The pang of loneliness, for the lucky few, is merely a fleeting feeling that can be medicated by a quick coffee with a friend, or a phone call with a family member.
For some individuals however, loneliness can be awe consuming.
Studies conducted by the ONS in May of 2020 revealed that 5% of adults in the UK, that’s 2.6 million people, feel lonely “often” or “always”. Ironically, the isolating feeling of loneliness is widespread, but what exactly is loneliness? And what can be done to mitigate its impacts?
Loneliness, as defined by the Campaign to End Loneliness, can be split into three categories:
Emotional loneliness, which is defined as the absence of a meaningful relationship such as
a romantic relationship or a friendship.
Existential loneliness is a universal component of the human condition, often spawned from feelings of separation from the fellow man.
Lastly, social loneliness, which is the lack of a wider social network such as a community.
(Photographs by Peter DaSilva and Byron Smith, for The New York Times)
Our good friends Instagram and Twitter are often the first things we turn to in an attempt to soothe the ache of loneliness, however this is a double edged sword. Often individuals end up feeling more isolated after scrolling through social media, for example one may feel excluded after seeing vacation pictures of friends living it up in Barbados, leaving them more hollow than they initially were.
This, sadly, is not the only way social media can perpetuate feelings of social isolation. Sociologist Sherry Turkle highlights the impact of digital technogloy on our feelings of connection and togetherness in her ‘Alone Together’ theory.
Turkle argues that individuals who find themselves in social scenarios, namely young people, pay insufficient attention to those in their immediate space as they are often distracted by their phones. It is humanly impossible to give full attention to two things at once, often in these situations the pull of our mobile phones wins, leaving those around us at the receiving end of our apparent lack of interest.
I am sure many of us have been in or witnessed situations wherein individuals are occupying a space together, but all have their heads cocked down, fixated on their mobile phones. They are in company, yet totally alone.
Aforementioned scenarios leave us with shallow and unfulfilling interpersonal relationships as we are unable to fully appreciate the human being in front of us, leaving all involved with the bitter taste of isolation and alienation.
It isn’t all doom and gloom however, there are ways to combat the realities of loneliness, starting with putting our phones down and fully engaging with the people right in front of us.
(Image by New Local, 2023)
Mental health charity Mind list some ways we can manage feelings of loneliness;
Take it slow. There is no need to rush to make a group of 20 friends, particularly if you are someone who spends a lot of time alone, this can be a daunting task. Take it slow and open up in your own time, you could try joining an online community to begin with.
Make new connections. Combating social loneliness requires putting yourself out there and meeting new people. Joining a class or group based on your hobbies and interests is a great way to start as you automatically have a shared interest with those in attendance.
Be mindful when comparing yourself to others. It is easy to compare your own life to what you see on your Instagram feed, remember to be heedful of the fact people show their best moments on social media and rarely the nitty gritty realities of real life. We may end up feeling as though we are the only ones experiencing loneliness if we are to assume what someone shows on Instagram is their reality 24/7.
Try talking therapies. You may find it beneficial to talk through your feelings of loneliness with a professional, particularly if you feel your overall well being has been impacted. Therapy can provide a safe space to delve into the reasons you might find it hard establishing or maintaining interpersonal relationships.
You are not doomed nor broken for experiencing loneliness, whether it is long standing or fleeting. The number of friends an individual has does not equate to their worth as a human being. It is ok to have one or two dear friends, so long as you are happy and content within yourself and find genuine fulfillment within these relationships. Do not let social media pressure you into a state of lack, if things work for you as they are, let them be.
Big love always.
Mind.org tips to coping with loneliness: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/tips-to-manage-loneliness/
Turkle, S. (2017) Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.
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