Loneliness is a word that seems to have many hues, and when people hear the word, most immediately understand it because they can relate to it. There's nothing wrong with enjoying our own company, loneliness however suggests a lack of connection.
As our society has changed, we have become paradoxically more and less connected. That is, we no longer live in homes with grandparents and parents, and with families fragmenting far and wide, many now live alone. On the other hand, technological advances mean we can keep in touch online with family and friends in other cities, and countries.
And the coronavirus changed how we use video-calling technology in an unprecedented way. So even though we are more connected on the face of it, we don’t necessarily feel it, we feel lonely instead.
Who it impacts
I notice that many young people these days are impacted by loneliness and are seeking connection. But loneliness is not unique to today’s young people, it's in fact something I experienced in my early 20s.
The 20s are a time when we're still searching, trying to figure things out about ourselves and the world, it’s a time of discovery and turmoil. We don’t yet know who we are, we contend with issues of self-esteem, and finding our place in the world, but now it seems lonelier for young people to some extent.
They have social media, they compare themselves to their peers who're presenting the best, airbrushed and orchestrated version of themselves, and their lives. How does today’s young person compete with that? They have hundreds and even thousands of friends but feel lonelier than ever. But to be clear, loneliness impacts people across all stages of life.
What can we do?
Our psychological, emotional and mental wellbeing is grounded in our brain's ability to produce certain feel-good hormones. These are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. The production of these is boosted by certain things, for example, sunlight, socialising, touch, sex and even a good meal (because of the reward aspect).
So, when we notice loneliness has set up abode in our lives, I believe a life assessment can help; this can identify how we might be lacking opportunities to boost production of these essential hormones.
Indeed, I do find when I speak with clients who are noticing their loneliness, that they're usually isolated in some way (perhaps due to anxiety, depression or low self-esteem). It can also be because of how they socialise (via social media or in other ways that don't facilitate meaningful connective bonds). Or due to the kinds of people they associate with (people who make them feel negative in general or bad about themselves).
Learning about how our way of living impacts social bonds is the first step toward understanding what isn’t serving our need for connection, which can initiate a more fulfilled social life, toward a more integrated and satiated internal self.
Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.