Loneliness is a distressing emotional state characterized by a deep sense of social isolation and lack of connection with others. We’ve all been there. Maybe you didn’t land an invite to a party or maybe you’re feeling low and don’t know who to call for support. In recent years, public awareness around loneliness has grown, and many believe that we are experiencing a national “loneliness epidemic.”
Increased social isolation is a major contributor to the loneliness epidemic, as many people have more limited social interactions and meaningful connections in the age of technology and social media.
It’s important to recognize that we are not alone in the experience of loneliness. Loneliness is far more common than you might think: 1 in 5 texters who reached out to our text line spoke about suffering from the lack of human connection. This shared struggle highlights the urgent need for collective efforts to build community and meaningful connections for everyone. Together, we can combat the detrimental effects of social isolation.
Do you feel like you have no one to talk to?
When you’re faced with the overwhelming feeling of having no one to talk to, there are still ways to find support. If you’re looking for communication – just someone to talk to – you can start a conversation on Crisis Text Line, which offers free, 24/7, confidential support through text message. You can also look for online communities, support groups, or forums where individuals facing similar struggles come together to share experiences and offer empathy. Therapy is another option, whether through individual counseling or group sessions. Remember, even in moments of profound loneliness, there are resources available to ensure you’re not facing your struggles alone.
Signs and Symptoms of Loneliness
Pinpointing loneliness can be challenging because it frequently intertwines with other mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety. These interconnected emotions often reinforce one another, creating a complex web that’s difficult to untangle. Crippling loneliness, while a distinct emotional experience, can amplify feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness associated with depression. Likewise, a sense of isolation can intensify anxiety, contributing to a perpetual cycle of social withdrawal and heightened apprehension. Recognizing this overlap is crucial when it comes to addressing these challenges and providing comprehensive support that acknowledges the intricate relationship between loneliness and other mental health conditions.
Physical Symptoms of Loneliness:
- Low energy or brain fog
- Sleep problems, including difficulty with falling asleep or problems staying asleep
- Lack of interest in food
- Getting sick more often
- Physical aches and pains including headaches, migraines, stomach aches, or muscle tension
Signs of Loneliness:
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or increased feelings of depression
- Increased feelings of anxiety
- Excess shopping or increased attachment to material things
- Drinking more or using drugs
- Repeatedly binge-watching television
- Excessive reliance on social media
Types of Loneliness
Loneliness is a common feeling, and it can be classified into three main categories: situational, developmental, and internal. Situational loneliness occurs when changes in life circumstances cause a person to feel isolated, such as moving away from friends and family or starting a new school. Developmental loneliness happens when someone feels like they are falling behind in life compared to their peers, leading to feelings of isolation. Internal loneliness is a perceived feeling of being alone in any and every situation, even when surrounded by people.
Recognizing the type of loneliness you or someone you know may be experiencing can help you better understand and address the feelings. While situational loneliness may improve with time, developmental and internal loneliness may require more support and intervention. It’s important to remember that loneliness is a universal feeling and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Loneliness can manifest in various situations and stages of life, affecting individuals across different demographics. The following are a number of common situations that can lead to loneliness:
- Loneliness in college: College students often experience loneliness due to the significant life transition of leaving home, adapting to a new environment, and the challenges of making new friends and establishing social connections in a competitive and demanding academic setting.
- Teenage loneliness: Teenagers may struggle with loneliness as they navigate the complexities of adolescence, dealing with issues like peer pressure, social insecurities, and a search for identity. Factors such as bullying, exclusion, and the pressure to fit in can contribute to feelings of isolation.
- Elderly people and loneliness: Elderly individuals are particularly susceptible to loneliness due to factors like retirement, loss of loved ones, health issues, and reduced social interactions. The absence of regular social activities and support networks can lead to a sense of isolation, impacting their mental and physical well-being.
- Loneliness in a relationship: Despite being in a partnership, individuals can experience loneliness within a relationship when emotional or physical needs aren’t adequately met, communication breaks down, or a sense of emotional disconnection persists, leaving one or both partners feeling alone and unfulfilled.
- Loneliness after a breakup: Following a breakup, individuals often experience a profound sense of loneliness and grief as the loss of a romantic relationship can leave a void in their lives, disrupting the social support and companionship they once relied on.
- Loneliness after divorce: Divorce can trigger intense feelings of loneliness as individuals face the dissolution of their marriage and the accompanying changes in their social dynamics, often resulting in the loss of shared friendships, routines, and support systems that were once integral to their lives.
- Loneliness and social media: The rise of social media has paradoxically contributed to loneliness as people compare themselves to idealized versions of others’ lives, experience fear of missing out (FOMO,) or communicate via superficial online interactions that don’t fulfill their need for deep and meaningful connections.
- Loneliness and work from home: With the shift to remote work, many individuals experience loneliness due to the lack of in-person social interactions, reduced opportunities for spontaneous conversations, and the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life, which can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from colleagues and peers.
Causes of Loneliness
Maybe you’re experiencing a big change in your life. Or maybe the friends you used to connect with don’t seem to “get” you anymore. Or maybe you are having trouble finding someone to confide in. There are so many reasons you could be feeling lonely. If you are unable to pinpoint how and why you are experiencing loneliness, think back on if any of these events happened in your life recently:
- You moved away from close friends or family
- You lost a friend or loved one
- You made the switch to living alone after living with family/roommates
- You’re having difficulties with meeting new people due to access issues
- You have been in poor physical or mental health
- You have avoided social situations because you fear being rejected
- You have recently retired, quit your job, or lost your job
- You have to live in a country where they don’t speak your native language or you are experiencing another form of culture shock
- You live in an area that is geographically cut-off from the rest of the world
- You have been spending an inordinate amount of time on social media
Effects of Loneliness
Loneliness is a pervasive feeling that can have serious implications for mental health. Research has linked loneliness to a host of mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. When left unaddressed, loneliness can worsen these issues, leading to a downward spiral of negative emotions and behaviors.
Can loneliness cause depression?
Yes, loneliness and depression often go hand in hand, with each condition exacerbating the other. Loneliness can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness, which can easily spiral into depression. On the other hand, depression can also cause social isolation, making it harder for individuals to connect with others and breaking down existing relationships.
Are loneliness and suicide connected?
Loneliness is also a significant risk factor for suicide, particularly among young people. The feelings of isolation and disconnection that come with loneliness can make individuals feel hopeless and without support. For those struggling with mental health issues, loneliness can exacerbate suicidal thoughts and increase the risk of acting on those thoughts.
How does anxiety affect loneliness?
Finally, anxiety and loneliness are closely linked, with one often leading to the other. When individuals feel socially isolated, they may begin to worry excessively about social situations, making it harder for them to form new relationships or engage with others. This anxiety can then perpetuate feelings of loneliness, creating a negative cycle.
How to Overcome Loneliness
Overcoming loneliness isn’t easy, but it can be done! If you’re wondering what to do when you feel lonely and sad, we’ve got you. Text HOME to 741741 if you need to talk with someone. You can also find help for loneliness by trying out some of the following:
- Reach out to friends and family: In this modern world, there are so many ways you can connect with the people who mean the most to you. Don’t live in the same city? Try sending a text message to the special people in your life, just to let them know they’re on your mind. Here’s a start: “Hey, I’ve been missing you lately. How are you?” This is an excellent way to deal with isolation and loneliness.
- Get out there and say “hello”: Start interacting with the people you see in your daily life. Maybe the barista at your local coffee shop who makes you the perfect cup of joe every single day. Or maybe the crossing guard who keeps you safe on your way to school or work. Studies show that being kind towards others can actually make you happier. So, next time you pick up your latte or make it safely to your next destination, make sure you say please and thank you. And, if you’re feeling spicy, maybe even ask their name. There you have it: a new friend. And who knows? Maybe your new friend was also wondering how to overcome loneliness and you’ve just helped them as well.
- Find your people: Studies show that finding a community connection can be pivotal for mental wellness. These days, there are groups for everything. Try a new workout class, start a trivia group, or make a standing brunch date with people you want to prioritize in your life. Not sure who your people are or where to find them? Instead of getting overly focused on the question of what to do about loneliness, ask yourself what you love to do. Search Meetup.com to find other people who share those interests in your area.
- Get a pet: If your lifestyle permits, getting a pet is an excellent way to help with loneliness. According to studies, pets can decrease stress and mitigate symptoms of anxiety. Use your furry pal as an opportunity to meet other pet owners by hitting up a cat café or dog park. Spending time with your pet and meeting other people—a loneliness-combatting double whammy. If you’re not able to get a pet, you can also volunteer at your local pet shelter or look for dog-walking opportunities as a way to maximize your time with animals and give back to the community.
How to Help Someone Who is Lonely
If you believe someone is experiencing loneliness, there are several ways you can offer support and help alleviate their feelings of isolation:
- Be present and listen: Take the time to actively listen to them without judgment. Create a safe space where they can express their thoughts and emotions openly. Show genuine interest in their experiences and validate their feelings.
- Offer companionship: Spend time with them and engage in activities together. Plan outings, invite them for a walk or a coffee, or simply spend quality time in conversation. Human connection and shared experiences can go a long way in combating loneliness.
- Encourage involvement: Encourage the person to participate in social activities or join clubs, groups, or organizations that align with their interests. This can provide opportunities for them to meet new people and expand their social network.
- Connect them with resources: Share information about local support groups, community events, or organizations that promote social connections and provide a sense of belonging. Encourage them to seek professional help or counseling if needed.
- Be patient and understanding: Understand that overcoming loneliness takes time and that everyone’s journey is unique. Offer patience, empathy, and support throughout the process.
Additionally, if someone is in crisis or needs immediate assistance, it’s important to provide them with resources such as helplines. Crisis Text Line offers confidential support at all times of day and night. We’re just a text message away! Text HOME to 741741.