‘Language...has created the word "loneliness" to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone.’ — Paul Johannes Tillich
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a mismatch between the relationships we have and those we want. It is our internal trigger, letting us know it’s time to seek company, just as hunger lets us know it’s time to eat. Anyone at any age can be lonely — even busy people, even you — whether alone or in a group, at work or at home with family.
Loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. Loneliness harms us as individuals and it harms our neighbourhoods and communities. Research has shown that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).
Loneliness, like confidence and fragility, can come and go, often taking us by surprise. Isolation however, is often where there is no choice but to be alone. Some people seek solitude, but few choose to be lonely or isolated, primarily because it isn’t good for us.
Lonely people are often excluded from the opportunities many of us take for granted. They may find their self-worth, confidence and trust reduce, decreasing their access to new opportunities and to meeting new and different people in ordinary everyday situations. And yet it is from these that we develop new relationships, experiences, insights, interests, hobbies and hopefully new friendships.
Even home can be a lonely place. Neighbourhoods are where we have our homes and they affect how we feel. Our neighbours can be both a vital source of support or a reminder of how lonely we are.
There are things we all can do within our neighbourhoods to enable ourselves and others to feel more supported and less alone:
- Start with your street — say hello when you see people and try to get to know your neighbours
- Take a look at the people around you where you live and work — what can you do to foster new friendships and be more inclusive?
- Hold a Big Lunch and start connecting neighbours where you live - around 50% of people who organize one say they feel less isolated as a result
- Start or join a social network for your area like Nextdoor.co.uk and use this to connect with people face to face
- Share what you have –swapping, borrowing and sharing skills with people around you helps make new connections
We will all know someone who is lonely or struggling; we may even be lonely or struggling ourselves. Too often we admit to neither and are unsure how to reconnect with the world. Building personal networks and stronger neighbourhoods and communities can, and will, make a difference.
What to remember if you're lonely
- Look after yourself, both physically and mentally
- Smile and say hello, even when it’s hard
- Create and safeguard your personal convoy: your friendships and social networks
- Ask for help from friends, family or professionals
- Talk about loneliness
- Don’t give up: get out, get involved
- Give the gift of time: give someone a little extra time
- You are not alone — anyone can be lonely
- Make every contact and conversation count
- Loneliness can aﬀect you, both physically and mentally
- Look out for opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions
- Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, focus on the positive