Loneliness and isolation
Loneliness and isolation
Thursday, 16 July 2020
We are social creatures and need to feel we belong.
Being lonely is like being hungry or thirsty; it’s our bodies telling us that we’re not getting the basic human need of social interaction.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a lack of connection and communication with others. It’s often considered a big problem with elderly people, but many young people coming to Jigsaw feeling lonely.
Being alone vs. being lonely
No matter what age you are, being lonely isn’t good for your health.
Remember there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. Some people are happy spending big chunks of time on their own; they might work alone or prefer for solitary sports like running instead of team sports.
When we crave friendships or interactions with other people and don’t get them it leads to feelings of isolation. It can happen even if you have lots of people in your life but don’t feel they ‘get’ you. You have hundreds of Facebook friends or Instagram followers but still feel you have no-one to rely on or really talk to.
It’s not easy to admit we’re experiencing loneliness. We can feel ashamed or embarrassed that we have no one to sit with at lunch or no one to talk to.
If this feels familiar, know that you won’t always feel this way. The first step is to see what might be contributing to this feeling of loneliness.
Why do I feel lonely?
Being lonely isn’t anything to do with who you are. There are certain things that happen in life that increases the chance of feeling loneliness.
See if you can relate to any of these:
- Moving to a new city or country
- Starting university or in a new school
- Falling out with friends, or just growing apart
- Relationship break up
- Someone close to you died
- Providing care for a family member.
These can be tricky situations that are difficult for most of us to adjust to. Life changes like these can mean someone you used to rely on isn’t around anymore, or you don’t feel you have much in common with the people around you.
Fitting in may be difficult because you feel different. You might have had different life experiences to those around which you feel sets you apart.
Caring for someone means you may have a lot of responsibilities. It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and it’s hard for your friends to understand.
Other reasons we might feel lonely is when we have friends but don’t quite trust them. If we’ve been hurt in the past we might find it hard to feel relaxed around other people.
Being social with social media
Social media is a part of all our lives, but it’s OK to take a step back and ask how it makes you feel. Do you feel more connected to people after going on Instagram or Snapchat, or does in increase feelings of loneliness?
Social media can be a way to meet new people and connections, and meet others who share our interests and passions. But liking other people’s posts and updates isn’t a replacement for face-to-face chat. If you are feeling lonely, be mindful that social media can make you feel more isolated.
Take control over the actions that make you feel bad. If social media is getting you down as it seems like everyone else is having a great time take breaks from it.
What you can do if you feel lonely
Think about whether you want more time with friends or family, or whether you actually want to meet new people you have more in common with.
Here are some ways to get started.
Find your tribe
Figure out who would share the same interests as you. Friendships naturally form over shared passions. You might have to do some digging around first. Consider evening classes, programming clubs like Coder Dojo, sports clubs like running, walking and swimming, and community events. If you’re not sure, Ireland’s biggest youth club Foróige is a great place to start.
Sharing your time and skills for a cause you believe in is a fantastic way to make friends. You’ll meet like-minded people and find volunteering very satisfying. Check out volunteer roles in Ireland here.
Join a team
Team sports can introduce you to an instant social circle. These clubs are really handy to tap into when if you move to a new city or country and don’t know anyone. They’re often full of other people wanting to connect with people from home. Just look at all the GAA clubs thriving in places like Hong Kong, Bahrain and Vancouver.
Get a pet
Animals are great for dispelling our loneliness when we do have to spend time alone. Take a dog for a walk and you’ll see how easy it is to make chit-chat with other dog-owners. If you don’t have a pet and your living situation doesn’t allow for it , offer to walk a friend or neighbour’s dog.
How to talk to yourself if you’re feeling lonely
Feeling lonely can get us down and eat away at our self-esteem. It can be daunting to walk into a room of strangers in a new club, class or team. Here are some tips to tackle that.
Challenge yourself to make conversation
Start with small steps, it can be difficult to put yourself out there. Remember it’s OK to feel uncomfortable at first. Make small talk with people you might have seen around in work or school, but haven’t actually spoken to.
Ask have they seen or heard a news story that day, or something going on locally. Then ask about them. People love talking about themselves and if you are curious about them it can be the beginning of a friendship.
Watch Eimear and Conor talk about how to start a conversation.
Believe in yourself
Feeling isolated or lonely has a negative impact on our sense of ourselves. So be kind to yourself.
When you talk to yourself, say positive things like ‘you can do this’ or ‘I’ll just give this a go’. Try writing down one good thing that happens each day. You’ll look back months later and be amazed at your progress.