Loneliness is a complex, universal feeling many of us have experienced at various stages in our lives – with 1 in 2 Australians (51%) reporting experiences of loneliness at least once per week. Despite its commonality, particularly during Covid-19 lockdowns, extended periods of loneliness and social isolation can have significant impacts on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. Learning to cope with loneliness is important, and here we outline some strategies you can use for a happier life.
What is loneliness?
In psychology, humans are observed largely as social beings, valuing, and relying on the social connections we have with others to survive. Loneliness is best understood as a mindset that induces the feeling of sadness, distress, or discomfort in response to a gap in the social connection we want and the amount we are actually getting. Due to its emotional complexity and uniqueness of experience, there is no one universally agreed upon cause of loneliness. While there are a plethora of experiences and scenarios that can contribute to feelings of loneliness, for example loss of a loved one or moving to a new city, social withdrawal and isolation as a result of poor mental health is universally observed as a significant contributor.
What does loneliness look like?
As previously mentioned, the mindset of loneliness and its experience can vary greatly from person to person in symptoms, intensity, and duration. Some individuals may find comfort in solitude, while others may feel alone despite being surrounded by people – an example of the variation of mindset. Some common symptoms of loneliness include:
- Low mood – feeling sad, hopeless, or worthless
- Feelings of tiredness or sleep disturbances
- Lack of motivation
- Changes in appetite
- Somatic symptoms – headache, stomach pains, muscle tension
- Anxiousness or restlessness
- Inability to focus
The impact of loneliness
The experience of persistent loneliness and associated social isolation can have a significant impact on our mental, emotional, and physical health. These effects can include:
- Low self-esteem and self-confidence
- Further social withdrawal
- Development of maladaptive coping mechanisms – alcohol or drug use
- Worsening of chronic illnesses and general worsening of immune system
Coping with loneliness
Identifying and understanding the cause of your experience of loneliness is an integral first step of healing. Whether you have recently experienced a challenging life circumstance, or are experiencing difficulties with social self-confidence, understanding where this feeling has come from will determine the approach you may take. While loneliness itself is not a diagnosable condition, there are simple strategies that may help you cope with and overcome feelings of loneliness – to lead a happier, more fulfilling life!
- Stay in touch with loved ones
- Focus on quality over quantity of connections
- Get out of the house regularly
- Volunteer or join local social groups of interest
- Try a new hobby that you find fulfilling
- Set a daily routine including meaningful tasks and activities
- Get an animal companion!
While loneliness can be a difficult and overwhelming experience navigate, it is important to know there are things you can do and strategies you can employ to help you better cope. If you’d like to speak to a psychologist, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.
Australian Psychological Society 2018. Australian loneliness report: A survey exploring the loneliness levels of Australians and the impact on their health and wellbeing. Retrieved from Swinburne Research Bank | Swinburne University of Technology