Loneliness & isolation
“Why do I feel alone even when I have company?”
I know it sounds odd but even when I’m with friends I can feel shy and that I don’t have anything interesting to say…. it can be a little scary… I can’t get my words out properly and I feel kind of out of it, not part of the group. I flip between longing to be in the company of others and wanting to hide away. I find it hard responding to the thoughts that rattle around in my head. What’s up with me?
What’s the issue?
Sounds like Merve is feeling what most of us will from time to time and sometimes for longer than we want – lonely. We may feel this occasionally, or it may stick to us like a fog, causing us to doubt ourselves. It can make us feel empty and leave us struggling to connect with company even when we want it. Loneliness and isolation often go together.
Loneliness is the combination of feelings and thoughts that you are alone in the world. It is not the same as being on your own, as that can feel good and welcome at times. It is a more uncomfortable way of feeling and thinking.
Isolation can have a similar meaning to loneliness. People sometimes talk of feeling or being isolated. This can often be when you are set apart from the familiar people, resources and opportunities that comfort and support you. Or when you don’t feel you belong or fit in where you live, work or study. This may include not being employed or unable to engage in activities that are meaningful to you.
Everyone else seems to fit in so easily. I feel so alone
How does it affect me?
It is common to experience loneliness and isolation in our lives. It is certainly not just something that happens in a pandemic. Sometimes the feeling of being on our own and isolated from others can be intense; we all want to belong, and feel cherished and appreciated after all.
Sometimes the desire to be included is overwhelming. We get hurt if others seem to be having fun when we are not, or, for one reason or another, we get left out or feel invisible in a group. On social media it is easy to feel lost in the sea of photoshopped images and unrealistic (and unattainable) expectations.
Starting university, college, a first job or an apprenticeship can really throw you in at the deep end; wanting to fit in, find new friends and be accepted. In this transition, you may make all kinds of choices about leisure groups or activities to join. This can be pretty exciting … and stressful. What happens if you don’t get on with your new peers, or colleagues, have different values and interests, or cannot turn them from strangers into friends (despite all your natural charm).
Feeling lonely or isolated may be intense when moving away from safe or familiar places, such as your home. Entering the so-called adult-world of independence and responsibility can be a big shock. There are suddenly all these strangers around, and new things to do or achieve, right?
Like, cleaning your own clothes, attempting to make edible meals, finding a new barber/ hairdresser, making new friends or stopping yourself from making an excuse not to party because you were afraid you’d end up in the corner, alone. There are many people out there feeling like this! So how do you move on despite fear of feeling lonely or isolated?
Ooh volunteering! Maybe I could make some new friends there?
What can I do to help myself?
What we do know is that our feelings can change quite rapidly. This is excellent news! You may feel lonely and deflated one minute yet optimistic the next. One thing is certain - those feelings (all kinds of feelings, including bad ones) will likely be with you for a limited time, or replaced by better ones.
If you’ve had thoughts or feelings about your loneliness and isolation, well done, you have just started to own this and that is going to help a lot! The first, major step to changing thinking and feeling lonely is to say it, and acknowledge it to yourself so you can do something about it.
Take a few notes
Note down the things you do that stop you from connecting with others. Doodle or draw these if you cannot find the words!
Start looking around you and observing the people you meet, not to compare yourself with them, but to simply be curious about them. Focus a little on what they do, how they interact, what they wear, the sounds of their voices, behaviour, and expressions. Get into this – it helps you get out of looking inwards so much and can be great fun! Being curious can teach us a lot about other people, and how to get to know them better.
Review your connections
Now, review the ways that you can connect with the people around you or away from you. Which technologies are available that will help you to remain connected with the people you love, admire, or appreciate … or want to get to know more?
Join leisure or activity groups as a participant or volunteer. Do not worry too much about the kind of group or activity. Be open to new possibilities. Treat this stage like opening up a taster menu. Try a few different things. Perhaps you have always watched nature shows or get annoyed about climate change – check out a local conservation group. Perhaps you always had a desire to swim in freshwater lakes – there will be a group for that. You may have an urge to hike over hills, climb mountains, tell jokes, sing, dance, collect and swap beer mats, walk dogs, play football, learn a language, gain a practical skill … In fact, you will find a group or activity for almost everything on the planet. Join one!
Steady as you go
If you are the kind of person who goes large with any new thing you do and finds the magic soon wears off, please remember to take small ‘taster’ steps in tackling your loneliness and isolation. There is no rush. Your feelings and thoughts will come and go. You have time to find your way. There is no prize or ‘winning post’ apart from your perception of feeling connected to others again. Enjoy a steady pace, a gradual build-up, and everything should work out, fall into place. However, don’t be afraid to seek further help.
Our feelings often hold hands with our thoughts and vice versa. If we think dark and gloomy thoughts, we tend to feel dark and gloomy. If we think positive thoughts, we can often find ourselves smiling and then feeling brighter in mood. Even fake smiling and laughing can trick our brains into a happier mood.
Thoughts and feelings can be difficult to separate but, with practice, you can begin to loosen the hold they have over each other – getting your thoughts to challenge your feelings and your feelings to challenge your thoughts. It is not easy like turning a tap on or off, but a bit of practice can help you move forward.
When do I need to get help?
Even if your feelings and thoughts of loneliness and isolation are only occasional or fleeting then you may benefit from discussing this with someone you trust such as a close friend or family member. However if these feelings and thoughts do not pass easily, stick to you (like a fog) and deepen, then it is time to seek professional advice and support.
Where to go for help?
If loneliness and isolation cause you mental distress, then you should consider speaking to your doctor or someone else you trust and seek advice from trained professionals.
More information can be found on our seeking help page.