What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is an emotion characterised by the feeling of pain caused by a perceived lack of intimacy with other people or ourselves (Nick Wignall, 2020). Whilst many of us can recall a time when we experienced feelings of loneliness, for some these feelings are not temporary or sporadic in nature. For some, loneliness is a feeling that becomes a regular or constant feature in their experience. Age UK has estimated that 1.4 million older people were expecting to feel lonely this Christmas. However, a recent survey by Mind has suggested that millennials are twice as likely as the elderly to have a lonely Christmas. It is clear from the research that loneliness can significantly impact a large range in age groups at Christmas time.
Whilst feelings of loneliness can often increase during the festive period, feeling lonely is not limited to this time of year. For example, research has suggested that a quarter of adults between the ages of 18 and 27 have reported having no close friends (Ballard, 2019) and 69% of adolescents aged 13-19 reported that they feel alone ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ (YouGov, 2020). It is clear from research that experiencing feelings of loneliness is common for many. However, to fully understand the nature of loneliness, it is important to first consider what are the causes for experiencing feelings of loneliness.
Causes of Loneliness
Loneliness is thought to have a variety of different causes. One potential reason for experiencing feelings of loneliness is the impact of situational variables such as physical isolation, moving to a new location, divorce, or bereavement. Many of the looked after young people that we work with at bMindful Psychology report feelings of loneliness when they first move into their new home. Young people in care can often experience feelings of loneliness not only due to the physical isolation from their family, friends, and home environment, but also due to being placed within a completely new environment with new people. Supporting young people to understand that there are many people around them who wish to help and support them moving forward, can help to create a sense of belonging and in time reduce the level of loneliness or isolation that young person feels.
Another potential cause of loneliness is experiencing difficulties in mental health. Whilst loneliness is not a recognised mental health condition, the relationship between loneliness and mental health is highly interconnected. For example, an individual who is struggling with anxiety or depression may report that their mental health has led to increased feelings of loneliness due to potential reduction in social contact or interactions with others. However, it may also be reported that experiencing feelings of loneliness can also lead to a reduction in an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. Therefore, loneliness and mental health in many ways can be considered to be cyclical in nature with both strongly impacted each other.
Internal factors such as low self-esteem can result in an increased likelihood of an individual experiencing feelings of loneliness. Personality can also make a significant impact on the levels of loneliness an individual feels as those who have more introverted personality types can often feel increased levels of isolation and loneliness.
Why do we feel increased levels of loneliness at Christmas?
Christmas time is widely considered a time of celebration. Getting together with family and friends is often a regular feature in many festive periods. However, whilst for many, these traditions can bring joy, for others they can trigger feelings of sadness, loneliness, or isolation. For example, some people may experience feelings of loneliness due to the physical isolation they are experiencing. If during the festive period you do not get to see many people or are physically separated from friends and loved ones, the physical isolation or distance can trigger feelings of loneliness. It is, however, important to note that an individual can experience feelings of loneliness in a crowded room. Loneliness does not necessarily mean that an individual is not experiencing interactions with others.
Bereavement can often result in an individual feeling lonely, as even though they may be surrounded by individuals who wish to care for them, the one individual who they wish were present, is not. Christmas can also lead to an individual wishing they were somewhere else or feelings of missing out. For example, many of the young people we work with can experience increased feelings of loneliness during the festive period due to them being separated from their family or home environment. If there is discrepancy between the experiences that a young person wishes or would like to experience during Christmas time and the reality of their experience, this can also trigger feelings of loneliness for some young people.
Tips for dealing with loneliness during the Christmas period
1. Supporting someone who is feeling lonely
Due to the societal norms that surround the Christmas period in relation to feelings of joy and happiness, many can also find it difficult to admit to feeling lonely during this period. If you feel like somebody you know may be struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation during this festive period reach out and check in with them. Sometimes, a simple text or quick phone call is all that’s needed. Offering to spend time with people and ensuring that everyone feels included can also help. If someone is experiencing feelings of loneliness, taking the time to actively listen to how they are feeling can allow an individual to feel a sense of validation in their experience and hopefully allow them to recognise that there are those around them that wish to support them.
2. Self-help if you are experiencing feelings of loneliness
If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness, it is important to firstly recognise that these feelings can sometimes be overwhelming or difficult to deal with and therefore you need to be kind to yourself when recognising the difficulties in your experiences. Reaching out to a friend or loved one and expressing how you feel can decrease feelings of isolation as often there are many people who want to help you through this difficult time. Reaching out to someone does not necessarily have to be a physical contact, it could be a quick phone call or using social media or video calls. If you can, try to get out in the fresh air, even if it’s just to walk to the shop. The physical interaction and company that this experience may bring can help to boost your mental wellbeing. It is very likely that someone you know is also feeling lonely this Christmas, so try to always remember that you are never alone, there are so many people out there that wish to help you. If you do not feel that you can reach out to somebody around you, there are dedicated phone lines such as Samaritans (116 123), Silverline (0800 4 70 80 90) and ChildLine (0800 1111) who can offer dedicated help and support for those that are experiencing feelings of loneliness during the festive period.
3. It can often be difficult for individuals to admit they are feeling lonely. If you feel like somebody you know may be struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation during this festive period reach out and check in with them.
4. Offering to spend time with people and ensuring that everyone feels included can also help.
5. Take the time to actively listen to how they are feeling.
6. Ensure that they recognise that there are those around them that wish to support them.
7. Be kind to yourself when recognising the difficulties in your experiences.
8. Reach out to a friend or loved one and express how you feel. It doesn’t have to be physical contact, it could be a quick phone call or using social media or video calls.
9. If you can, try to get out in the fresh air, even if it’s just to walk to the shop. The physical interaction and company that this experience may bring can help to boost your mental wellbeing.
10. It is very likely that someone you know is also feeling lonely this Christmas, so try to always remember that you are never alone, there are so many people out there that wish to help you.
If you feel you or a young person you know needs further support in this area and would like to speak with a trained professional. The team at bMindful would be able to offer that support. Please contact 0161 510 0111 for more information.