I heard on the radio this morning that people who are reporting feelings of loneliness has continued to rise. It’s now at its highest level since the pandemic began and is especially affecting young people. People are feeling isolated, they’re not leaving home and they’re missing that face to face contact. This won’t be made any better by the darkness of winter.
More than 2 million adults suffer from chronic loneliness and younger adults report loneliness more than any other age group. Loneliness is not about how much time we spend by ourselves but about lacking that feeling of being connected to others. Younger people might be more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness because they are still trying to figure out who they are and it’s a time of increased flux as they move home, get jobs and forge new relationships.
The problem with being lonely is that it can make us withdraw even further, making us avoid social situations or feel rejected, which in turn makes us feel even lonelier. Many young people say they find it difficult to make new friends, yet they need lots of social interaction. However, the places young people have to make real world connections are on the decline, for instance large numbers of children’s centres and youth centres have closed. Social media may look like people have lots of friends, and it can decrease feelings of loneliness if people use it as a way to increase offline interactions but if it becomes the place your social life takes place it doesn’t actually make you feel less lonely.
It’s possible the rise of the internet combined with increasingly pressured work and study lives could explain the growing number of under 25’s experiencing loneliness. Being socially disconnected has mental and physical consequences including an increased risk of depression, excessive eating or using drugs and alcohol to feel better and a weakened immune system that can increase the likelihood of infections or inflammatory diseases.
Luckily there are things that everyone can do to help combat feelings of loneliness and make us feel more connected.
Giving to others – it not only makes you less isolated but creates feelings of gratitude and releases oxytocin which is the hormone that is involved with creating bonds.
Be aware of your thoughts – thinking that loneliness is inevitable and due to something unchangeable about yourself can make you act in ways that will help perpetuate your loneliness.
Join groups based around an interest – people like people who are similar to them, who are involved in similar activities and have similar values. It’s easier to make friendships if you share a common interest.