Tired of be­ing alone? Ex­perts re­veal what you can do to switch up your so­cial sit­u­a­tion

Woman’s Day (Australia) - - Health -

Are­cent Life­line sur­vey re­vealed 60 per cent of Aus­tralians say they of­ten feel lonely. Re­search also says lone­li­ness can be deadly. Its im­pact on health is as harm­ful as smok­ing and obe­sity, con­tribut­ing to car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, de­men­tia and a short­ened life span.

To be lonely isn’t sim­ply about be­ing iso­lated – many peo­ple choose to be on their own and are per­fectly happy.

Lone­li­ness is a sub­jec­tive state in which you feel so­cially and emo­tion­ally dis­con­nected from those around you. It’s pos­si­ble and ex­tremely com­mon to feel lonely in a re­la­tion­ship or among a large group.

Ex­perts clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Michelle Lim, a found­ing mem­ber of the Aus­tralian Coali­tion to End Lone­li­ness, and Alan Wood­ward, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Life­line Re­search Foun­da­tion ex­plain how you can break free of feel­ing lonely.

Ac­knowl­edge lone­li­ness

It might feel coun­ter­in­tu­itive to o ad­mit to your­self you’re lonely, , but the first help­ful step you can take is to face what you’re feel­ing and to un­der­stand it’s nor­mal. “Feel­ing lonely is a bi­o­log­i­cal sig­nal, much like hunger or thirst that you need to con­nect with other peo­ple,” Dr Lim ex­plains. “It is not a sign of weak­ness or that you’re un­like­able – it just means that you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing so­cial pain and recog­nis­ing that you need to do some­thing to change that.”

Get a men­tal health check

This isn’t to sug­gest you’re lonely be­cause you have men­tal health is­sues. But it’s im­por­tant to fig­ure out whether your lack of con­tact with oth­ers is en­tirely sit­u­a­tional (you’ve just moved to a new city, you’re newly sin­gle, or you’ve started work­ing from home) or if there’s some­thing stop­ping you from mak­ing mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions.

Reach out in a pos­i­tive way

It can be tricky let­ting other peo­ple know you’re feel­ing lonely. They might re­act as if it’s some­thing they can catch, and they may be right. “Lonely peo­ple think more neg­a­tively about other peo­ple,” Dr Lim

ex­plains. “You may not re­alise it but you’ll start send­ing sig­nals to those around you.” Whether via fa­cial ex­pres­sions, body language or the words you use, your lone­li­ness could be caus­ing you to un­wit­tingly push the friends you do have away, and they, in turn, may start pass­ing that on to their friends and so on. “This is why it’s vi­tal to have friend­ships where you share pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tions,” says Dr Lim.

Con­sider get­ting a pet

Stud­ies have shown hav­ing a furry friend in the house can im­prove your health and well­be­ing in a ma­jor way. Not only do you get an ex­tra boost of happy hor­mones when you’re in­ter­act­ing with your pet, but dogs es­pe­cially open up op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­nect with other pet lovers.

“Tak­ing your dog out for a walk, meet­ing peo­ple in the park, say­ing ‘hi’ and just talk­ing about your dogs can be ex­tremely ben­e­fi­cial,” Dr Lim says.

Avoid com­par­isons

When you’re lonely, you can end up feel­ing like ev­ery­one else has it all – lov­ing spouses, beau­ti­ful chil­dren, ex­cit­ing friends – while you’ve been left be­hind.

“It’s a very nat­u­ral thing for us as hu­mans to com­pare our lives to oth­ers,” says Alan. “But to envy what some­body else has is only go­ing to re­sult in un­hap­pi­ness. If you catch your­self do­ing it, try to step back and have a clear idea around what life you want to lead. Then fol­low that vi­sion rather than try­ing to work to oth­ers’ vi­sion.”

Em­brace all con­nec­tions

If your week­end is pass­ing by and you haven’t hung out with an­other soul, take ac­tion. “Head out and ex­change pleas­antries with some­one, even if it’s chat­ting to a barista or the check­out per­son at the su­per­mar­ket,” Dr Lim ad­vises.

If you’re feel­ing lonely and need some­one to talk to, call Life­line at 13 11 14.

Make the most of your in­ter­ac­tions

Pets open up new op­por­tu­ni­ties

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