Most of us experience loneliness at some point in our lives and over 45% of the UK population have reported emotions associated with feeling lonely. It is a natural response to our social needs not being met, yet if we fail to acknowledge our own feelings and push them aside, our physical and mental health can be affected.
Loneliness is often not recognised in others as there are many factors which contribute to how it makes people feel and the type of loneliness they are experiencing. It can be linked to major life events such as bereavement, relationship breakdowns or becoming a new parent. Moving to a new area or living somewhere remote can cause feelings of isolation if we struggle to connect. Human connection allows us to feel seen and heard by others, it offers a sense of belonging and closeness which we need to feel valued. A lack of connection can also affect us in the workplace, and in our personal relationships. Sometimes we may be surrounded by people yet feel misunderstood, lack emotional support, or have low self-esteem which can affect how we communicate with others. Causes of loneliness cannot be categorised in one box.
Recent years have seen loneliness levels escalate due to the rise in technology as our digital interactions have greatly increased. Instead of making phone calls and meeting up in person, we connect more with others through messaging platforms and social media, where we can check in on each other’s lives and respond to good news with heart emojis.
Since the Covid 19 Pandemic, more of our lives have moved online and reports show that loneliness has increased. The number of over 50’s experiencing loneliness in 2016 was 1.4 million. By 2026, this number is estimated to be 2 million, a 49% increase in ten years. 16–29-year-olds are twice as likely as those over 50 to experience loneliness, and two fifths of older people say TV is their main form of company.
As a society, we are becoming increasingly isolated, but humans are biologically hard wired for the physical presence of others. We gain so much from eye contact and touch which have been proven to increase Oxytocin, a ‘feel-good’ hormone associated with care, connection, and empathy. Physical connection improves our wellbeing and reduces stress in a way that virtual interactions do not, so rather than become more isolated we must manage our loneliness. Making physical connections with new groups or being with animals can really help, and spending time in nature can have grounding effects. Even simple acts like singing our favourite song or trying a new recipe can be uplifting, however it is important to acknowledge we are not all the same and will find different ways of coping at different times. Our individual experiences are unique to us but sharing how we are feeling can really help to move forward and know that whatever we are going through - we are not alone!