Feeling lonely? How to deal with feelings of social isolation

More and more people in Australia and around the world are feeling lonely. So how can you avoid being alone and stay connected?

A recent British study found around one million people in the UK go an entire month without having a proper conversation.

A telephone support service called Silver Line fields around 10,000 calls from older people who are lonely and want to chat.

Half of those callers say they have no one else to speak to.

In Australia, too, loneliness is a problem. A survey by Lifeline Australia found more than 80 per cent of us believe society is becoming a lonelier place and around 60 per cent of people said they ‘often feel lonely’ – even if they lived with a partner.

Alan Woodward, Lifeline Research Foundation Executive Director, says while we live in a world that is more technologically connected than ever, old-fashioned care and compassion seems to be waning.

“We’re fundamentally wired as social beings, and seeking support from others helps us navigate the challenges in life,” says Alan.

What is causing our loneliness?

A range of circumstances can lead to loneliness – the sudden death of a spouse, moving to a new place yourself or friends and family moving further away, and the changing nature of a close relationship can all play a part.

A proportion of people who feel lonely live with a partner or children but increasing emotional distance in a relationship can lead to loneliness.

Physical ill-health and disability can also lead to isolation as people find it harder and harder to leave home regularly and to take part in social activities.

“It’s normal for relationships and social supports to change over the course of our lifetimes. We don’t live our lives statically and sometimes changes in life render a need for re-establishing social connection and for looking at skills and techniques to do that,” says Alan.

How to deal with feelings of loneliness

“If you are experiencing loneliness, the first thing is to recognise that this is real and that people do become lonely. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you,” says Alan. “It’s not you, it’s not about you as a person, it’s about what’s happened in terms of your social connections and there are ways to address that.”

Make conscious efforts and take practical steps to be more socially connected. It’s worth the effort. Make an effort to stay in touch with family and friends. Invite them for coffee or dinner. Arrange a time and place to catch-up with friends on a regular basis. If they don’t call you, call them.

Volunteer in your neighbourhood. Get in touch with local charities and see how you can help.

Find out what your local library, community centre, TAFE or community college have on offer. If you’ve wanted to learn a new skill, now’s the time to enrol.

Get out most days. Go for a walk, join an exercise class, do your shopping. Just being in a public place can help alleviate feelings of isolation.

If you feel isolated and need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the website for information. 

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Written by Sarah Marinos