Loneliness: what can be done?

Everybody has times when they feel lonely and alone. But what can you do to combat loneliness? Discover more about the possible symptoms and causes of loneliness and how you can overcome these in the long term.

04.12.2023 Imke Schmitz 5 minutes

What is loneliness?

In psychology, loneliness is defined as a discrepancy between the relationships that we have and the relationships that we desire. It doesn’t matter how many friends or contacts we have: it’s more about how we perceive these connections. Loneliness can feel like emptiness or alienation from the world around us.

Loneliness: what are the symptoms?

There are many facets to loneliness, and it can manifest itself in various ways. It is a feeling that often goes hand in hand with being less content with life, and it can impact our social lives. Signs of loneliness can vary, though there are some typical symptoms:

  • Isolation and not feeling understood
  • Withdrawal from social activities and struggling to make social contacts
  • Problems maintaining existing relationships
  • Problems sleeping and a lack of appetite
  • Reduced work performance and lack of motivation
  • Dissatisfaction with your personal and social life

These symptoms show what loneliness does to people and how deeply they can impact our day-to-day lives. Be sure to watch out for these signs. If you feel lonely, you should look for support from your social circle or reach out to a medical or mental health professional, depending on which is most appropriate given your circumstances.

What is the difference between loneliness and depression?

Although they are often confused with each other, depression and loneliness are two distinct emotional states. Loneliness is the feeling of being isolated and alone. It can be triggered by a lack of social relationships, for example. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental illness that is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest. Whereas loneliness can be a temporary feeling that is ameliorated by having more social interaction, the different types of depression require professional treatment. However, loneliness can lead to depression if it is not dealt with. Vice versa, those with depression can also feel lonely.

What can cause loneliness?

There can be many reasons that we feel lonely:

  • Social loneliness: many people feel lonely because they don’t have any – or have too few – friends, relatives or acquaintances.
  • Emotional loneliness: there are people who might have social contacts but don’t have close emotional connections.
  • Existential loneliness: many people feel alienated from the meaning of life and, therefore, feel alienated from themselves and their environment.
  • Situational loneliness: this is caused by certain circumstances, such as moving to a new city, a separation, or losing a loved one.

Personality can also play a role. Everyone experiences things in different ways. However, certain personality traits increase the chances of experiencing loneliness in life. These include being introverted or shy, experiencing emotional instability and having low self-esteem.

You can feel lonely regardless of how old you are. Loneliness in older age can occur because retirement or physical impairments can make it more difficult to get involved in social activities.

Since the causes are always different, there is no catch-all solution. If you feel lonely, it is important to take action. For example, you could look for community groups or get involved in volunteering. If you find that difficult, then seek professional support so that you can understand the reasons for this and find ways to stop feeling lonely.

Worried about loneliness?

Being worried about loneliness can often influence how you behave in social situations. This worry can make it more difficult for you to make new connections. In extreme cases, it can even be that those affected remain in relationships that don’t fulfil them just to avoid loneliness. You should be mindful of whether you sometimes worry about being lonely too. If you notice that you worry about loneliness, you can seek professional support.

Lonely at Christmas?

Christmas is a sociable time that many people spend with their family and other loved ones. But it is also a day when some people feel particularly lonely and alone. The contrast between the joyful togetherness and a person’s own reality can cause negative feelings such as sadness, hopelessness and inner emptiness. In many cases, those who feel lonely are reminded of the painful loss of loved ones. On this holiday, they feel emotional stress and melancholy. Is this the case for you? Then try starting new traditions that bring you joy in this time of reflection. For example, you could support voluntary projects. You could also talk to a caregiver about your loneliness.

What can you do to combat loneliness?

To combat loneliness, it’s best to take action. There are various measures you can take to strengthen your feeling of being connected to others.

Establishing and maintaining social contacts

Improve your social skills, participate in group activities and maintain your existing relationships to increase the quality of your social contacts. Regularly interacting with people who are good for you will reduce your loneliness and improve your general well-being.

Self-help groups and community activities

Self-help groups and community activities offer a supportive environment for helping people combat loneliness together. Share your feelings with others who feel the same. This will make you feel part of the group and less alone.

Nurture self-acceptance

Self-acceptance is essential to combating loneliness. Learn self-love techniques and improve your well-being. Self-acceptance will give you a positive mental attitude that will strengthen your relationships to others and to yourself.

Here’s an exercise to get you started: consider which of your physical traits or mannerisms you don’t particularly like. Are there aspects that you can accept? Give yourself explicit permission to accept your imperfections and try to accept your weaknesses.

You can find more exercises for self-efficacy and self-confidence here

Loneliness is complex and can impact mental health in various ways. But with the right strategies, you’ll improve your quality of life. If you need support, be sure to reach out to your doctor, an advice service or a mental health professional.

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