If you were as a big of an Akon fan as I was in junior high, any time you start to feel a little abandoned, the song “Lonely” pops into your head. No one likes to feel left out or all by themselves, but it happens to the best of us.
In fact, tons of people experience it — in an ONS survey in 2018, almost 10% of 16-24-year-olds regularly feel lonely. That's three times more than the proportion of over-64s who said the same. In a YouGov poll from this summer, three in ten millennials surveyed said they were always or often lonely.
Mateusz Grzesiak (known as Dr. Matt), Ph.D., a psychologist and creator of Mixed Mental Arts, says that loneliness is rooted in dissatisfaction with our lives. He says it’s not always about being physically alone — you can feel this way in a crowded room, or so the cliche goes. That idea is also exemplified in social media where we may have thousands of Facebook "friends." “We spend so much time on Instagram, but we’re still lonely,” he says. It can influence our self-esteem and directly correlates with self esteem and can influence the way we feel about ourselves and our world.
The truth is, we're only seeing a curated version of our followers' lives, and the platforms don't usually allow for deep, personal connection — at least not on their own. Because of this and other factors, many of us are still feeling like we have no one to do life with, explains Anabel Basulto, a licensed marriage and family therapist for Kaiser Permanente in Santa Ana, California. “Social media has given us the ability to connect despite the distance,” she says. “But the lack of forming intimate relationships plays a factor in loneliness. We have learned to communicate faster through the use of acronyms like LOL, and use of emojis. This form of connecting is superficial. It lacks the intimacy of speaking to someone and seeing their reactions and gestures.” People crave this, and they want more meaningful conversations with those who are close to them, whether they realise it or not.
Anxiety and depression can also plays a part in loneliness — and vice versa. “It’s important to say that loneliness is causing us health troubles,” Matt says. “It’s connected with increased levels of depression, inflammatory disease, heart attacks. We need to treat it seriously, and make sure having friends and having relationships is a priority in our lives.”
Basulto notes that there are some lucky few who do not feel lonely despite being alone. “The role of spirituality plays a factor in believing in something bigger than themselves and so they never feel alone,” she says. “You look beyond yourself for understanding issues.”
Balance out your life.
Matt says that we live in an individualistic culture, in which we often prioritise ourselves and our success over seeing and supporting our friends. He says we need to live a more balanced life, juggling work, family, and our best friends. Seeing everyone often enough to form deep bonds.
For some people, an unbalanced life will look like canceling on friends in order to stay late at work. For others, it means ditching their besties for their significant other or even their kids. “You might be less lonely in relationship, but if you spend too much time with family, you can also feel this way, Matt explains. “Balance is so important because sometimes, even though we are surrounded by other people, it doesn’t really change the way we feel.”
It’s about having a good network of people in your life that you’ve constructed deep relationships with — at work, at home, and in general.
Find an activity you want to learn more about, Basulto suggests. A book club or a intramural volleyball team will allow you to connect with others who share a common interest
Matt notes that we can’t always expect our friends to reach out to us — we have to put in the work too. When you’re feeling alone, call up an old you haven’t seen in a while. “Friendship can give you the gift of laughter, remembrance, and creating new stories,” Basulto says.
Befriend people like you.
If you're an introvert, don't like to be the one to initiate, or fear being smothered, Matt says it will be easier for you if you befriend people who are the same way. That way you'll have someone in your corner who also gets that you really do need some alone time.
Exercise and eat healthy.
Paraphrasing Elle Woods, Basulto says eating well and getting sweaty can help create endorphins that make you feel better in general. This is one way to keep your mental health in check and combat feelings of loneliness. Plus, you might meet a new friend or partner at the gym.
Get professional help.
“Speaking to a licensed professional may help put things in perspective and give you better tools to cope,” Basulto says.
Learning to take deep breaths can help you focus internally on more positive things and less negative thoughts, Basulto says. However, Matt adds that this is just a temporary fix. Meditation is said to help ease anxiety, and it might resolve your negative thought patterns, and make you feel more stable in the moment. “But it won’t solve the real problem,” Matt says. “It comes back to living a balanced life. We’re social creatures, and we can not function by ourselves.”