From loneliness to connection - Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
‘Loneliness’, a feeling that the pandemic brought into sharp focus, is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022. In this article, we explore what it is and suggest ideas for alleviating loneliness.
Most of us have felt lonely at some point in our lives. Feelings of loneliness are personal and everyone’s experience of it will be different, but it’s commonly described as the absence of social contact and relationships that we find rewarding or meaningful.
It’s more prevalent than you might think, but it isn’t spoken about much because people often feel ashamed of what others will think of them if they admit that they are lonely. But being able to recognise and say that you are lonely is a strength - not a weakness – and is the first step to making positive changes that will benefit your health and wellbeing.
We’re here to assure you that experiencing loneliness is common, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you and it doesn’t mean that you are any less worthy or deserving of the kinds of connections you want in your life, and as ironic as it may sound, you are not alone in feeling lonely. Whether you’re reading this as someone who feels lonely or you know someone who does, we hope you’ll find it useful in helping to alleviate the feeling.
It’s important to remember that loneliness is not the same as being alone. Some are perfectly content with spending lots of time in their own company and this doesn’t negatively impact their sense of belonging and connectedness, while others would feel lonely doing the same.
It’s also true that some people have lots of social interaction and still experience loneliness because they don’t feel understood or supported in their relationships. It could even be the case that someone feels lonely while simultaneously feeling supported by those around them.
There isn’t one single cause of loneliness. The answer to why someone starts to feel lonely could be clear or it could seem to arise for no obvious reason at all. Some life events can lead to heightened loneliness, such as bereavement, receiving a mental health diagnosis, starting a new job or relocating.
Perhaps someone feels they are changing in a way that is different to their current group of friends, their interests are no longer the same or they’re questioning their identity in some way – these are all experiences that can feel disorientating while things are being figured out.
Whatever the circumstances, there are a range of things you can do to more feel connected, not only to others, but to yourself, too.
Treat our suggestions as prompts and then start small – which one of these resonates the most that you could try soon and adapt to meet your needs?
Start with you
It could be that you are conflating spending time alone with being lonely, when the two are not the same. You don’t have to be with others all the time to feel good about yourself, or to enjoy yourself! Becoming comfortable in your own company could be the very thing you need to reduce the feeling of loneliness and to feel more confident in your relationships. Try scheduling some intentional time alone doing things you love or that help you re-energise. Do you love film? Go for a solo trip to the cinema. Feeling exhausted? Create your dream night in. Confused about how you’re feeling? Try journaling.
Keep in touch with those around you
This might sound simple but maintaining social contact with those you’re closest to is key. As so many of us update our lives on social media, it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking we’ve caught up with people through a picture they’ve shared, when we may not have spoken to them in a while. Why not arrange a catch up with someone today?
Join a group with shared interests or experiences
Maybe you don’t share interests with the people you see most regularly, or you want to connect with others who are going through something similar to you; maybe you haven’t quite found your tribe yet or you want to make new friends. Find a group – virtual or in-person - that brings together like-minded people. From running clubs to book groups, creative writing classes to choirs, LGBTQIA+ communities to gaming groups – there's something out there for everyone and if not, you could be the one who creates it! To connect with fellow University of London students, join our online Clubs and Societies.
There’s a lot to be said for showing kindness to others when you’re in need of some yourself. Is there a local volunteer group related to a cause you care about that you could dedicate some time to? Or a relative who could do with an extra hand around the house? If you’re stuck for ideas but this resonates with you, you could become a TalkCampus volunteer, providing online mental health support to students.
Create moments of connection
This suggestion applies to several scenarios. If there are people in your life that you care about but want to connect with more deeply, invite them to spend some quality time together to share things that mean a lot to you. Short and sweet social interactions can also make a big difference to someone’s day – you could offer a compliment to the person taking your coffee order or ask the person you’re serving how they are, or if you don’t feel comfortable talking, a simple smile at someone.
Find stories you can relate to
If you don’t feel able to talk about what you’re going through with those around you, then find others who have shared their stories and made them available to the world. There will almost definitely be podcasts, books, online videos, albums, artworks, films and TV programmes that you can relate to. Have a quick search on the topic today, it could help you to make sense of things and show you that you’re not alone in your experiences. To get started, you could listen to The World Class Podcast.
Share how you’re feeling
Instead of withdrawing from those you care about, open up to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel able to do that with someone you know, then join TalkCampus today to connect with students from all over the world.
Be someone that others can approach
Community has a valuable role in addressing loneliness. Are you someone who doesn’t feel lonely but has a feeling that someone in your circle feels alone? Maybe they’re not talking as much as they used to in the group, or you haven’t seen them in a while. Sometimes people need a nudge or a reminder that they’re wanted, so if you’re able to, reach out to them. Actively involve them in the group conversation or send them a private message asking how they’re doing and offering a chat.
Don't forget, there a wealth of resources on caring for your health on the Wellbeing page of your Student Portal, so be sure to take a look this Mental Health Awareness Week.