Mental Health Awareness 2022 – Loneliness

It’s Mental Health Awareness week for 2022 and this years topic is loneliness. You don’t have to be physically alone to experience the heavy weight loneliness can create in the mind. You can be surrounded by many other people in a city train station or walking through a crowded town and still feel lonely.

I’m an introvert. I can easily spend hours or even days by myself but, at some point I need interaction with other human beings. Positive, fulfilled purpose and interaction within our tribe is a human given. We are better as a tribe rather than individually on our own and our inbuilt reward system (the release of feel-good hormones, specifically serotonin and oxytocin) is released when we interact positively with others. When we are lonely, we feel disconnected and we lack the social interactions we so desperately need to feel fulfilled as human beings.

The lack of quality connection within our day-to-day life, can create a sense of disconnect which creates an empty feeling of loneliness

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Many of us have experienced being pushed outside of a group that we value or miss a sense of true belonging within. This can happen in many settings such as school, the workplace and within the community too.

We may consider the elderly to be at the highest risk of loneliness however, many studies show that loneliness is experienced in all age groups.

New mothers can feel isolated in the home whilst navigating the arguably overwhelming world of parenthood. Greif, relationship breakups and job loss are also precursors to loneliness. Even the social high life and celebrity status does not exclude social disconnect.

I was absolutely shocked to discover the main points of the Office for National Statistic most recent survey (Community Life Survey 2019 to 2020) state: ‘younger adults aged 16 to 24 years reported feeling lonely more often than those in older ages groups’. These fresh-faced adults are the loneliest group in the UK. Although this information took me by surprise, after consideration with the rise of online services and social media platforms, I could only start to piece the dots together. A blog for another time perhaps?

Being Alone is something completely different to loneliness

Its ok to be alone and it is healthy for us to be alone when we need to be. Some people need to be alone more than others, mainly introverts like me, and some people need to be alone at certain times of their life more than at other times.

Being alone is OK! What isn’t ok is when we feel symptoms of loneliness:

  • Feeling lost and disconnected form the world
  • Felling like you have no one to turn to
  • Lack of self-worth
  • Low self esteem
  • Not feeling seen or heard
  • Exhaustion or burnout
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression & Anxiety

Loneliness is our survival signal

In the origins of human existence, if we didn’t stay close by to the tribe, we could have been eaten by wild animals or wild tribesmen.

Loneliness is a signal that tells us we need to do something differently and to seek that quality connection with others. When we are connected we are stronger. When we are connected we can collaborate and plan. When we are connected we can work together to create and build amazing things. As a social species we need purpose to survive!

The biological makeup of our brains has developed to enable us to support others as well as ourselves. It is literally in our DNA the need to feel purpose within our tribe.

Loneliness is an internal que to alert us that we need to connect. All emotions add value. They might not always feel comfortable but they are necessary, at least for survival if nothing else.

  • We feel hunger when we need food.
  • We feel thirsty when we need water.
  • We feel tired when we need sleep.
  • We feel lonely when we need connection.

Loneliness has a bit of a bad reputation for links to depression, shyness, being anti-social and other emotions that hold stigma for being perceived as ‘weak’, We often refer to the criminal or bad guy as being the ‘loner’.

Because of our current culture, when we feel loneliness, we can also feel guilt and shame and this is where the problems start. Guilt – Why do I feel lonely when I’m surrounded by friends? Shame – I don’t connect with people, maybe I’m not enough?

If we feel shame around feeling lonely (remember it is a valid emotion that signals the need for change), instead of creating change and doing things differently, we can easily move into protection mode and drop into the primitive part of our brain.

When we are here we are operating within the primitive parameters of depression, anxiety and anger or a combination of all three. We retreat even more and disconnect ourselves further for fear of rejection, more shame and guilt, and getting stuck in a vicious cycle.

How can we make those significant changes that our bodies and minds are asking us to make when we feel lonely?

We can offset loneliness with connection coupled with gratitude for a positively powerful mix

There are three principals of positivity that we need to undertake to feel whole. I explain the importance of these three principals with my clients within our sessions to enable them to understand what drives positive mental wellbeing:

  • Positive action
  • Positive thought
  • And positive interaction

By adopting these principals we can find a way to move towards connection, in our own way, at a pace that feels right for us. Here are a few helpful tips to think about to create purposeful positive mental wellbeing:

  • Helping people and volunteering is an amazing way of connecting and for filling your purpose within the community. Big or small, it is always very rewarding!
  • You don’t have to go out and join groups or make new friends. Just work on your current relationships. Talk to people you already know. Explain how you feel. If you want to, engage and ask questions to build confidence around social situations where you can.
  • Another way to open you up to the possibility of connection might be to find what or who you feel grateful for and focus in on why you feel grateful for them? You could write it down or even tell them!
  • Building positive relationships with people is great but if that feels like too much right now, pets are a wonderful way of helping us to feel more connected. Dogs and cats are a great place to start if you love animals, they are a great talking point too.
  • Take some time to connect with yourself. Talking therapies are very impactful but you might like to start by doing things you enjoy: Reading, creating art, walking etc. Self-compassion is key here.
  • Take it slowly. All too often we put pressure on ourselves to achieve and move forward. Finding small positives things we can do in our day can have a huge positive impact. Many small steps in the right direction can turn out to be the biggest step of your life!

Contact me for help and support if you are struggling with loneliness

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