We Need to Talk About Loneliness | Nat
Loneliness is a feeling that people fear, a feeling that people try everything they can to avoid, but also a feeling that a lot of people have experienced, yet one that not often gets spoken about. It’s a feeling that is commonly associated with the elderly or individuals who live in isolated places but in reality, it has no boundaries. Even the definition of loneliness “sadness because one has no friends or company” seems simplistic and somewhat disheartening. Is it any wonder that in a world where popularity reigns supreme that more people don’t admit to feeling lonely!? The truth is anyone can feel lonely. You may be in a room surrounded by friends and family that you love and still feel lonely. At different points in my life, this was me. I wanted to write this blog to raise awareness about loneliness but also to reassure anyone that is struggling that it’s OK to admit to feeling lonely.
To give you some context, I’m someone who loves making meaningful connections with others. I’m not one for big social situations but give me a long walk where I can have a deep conversation with a friend and I’m in my element. I’m one of those rare people nowadays who never choose to work from home because I crave being around people and thrive off my interactions with my colleagues in the office. Like many people, Lockdown was a tough time for me.
I live with my mum and stepdad in a little village just outside Bristol, where my school friends have all moved away and I hardly know anyone in the area anymore. Although a scary, uncertain time, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was some excitement about being put on furlough during a heatwave. For the first time since leaving university, I didn’t have to work! I had the “freedom” to do what I wanted, with the only thing on my agenda was to sit in the garden and get a nice tan.
However, that excitement soon turned into restlessness and extreme feelings of loneliness. Although I’d still speak to friends on the phone, had countless obligatory lockdown quizzes and even attempted some virtual cook-along, after I’d come off them with deep feelings of loneliness. These interactions always felt too short for me. Everyone would leave the call and I’d still feel unfulfilled, and the feelings of loneliness heightened. I never felt like I was connecting with anyone on the same level that you do when you’re together in person. I was left alone and waiting for a message, a call, or even another terrible quiz just to alleviate some of the feelings of loneliness. Looking back, probably one of the unhealthiest things I was doing that exacerbated how I felt was seeking connection through social media. I’d scroll and scroll only to see posts of what I perceived to be my friends enjoying their time on Furlough with their other halves – if there’s anything that makes you feel lonelier it’s seeing others happy and connected. There was a point where I couldn’t cry any more tears and decided to speak to a therapist. In this safe environment, I was able, to be honest about how I was feeling and talk about emotions that I had kept in for years and that I needed to talk about to heal. Therapy allowed me to connect with someone who could provide the support and understanding that I needed and to connect to myself for the first time in years.
Can I ask you a question? If you could do anything, with unlimited money and the freedom to travel anywhere in the world, what would your perfect day look like?
I had this discussion at lunchtime with a couple of friends, and it threw me a little. I found myself trying to think up something extraordinary—a grand experience involving sailing across the Caribbean on a luxurious yacht with all my friends. We would embark on thrilling scuba diving adventures, and tuck into a delicious 5-course tasting menu while watching the sunset on a pristine, white sandy beach...Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?
But now, let's reimagine this perfect day where you must experience it alone. Would it still retain its title as the “Perfect Day”? Honestly, I don’t believe it would.
If I had all the money in the world, be in the most breathtaking location imaginable but unable to share that experience with anyone, would I be happy? I’m not sure I would be. It’s the experiences we share with others that truly enrich our lives.
It may come as no surprise then that social connection is included as one of the four key components ofc good mental well-being. Forming meaningful relationships play a vital role in establishing a sense of belonging and self-worth, as well as providing emotional support during challenging times.
Loneliness, on the other hand, has a huge impact on our mental health, contributing to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem What’s more, it can lead to a cycle that heightens the feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness has a profound impact on our self-esteem and confidence to interact with others. This, in turn, often triggers negative thoughts and self-talk, further lowering our mood. One of the significant hurdles with loneliness is the perceived lack of support, which means that we are less likely to talk about our emotions. Unfortunately, this often makes things worse and consequently, poor mental health often results. The fear of social interactions intensifies, as we start viewing ourselves as a burden or a source of negativity. This heightened anxiety and depression contribute to feelings of shame, leading us to hide our true emotions. Consequently, we create a facade that further amplifies the sense of disconnection, even when surrounded by others. This reinforces the cycle of loneliness.
One of the aspects of loneliness that I found to be the most difficult was the shame that came with it. The fact that I had friends that I spoke to every day, and I knew that I could reach out to them at any time, yet I still felt lacking in some way and felt needy. I didn’t feel like I could share my experience with anyone as I believed that I shouldn’t be feeling this way as I had friends that I could talk to. I even found myself comparing myself to others – no one else seemed to be struggling with loneliness so why should I?
However, by not being honest about what I was experiencing and my emotions the feelings of loneliness grew. I’d then start to overthink the interactions that I did have with friends, worrying that they found me boring because I didn’t have anything to talk about. The anxiety then continued after the calls, and I’d overthink every conversation and friendship. I became fearful that if I wasn’t entertaining or interesting enough I’d lose my friends and feel even lonelier.
By masking how we feel and not talking about our struggles, we inadvertently worsen our loneliness. When we are not honest about how we truly feel, it becomes difficult to establish genuine connections with others and with ourselves.
We are unable to connect because we aren’t being honest about how we are truly feeling. By not being true to others, we’re not being true to ourselves, and we will never be able to properly connect. True connection requires us to be true to ourselves and others, creating an environment of trust and understanding.
Speaking to a therapist was such a transformative experience for me. It was the first time I allowed myself to be truly honest about my feelings, and it marked the beginning of feeling a genuine sense of connection and the feelings of loneliness lessened. During one of my first therapy sessions, my therapist recommended that I watch Brené Brown’s TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability – Which, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it! It has completely changed my outlook and is the reason why I am doing this blog today. Brené talks about how the fear of not being worthy of connection often holds us back from experiencing true connection with others. However, the key to genuine connection lies in allowing ourselves to be truly seen. We must therefore embrace vulnerability. It requires us to have the courage to let go of what we think we should be and instead be completely authentic and true to ourselves.
If you’re feeling lonely right now, please know that it’s OK. You’re not alone in this experience. You are worthy. You are enough. There is power in being vulnerable and reaching out to someone to share how you are truly feeling.
Please let’s talk more and be kind always.