A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO LONELINESS
Tired of being alone? Experts reveal what you can do to switch up your social situation
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.
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.
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