7 tips to overcome loneliness

Evidence shows being lonely is bad for your physical and mental health

Loneliness is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and blood pressure, as well as dementia. Photograph: iStock

Loneliness is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and blood pressure, as well as dementia. Photograph: iStock

 

1) Recognise the impact of loneliness
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, a commission originally set up by the UK MP Jo Cox in 2016, loneliness can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and blood pressure, as well as dementia – one study cited by the campaign found that lonely people “have a 64 per cent increased chance of developing clinical dementia”. Having healthy social networks, on the other hand, can decrease risk of mortality and of developing diseases, as well as helping people recover when they are ill – and with 9 million adults describing themselves as “often or always lonely”, it is clear that loneliness has become such a pressing public health concern. Recognising the impact loneliness could have on you is the first step to tackling it.

2) Work out exactly why you are lonely

There are two main factors that can cause loneliness: someone either not having enough basic social contact or, despite being surrounded by people, not feeling understood, listened to or cared for. Working out which profile fits best could give a better idea of how to work through your feelings of loneliness.

3) Speak to someone

Talking to friends and family is an obvious and easy path to tackling loneliness, but if you feel you are lacking, joining a club or socialising through hobbies or interests is a good way to meet new people and increase social interactions. In Ireland, charities such as ALONE and have long recognised the devastating impact loneliness can have and the need to combat it with initiatives such as Befriending Network Ireland.

4) Get online

Spending time online obviously cannot replace all your real-life interactions, but it can help. This might not be the glorious panacea it immediately seems, however, with more than one study finding a link between loneliness and time spent online, so it is important to supplement online chats with actual meet-ups, too.

5) Increase meaningful social contact

It’s all very well joining Twitter or volunteering at your local charity shop, but some research suggests that who you spend your time with matters, too. One study in 2011 found that elderly people who spent time with family were less lonely than those attending social groups with strangers. The perfect excuse to call your mum.

6) Change your thinking

Other studies have shown that changing your thinking altogether might be a more foundational way of dealing with loneliness. One 2010 study found that approaches designed to change “maladaptive thinking” – such as negative beliefs or black-and-white thinking – were, on average, four times more effective than any other kind of approach. Attending CBT might be a good start, the study authors suggest, so perhaps consider speaking with a therapist.

7) Learn to be okay in your own company

Too much solitude would make anyone lonely. But learning to enjoy time on your own can be just as important as a good social life. Filling your time with hobbies that interest you – and, importantly, appreciating the pleasure that these things give you – can go some way to combating loneliness. Watching a film or dining alone may not sound particularly thrilling, but with one 2015 study finding that people consistently underestimate how much they enjoy their own company, you might have more fun than you expect. – Guardian