"I feel alone"
Loneliness may be experienced when people have less quality social contact than they would like. As a result, they may experience constant feelings of sadness, anger or helplessness. Over time, this can cause people to feel depressed or anxious, question their self-worth ("Do other people hate me?") or make them believe their situation will never improve ("Nobody will ever like me"). These feelings can cause people to withdraw into themselves and spend time ruminating on unhappy feelings and thoughts instead of having fun or pursuing goals.
People do not need to be physically isolated to experience loneliness: It can be felt when alone in a big house or in amongst a crowd of peers. It can be hard to define exactly when someone will experience loneliness, but it is usually felt when people feel they have ‘less' than others. For example, you may feel you have less support than other people, or have less meaningful people in your life than you used to have.
Some common reasons for experiencing loneliness include:
- Being physically separated from friends, family and partners
- Experiencing a reduction or loss of a close relationship, such as through death, breakup, relocation or conflict
- Lacking a close partner or confidant
- Long-term history of few friends or other social support
- Feelings of social anxiety or difficulty conversing with people.
If you can relate to the above or similar descriptions, chances are you are feeling lonely. Fortunately, you can change the experience.
What can I do?
Changing the way we feel about ourselves takes time and effort and it has to be driven by you. The suggested approaches may require you to adjust the way you think, challenge your beliefs and take action. Depending on why you feel lonely, one or more of these may be challenging and these techniques have to be practiced continually to have gains. However, these strategies have been proven to work and the end result may be well worth it. Ask yourself, do I want to keep feeling this way? Am I willing to try some things to make myself feel better and to have more positive experiences?
Remove the label
"I am lonely" is a global statement, which means this one phrase sums up who you are. Over time, people who consider themselves lonely begin to relate strongly to this label. The label can also cause people to unwittingly shape their lives to live out this role and it becomes a ‘self-fulfilling' prophecy and serves only to cause future loneliness. The opposite is true though: Consistently challenging your label and associated thoughts can help you break the loneliness cycle. There may be some good reasons to describe yourself as lonely. However, it can be easy to develop "tunnel vision" and fail to notice that there are most likely several reasons you are not this label too. Take the time to think of your overall life, achievements and day-to-day experiences and identify some other, more positive descriptions of yourself. One suggestion is to write down your possible descriptions (including "I am lonely") and have a look at your reasons supporting and challenging these. You may find a lot of evidence to support more positive ways of viewing yourself and your situation.
Notice your thoughts
You may find you have frequent thoughts or self talk that tells you that you are all alone, worthless or incapable of being happy or sociable. This might keep you feeling lonely or stop you from pursuing friendships or relationships. Take the time to notice what you are saying to yourself, such as by writing key thoughts and feelings down. Our lonely thoughts may hold elements of truth, but they are often exaggerations or false descriptions (e.g. "People ‘always' ignore me"). Noticing and challenging unhelpful thoughts can help regain control and stop such thoughts from holding us back. Alternatively, it can be helpful to keep your mind in the here and now and notice thoughts for what they really are- simply words and images. Allowing yourself this viewpoint can help reduce the impact of such thoughts. One strategy is to set aside a specific time of day to go through worrying thoughts and feelings, which can help stop them impacting on day-to-day life and gives you time to process them. If you find you are having trouble sleeping, doing this "brain dump" before bed can help improve your sleep! Journaling can also be helpful, where daily experiences and thoughts are written down and kept. This helps process the day and can be helpful to look back on later. Whatever your approach, limiting the power of negative thoughts helps us feel better and pursue helpful actions.
Identify your needs
Loneliness is a relative feeling, meaning people feel they have less social contact compared to someone else. Sometimes people who describe themselves as lonely actually have enough support to sustain them, but become envious of those with more. There will always be people who have more friends or popularity than you. Your new location or role may mean that there are only a few people to form close friendships with, or it may not be possible for your partner to be with you every weekend. Consider your situation and identify your needs. What is a realistic and helpful target for you? You may find you have a lot of quality social contact already! If not, then perhaps there are some steps you need to take.
Take opportunities to meet and interact with people
Working through your thoughts and self-perception is one way to lift yourself out of the feeling, but if you would still like more, then the answer is to make changes. There are a number of ways to do this! It may be possible to find like-minded people through interest, hobby or exercise groups or Internet sites. Talking to people at work, study, online or in other social settings can be a great way to get things rolling too. Invite new friends out or take them up on invitations. You may feel anxious about doing these, but it gets easier with time and experience! To get started, one approach can be to set a small social goal, such as saying hello to someone new, then increasing these goals over time. A helpful mindset to get started can simply be to find out more about people by asking questions and showing an interest in them.
Regardless of whether you are by yourself or with others, remember to keep doing things that you find fun and meaningful. Doing things like practising a hobby, pursuing personal goals or trying new things helps stimulate the mind and reduces the impact of lonely thoughts. Doing something physical is recommended- This alone can stimulate brain function and encourages fitness that serves to lift your mood! Keeping a balance of sleep and healthy eating is also highly beneficial.
The above are some ideas that may help you break the loneliness cycle. However, sometimes it can be helpful to reach out and get further support. For more information on managing loneliness, please refer to the resources below or seek support from a student counsellor.
- Lifeline: Call 13 11 14. A free 24 hour telephone counselling service designed to provide support for people in crisis.
- Mates@UQ: A service that encourages new friendships and shared activities.
- CCI: Shy No Longer: A module-based workbook that uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principals to encourage facing social fears and changing negative thought patterns.
- Confidence: Stepping Out: An article that summarises the difficulty of engaging in social contact experienced by some people, as well as ideas for working through such feelings.
- Making new friends