Loneliness is that feeling of being alone and feeling isolated. It can be a vicious circle of emotion as loneliness can create social anxiety, fear and negative feelings which can in turn lead to less interaction with the outside world thereby intensifying that feeling of isolation.  Recent studies have suggested that chronic loneliness belongs amongst health risk factors such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.  It leads to higher levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, a poorer immune function and high blood pressure.  And the stark reality is that many of our society are struggling with loneliness. 

Interestingly research has shown that people have significantly fewer close friends and confidants than those a generations ago. This is perhaps due to the fact that as a nation we are busier with less time to spend amongst friends and family.  Also we are more distracted by social media which can give a temporary false sense of community and friendship.  

So what can we do about it?

There are many different reasons why people feel lonely.  Many have social phobia which inhibits their mixing with society in general, for others it can be triggered by depression or negativity (a nobody likes me, who would want to hang out with me mindset).  Some highly sensitive people find it easier to be alone that to be amongst people who press their buttons and whose throwaway remarks they find hard not to take personally, and some people have just never had the opportunity to  learn the social skills necessary to create and sustain lasting friendships.  But more often than not that feeling of loneliness can come upon us for no apparent reason.

In this case it's important to realise that loneliness is a feeling not a fact.  When you are feeling lonely it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are actually isolated and alone.  A natural tendency can be to withdraw into that feeling and indulge the negative thought process that may follow.  This is not helpful.  Reach out when you feel lonely, call a friend or a family relative.  Do something that you enjoy, cook a nice meal, go for a walk, meet someone for a chat. 

Having a daily routine that incorporates things you like to do can help alleviate loneliness.  Work out when the feeling tends to rise, if you live on your own and you find the mornings lonely  arrange to leave the house and meet someone for breakfast.  If you find it difficult arriving home to an empty house have a plan to do something nice for yourself.  Have a bath, go to a gym or yoga class or watch a feel good movie.  Preempting your lonely periods will help you manage them better. 

And finally remember help is always at hand.  Through therapy people who are highly sensitive can learn skills to manage their own feelings and be more tolerant of others responses.  Therapy can help you work through phobias, recover from old hurts and build self esteem.  Some bibliotherapy (reading self-help books) is also a helpful way to learn about yourself and new ways to function in relationships that may serve you better.   
If you feel you could benefit from therapy you can contact me in confidence on 087-1046880 or email ehanlonpsychotherapy@gmail.com

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