Back in the UK, when I was young my perception of ‘loneliness’ was spotting a lonesome child sitting at the edge of the school playground unhappily looking for friends to play with. Then a little older, I vaguely remember adverts on the television reminding the public about those ‘old people’ suffering alone in their houses through winter time.
Fast forward a few decades and nowadays – worldwide, loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions.
In the US, nearly half of Americans report they often feel lonely, while the problem has become so bad in the UK that a minister for loneliness was appointed in January. In Australia, the statistics are just as worrying.
An alarming 60 per cent of Australians, according to a 2016 Lifeline survey, say they often feel lonely and 82 per cent believe loneliness is on the rise. Couples are just as likely to report high rates of loneliness.
Statistically, loneliness cuts across all the social barriers of age, race, wealth, education and gender.
Loneliness was previously a condition commonly associated with the aged, but nowadays young people are now more likely to feel lonelier. Research undertaken by Britain’s Office for National Statistics found that people aged 16 to 24 were three times more likely to report feeling “always or often” lonely compared with those over 65.
Social media and the online world are believed to be large contributors. Ironically, despite connecting more people than ever before, social media can commonly fuel feelings of isolation and impact self-esteem by comparing to the false ‘perfect’ world emblazoned across other social media accounts.
The frequent distractions of today’s digital utopia affect the quality of our personal interactions and are undermining our ability to form real-life human connections, and thus loneliness prevails.
We need human interaction and connection.
Here are 5 simple suggestions to reduce your loneliness.
Make small talk at every opportunity
Have a quick chat with shop keepers, baristas, the receptionist at the gym and other people you run in to throughout the day. Try engaging with them a little more than you usually do and take some genuine interest in them. These brief conversations can boost your confidence and increase your personal network.
When practice this small talk in a variety of situations, it becomes easier to start a conversation with people you think you want to become friends with. It’s a win-win.
A simple ‘Hey, how’s it going’ or ‘How’s your day been’ can be enough to brighten someone else’s entire day – and make you feel great for doing it.
Get comfortable at being you
Enjoying the solace of your own company is a big step to overcoming feelings of loneliness. A great way to start could be a meditation class or treating yourself to a movie. Perhaps reading a new book or watching some interesting TED Talks will get those brain cells buzzing more positively.
Once you realise that the pressure you place upon yourself wondering what other people are thinking about you, is unnecessary, you can begin to enjoy giving yourself a great time doing something you enjoy.
Playing with a pet can boost your natural oxytocin hormone levels, which increases happiness and decreases social anxiety. No pet? Try volunteering at a pet shelter or offer to walk your neighbour’s dog. Grab a book and go read in a dog walking park, here in Australia they are often fenced off and dogs run around free. They often approach, wanting to be petted.
Use social media properly
If you’re on social media you may as well take advantage of it to learn details about other friends and then begin a conversation. Use this information and create an opportunity to reach out and make plans to meet.
For example, if a friend has recently started a new hobby or job. You could reach out and ask how it’s all going and maybe even make plans to have coffee and a catch up so they can tell you all about it.
Join a group
Committing yourself to one or two social activities each week is a great way to connect with others in a local community. A gym activity or class that you can attend either by yourself or with a friend, a fortnightly dinner date or movie night can be a great start.
Book clubs, local events and hobby groups will allow you to connect with like-minded people and force yourself out of your personal prison bubble.
So, let go of judging yourself for your loneliness. Blaming yourself, calling yourself names, berating yourself because you feel lonely is not effective and not accurate. Feeling lonely in the absence of meaningful connections is normal.
Try these 5 suggestions on for size. I’d love to hear any other tips you’d like to share.