Loneliness can happen to us all
Let’s reduce the stigma of loneliness and encourage people to talk more openly about it.
Many of us feel lonely from time to time. Some may only feel lonely at certain times while others feel a deep sense of loneliness that goes on for much longer time. Some think that you need to live alone to feel lonely or being lonely means not having many friends or family around you.
Everyone’s experience will be different.
People who experience loneliness often talk of a gnawing sense of isolation, something I think we can all understand a little more after the last couple of years. Some people describe loneliness as the feeling we have when our need for social contact and relationships isn’t met. But loneliness isn’t the same as being alone.
You may feel content without much contact with other people. But others may find this a lonely experience.
You may be around others and still feel like you’re alone. There can be a difference between feeling alone and feeling lonely as some can feel lonely in a crowd full of people.
But you can have lots of social contact and support and still feel lonely. Especially if you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you.
Feeling lonely isn’t a mental health problem but having a mental health problem can increase feelings of loneliness. In these situations, you may avoid social events, have low self-esteem, find it hard to try new things and worry about engaging with others, find it difficult to speak to people about how you’re feeling, for fear of stigma or not being understood, feel like you could be a burden to others or feel overwhelmed in busy public places. People often describe their anxiety as a barrier which by default can create loneliness.
In our own heads
As humans, we are often in ‘our own heads’ with our thoughts and feelings. When we are alone with our thoughts, they are definitely not always positive and helpful, particularly about ourselves. We can run repetitive thoughts on a loop and more often than not we ‘think’ we are the lonely one that is thinking and feeling like this. While we are all unique, there are patterns and habits in the way that we are wired that means we are all thinking similarly.
Realising this is a powerful tool. Remember that you are not actually alone and that most people struggling with negative self-talk, imposter syndrome, doubt, worry that someone will judge, criticise or are comparing themselves to others. Being stuck in your own head and not sharing or realising that others are feeling and thinking the same can cause chronic loneliness.
Working from home
Let’s focus a little on home working and loneliness. There is no doubt that recent years has had an impact on everyone in varying ways. Working from home is here to stay and has advantages and disadvantages. I have been working from home for 13 years now and know that I have to ensure certain factors are in place to keep myself feeling mental well.
Many people had to adapt the way to work in a more flexible way and in some cases working from home reduces stress, travelling times and can feel more convenient. However, we must pay attention to the increase in mental wellness and loneliness. There can be burnout, emotional imbalance which leads to a loss productivity and also happiness in the workplace. In my work I see the roles of both the employee to ensure they have what they need and also the employer and managers equipped to help their teams.
There is a huge cost to employers and it is on the increase. As research from the Mental Health Foundation tells us, “loneliness isn’t about the number of friends we have, the time we spend on our own or something that happens when we reach a certain age. Instead, it is a feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the social connections we have and those that we need or want. It can therefore be experienced differently by all of us.”
When individuals feel disconnected or lonely, they can feel detached from an organisation and be at increased risk of depression, anxiety or stress. The cost of loneliness to UK employers is estimated to be £2.5bn per year, primarily owing to increased staff turnover as well as lower productivity, and wellbeing, ill-health and associated sickness absence. Therefore, supporting social connections as part of workplace wellbeing has benefits for both employers and employees.
Loneliness can happen to anyone. You can feel lonely due to the lack of social interaction although you can feel lonely within your own mind. If you are experiencing loneliness have a think is it due to lack of social contact or internal thinking?
It is very tempting to keep pushing on with the tasks rather than prioritise a social interaction. Sometimes taking your laptop to complete a specific piece of work to a cafe might just help. But the critical thing is to prioritise this. As home workers we need to simulate the chats that we would have had at the coffee machine or by the photocopier.
What are you going to do today or this week? We need to make those social connections as sitting behind emails all day will be affecting your well-being. Or maybe just pick up the phone!
The latest Mental Wealth podcast episode is all about loneliness – Have a listen: