Loneliness and mental health. Woman sitting on swing at sunset with empty swing next to her.

How to Deal with Loneliness for Better Mental Health

Feeling lonely? It’s a common feeling of isolation, sadness or dissatisfaction with your social connections or relationships.

The feeling may last for a short while or it can remain for long periods impacting your mental and physical wellbeing.

Studies show that loneliness is a growing concern in many countries, including Australia, with one in four people reporting feeling lonely on a regular basis.

For some, Valentine’s Day this month may be a trigger for feelings of loneliness.

Read on to learn more about loneliness, how it can impact your mental health and strategies to overcome feeling lonely.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness is a feeling of isolation, lack of companionship, and unsatisfied social needs. It is often described as an emotional state in which you experience a powerful feeling of emptiness and solitude despite being physically surrounded by people. Loneliness can be a temporary or a long-lasting condition.

Symptoms of loneliness can include:

  • Emotional symptoms – feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and anger.
  • Cognitive symptoms – negative thoughts and beliefs about oneself and others, and a sense of emptiness.
  • Physical symptoms – decreased energy, changes in sleep patterns, and physical aches and pains.
  • Behavioural symptoms – decreased motivation, changes in eating habits, and increased substance abuse.
  • Social symptoms – decreased social interaction and avoidance of social situations.

Symptoms can vary in intensity and duration and can have a significant impact on your overall well-being and quality of life.

What Causes Loneliness?

There are many factors that can contribute to feelings of loneliness, and these can vary greatly from person to person. Some of the most common reasons why people feel lonely include:

Social isolation. One of the most obvious reasons for loneliness is social isolation. When a person does not have regular social interaction or meaningful relationships, they are more likely to feel lonely. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including physical isolation (e.g., living in a remote area), limited mobility (e.g., due to illness or disability), or social anxiety (e.g., difficulty forming relationships).

Life transitions. Life transitions can also lead to feelings of loneliness. These might include moving to a new place, losing a loved one, retirement, or starting a new job. During these times, people may experience a disruption in their social support network, which can lead to feelings of loneliness.

Mental health issues. Mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, can also contribute to feelings of loneliness. For example, someone with depression may feel too exhausted to participate in social activities, or someone with anxiety may feel too anxious to attend social events.

Technology use. While technology has made it easier to stay connected with others, it can also contribute to feelings of loneliness. Excessive use of technology, especially social media, can lead to a decline in face-to-face interaction and can create a sense of comparison and inadequacy.

Lack of social skill. People who lack social skills may struggle to form and maintain relationships, leading to feelings of loneliness. This can be due to a variety of factors, including shyness, poor communication skills, or a lack of experience with social situations.

Physical health. Chronic illness or disability can also limit a person’s ability to participate in social activities, leading to feelings of loneliness. In addition, physical health problems can also disrupt existing relationships, leading to feelings of isolation.

How Does Loneliness Affect Mental Health?

Loneliness can lead to many negative outcomes, including increased anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. In some cases, it can even lead to suicide.

Loneliness also has a significant impact on cognitive function. Studies have found that lonely people are more likely to experience declines in memory and executive function, which are crucial for maintaining independent living. Additionally, loneliness has been linked to decreased immune function, making you more susceptible to illness and disease.

The psychological impact of loneliness is also significant. Loneliness can cause feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and low self-esteem. People who are chronically lonely are more likely to ruminate on their negative experiences and feelings, leading to a cycle of negative thoughts and feelings that further exacerbates their feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness can also affect relationships with others. Chronic loneliness can lead to feelings of social anxiety and paranoia, which can make it difficult for you to trust others. This can result in avoiding social situations and withdrawing from others, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Despite the negative effects of loneliness on mental health, it is a treatable condition. There are strategies that can help alleviate the effects of loneliness, including therapy, support groups, and volunteering. Therapy can help you understand the root causes of loneliness and develop strategies for addressing it. Support groups can provide a sense of community and a safe place to share experiences and feelings. Volunteering can help you feel a sense of purpose and increase your social connections.

Dealing with loneliness for btter mental health. Group of volunteers working together to plant trees.

5 Strategies to Deal with Loneliness for Better Mental Health

While loneliness can be a difficult experience, it is something that can be managed. Here are five strategies for dealing with loneliness for better mental health:

  1. Connect with others. Making an effort to connect with others is a key way to combat feelings of loneliness. This can mean reaching out to friends, family, or co-workers, or seeking out new social connections by joining clubs, groups, or organizations that align with your interests. Volunteering or participating in community activities can also be a great way to meet new people and build relationships.
  2. Practice self-care. Engaging in self-care activities can help improve mental health and reduce feelings of loneliness. This might include exercising, meditating, or taking time to pursue hobbies or interests. Taking care of your physical health, such as eating well and getting enough sleep, is also important for overall well-being.
  3. Practice gratitude. Focusing on what you are grateful for can help shift negative thoughts and improve mood. Taking time each day to reflect on what you are thankful for can help you feel more connected to others and the world around you.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Loneliness can be accompanied by negative self-talk, which can exacerbate feelings of isolation. Practicing self-compassion and speaking kindly to yourself can help improve self-esteem and reduce feelings of loneliness.
  5. Seek professional help. If feelings of loneliness persist or are affecting daily life, it may be helpful to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide support and guidance, and can help you develop coping strategies and skills for building relationships.

It is important to remember that loneliness is a common experience and that there are effective strategies for addressing it. Through connecting with others, engaging in self-care, and seeking professional help, you can reduce feelings of loneliness and improve your mental health. Additionally, practicing gratitude and being kind to yourself can also help you feel more connected to others and the world around you.

When to Seek Help

Feeling lonely is a normal part of life, where you may experience brief periods of sadness or feel disconnected. However, when feelings of loneliness are persistent and overwhelming it’s important to seek help.

If you find that loneliness is interfering with your ability to work or take care of yourself, if you are abusing alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings, or if you are having thoughts of self-harm, it is important to get help immediately.

There are strategies and support available to help you deal with loneliness. A mental health professional can help you uncover any possible mental health causes of your symptoms and provide therapy to teach tips to cope with the effects of loneliness and help you make positive changes.

If you’re struggling with loneliness, contact our caring team to talk about how we can help.