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How to deal with feeling lonely

profile picture of Naomi Humber
Head of Mental Wellbeing, Bupa Health Clinics
19 April 2022
Next review due April 2025

We all feel lonely from time to time. But the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more of us feeling lonely than ever before. Even as restrictions have lifted, those feelings of loneliness remain for many people. Here I explore what makes us feel lonely and what you can do to prevent it becoming a long-term problem.

Why am I lonely?

Feeling lonely is a perfectly normal and natural human emotion. After all, we’re designed to be social creatures. Feeling lonely is a signal that we’re not getting the level of social interaction that we need. What makes you feel lonely is very personal to you though. And it can depend on your own situation and need for social contact.

Being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Some people are perfectly happy to not have many social contacts, and to be in their own company for long periods of time.

Or you may be surrounded by people but still feel lonely. This might happen if you feel like you can’t relate to those around you, or that they don’t understand or care for you.

For some people, loneliness is more to do with how they feel about themselves, rather than the situation they’re in. For example, you might be more likely to feel lonely if you’re lacking in self-confidence, and find it hard to form meaningful relationships.

Who gets lonely?

Certain groups of people may be more likely to feel lonely. This could include single parents, older people and people with a long-term disability. But, loneliness affects people of all ages. In fact, younger people tend to have been hardest hit by feelings of loneliness since the start of the pandemic.

But, there are also certain circumstances that often trigger loneliness. These include the following.

  • Losing a loved one.
  • A relationship or friendship ending.
  • Starting a new university, school or job.
  • Retiring from work.
  • Moving to a new area.
  • Going through something that makes you feel different to your peers – or that they can’t relate to.

Loneliness is closely linked to your mental health. So having a mental health problem can make you more likely to feel lonely. But feeling lonely may also put you at greater risk of certain mental health problems – including depression, anxiety and stress. Feeling lonely is nothing to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. We’re all likely to have some points in our lives when we feel lonely, and that’s OK. But it’s good to acknowledge it. It’s also good to know there are ways to combat loneliness and feel better.

How do you stop feeling lonely?

Here are some ideas you could try to help deal with loneliness. Different things will work for different people – it’s about working out what level of social contact works for you. Just take it one step at a time and try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

  • Try new interests and activities. It might not even be about meeting people straight away. But finding a new hobby or activity that interests you could give you a boost – and help you meet like-minded people.
  • Build connections. This can take time but start small. It might mean just stopping to say hello to neighbours or having a coffee with a colleague. You could join a group or community project, or even an online group, community or forum. Even if you don’t actively participate at first, it can help to give you that sense of belonging.
  • Work on existing relationships. If you think relationships with friends, family or partners could be the issue, focus on strengthening these. Talk to them about how you feel – you might feel much better after sharing your thoughts.
  • Don’t compare yourselves to others. Sometimes looking at other people’s lives on social media can make you feel inadequate and more alone. Remember that many people only share the good things in their lives on social media. It might help to come off it or block certain accounts for a while. Or consider ways to maintain a healthy relationship with social media.
  • Take care of your mental health. Remember how closely linked loneliness and mental health are. If you’re feeling happy and confident in yourself, this may help to reduce feelings of loneliness. Make sure you’re sleeping and eating well. And try to make time to get active and do the things you enjoy.
  • Seek support when you need it. There are many organisations that provide peer support. These include ‘befriender services’ and online communities. Details of some of these are listed below. If loneliness is affecting your mental health, you may also want to consider talking therapies or seek help from your doctor.

Further support

  • Side by Side – Mind’s online community
    www.sidebyside.mind.org.uk
  • Marmalade Trust
    www.marmaladetrust.org
  • Young Minds
    www.youngminds.org.uk
  • Age UK
    www.ageuk.org.uk

  • If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

    profile picture of Naomi Humber
    Naomi Humber
    Head of Mental Wellbeing, Bupa Health Clinics

      • Pandemic one year on: landmark mental health study reveals mixed picture. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, 22 March 2021
      • Two years of life under lockdown. Ipsos & The Policy Institute. www.kcl.ac.uk, published 23 March 2022
      • Guide to loneliness. Marmalade Trust. www.marmaladetrust.org, published June 2020
      • About loneliness. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published July 2019
      • Loneliness. A guide for young people. Young Minds. www.youngminds.org.uk, accessed 22 March 2022
      • How can I manage loneliness? Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published July 2019

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