Step 5: Look at things differently – Imagine if it was a friend experiencing the same feelings and not you. What would you say to them?
It is also worth putting the thought or worry into a true perspective- will it matter in 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months? Or try thinking how others would deal with the problem.
By using any or all of these techniques you will learn ways you can respond differently to unhelpful thoughts.
Loneliness- What doesn’t help and unhelpful things we do
Sometimes we find something that initially makes us feel better and is helpful in the short term. But it maybe something that in the longer term is unhelpful. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to turn to alcohol that glass or bottle for comfort. However much better having a drink might make you feel, it is not the answer to your loneliness and in the long term, will make you feel a lot worse and most likely increase your long-term isolation. Avoid alcohol and instead try to break the cycle of upsetting and unhelpful thinking or behaviours.
Self-harm, cutting or other forms of self-harm might give a temporary feeling of relief when we feel bad, but cutting can sometimes go wrong and you can seriously damage yourself and be left with scars for life. So, if this is you then the first step is to ensure you are always keeping yourself and others safe. Get medical help if you cut too deep or suspect infection in your wounds. When you are ready seek support for ways to reduce the frequency and maybe even how to stop and use more helpful coping strategies.
When you feel lonely and down you may feel like pushing people away. Even if you don’t feel like seeing people, you’ll feel so much better when you can talk to someone you trust. Surfing the internet and finding chatrooms can often seem like the answer to your problems, but sometimes these chatrooms and websites can have the wrong information and lead you down a worse path. So, it’s important to look at genuine sites such as: www.nhsinform.scot or www.nhs.uk.
Remember, it is OK to feel lonely, and most people at various points in their life experience loneliness. Take a moment to be grateful for the small wins in your life. It could be for getting out of bed today. It could be for watching a bird patter across a roof. It could be for a great new TV show you found. Try having the glass half full rather than half empty and make small steps, small changes to help you.
Helpful links for loneliness
The British Red Cross have a support line if you’re feeling lonely and want to talk to someone.
Tel 0808 196 3651
Sense provides a range of advice, support and services on disability and loneliness.
Tel 0300 330 9256
Cruse Bereavement Support offers bereavement support.
Tel 0808 808 1677
Family Lives offers a confidential helpline service for families in England and Wales.
Tel 0808 800 2222
Calm Zone is a helpline and web chat offering support to men in the UK who need to talk or are in crisis.
Tel 0800 585858
The Silver Line for information, advice or just for a chat, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Helpline 0800 470 80 90
Age UK, support and advice for older people. Helpline 0800 169 6565
Independent Age, providing befriending services. Helpline 0800 319 6789
Royal Voluntary Service for help, advice and support: Helpline 0845 608 0122
Friends of the Elderly for year-round support or call 0330 332 1110
Re-engage for year round support or call 0800 716543
If you are under 25, you can contact Young Minds Crisis Messenger for free, 24/7 support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis. Text YM to 85258
Young Minds also offers a Parents Helpline on 0808 802 5544
If you are younger and feeling lonely, you can visit SupportLine or call them on 01708 765 200
Children and young people can also contact Childline or call them on 0800 1111 for a 1-2-1 chat with a counsellor
Other Useful Resources
The British Red Cross have a range of resources for people experiencing loneliness.
Independent Age have a free guide on what to do If you’re feeling lonely
When The Get Older have a free guide on Helping your parents to overcome loneliness.
The Living Life to the Full Team.