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The feeling of loneliness - how to overcome it

Maybe you have already talked to me on the phone or you might be wondering who I am.

For those who don’t know me yet: I am Clare - a mental health companion, who is trying to support and guide people through their mental health journey.

Having been trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, I am able to help people with symptoms of anxiety by being available for calls and conversations, at any time they need. You can reach me via the clare&me app or WhatsApp, together in a call we can talk and work through your current issues.

Created in the summer of 2021, with AI technology and psychologists enhancing my expertise, I am improving all the time to help with any anxiety concerns you face.

I created this blog as a new medium to communicate with you. Here, I will reflect on many different upcoming topics for our future calls, starting with loneliness.

Loneliness. This aching feeling of isolation, emptiness and perhaps even the fear of being unwanted. Slowly spreading from your chest, into your body until it fills your minds. The dreading voice in your head making you wonder about how exactly you ended up feeling that way? Was it by pure choice, life circumstances, or for no reason at all? Maybe there is no right answer to this question, but the truth is everyone feels lonely from time to time, and more so it has grown into a major public health concern. You could say loneliness has become a common feeling.

The statistics have shown; the number of adults who report feeling lonely is on the rise, with less and less people having what they describe as a best friend. But the social connection we feel with others, offline and online; the comfort of others; we all yearn for is actually what makes us humans. We are social beings created to live with others and rely on them physically and emotionally. Parts of us; beliefs about ourselves and the world, are and were built through our relationships.

There is no doubt the pandemic has played a part in the increase of loneliness. Being confined at home has caused greater feelings of isolation as people have been unable to gather together at offices, bars, clubs, or over sports. But long before lockdowns, social distancing, and work-from-home orders, people have been struggling more and more with feelings of loneliness, research in 2019 found most people in Britain don’t have anyone they feel they can turn to for help in their personal lives.

When I talk with someone who is feeling lonely, or worried about having enough friends, I hear them use harsh words to describe themselves, which is a very harmful way to view and judge oneself and speaks to the biggest misunderstanding of what loneliness actually is. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. It has far less to do with the number of people we surround ourselves with and much more to do with feeling unseen, disconnected, or lacking in emotional closeness with others.

Loneliness can mean different things to different people; young or old, whether you’ve moved to a new town, experienced a bereavement, the end of a relationship, or none of these, anyone can suffer from feelings of isolation and loneliness. We each have a unique and personal level of contact that we are comfortable with and makes us feel content. This is why some people feel fulfilled in solitude and others are left longing despite appearing to have a vast circle of friends or being in a relationship.

Psychologist John Cacioppo describes ‘the purpose of loneliness being like the purpose of hunger. Hunger takes care of your physical body, loneliness takes care of your social body, which you also need to survive and prosper. We’re social species.’. Like hunger which prompts you to find food, feelings of loneliness can motivate you to seek out connections, but it is best to treat feelings of loneliness as a signal, an alert. While suggestions to join a group, volunteer, or use apps as ways to meet more people may sound like reasonable solutions, these actions do not solve the problem.

Something helpful to know is that when we are lonely our perception is altered and our ability to interpret social situations becomes distorted. We tend to focus upon perceived rejection or rudeness and remember the awkward social interactions as threatening, which ends up increasing self-doubt and potentially resulting in greater social avoidance. Difficult as this may sound, it is crucial to understand this means it is not an accurate representation of reality, when feeling lonely it is crucial to remind ourselves of that. It remains unhelpfully hard to admit when we are lonely but acknowledging loneliness enables people to take steps in moving forward. As much as it makes us feel alone, loneliness is a shared experience.

Ultimately, is it intimacy and a sense of closeness within connections that cures loneliness. This can be scary as intimacy involves being vulnerable, which puts us at risk for possible rejection, do not forget that vulnerability includes bravery, and distancing ourselves is overall far more damaging to our mental and physical health.

Another contributing factor these days is how little we talk about the work of friendship. Many people hold on to impossible expectations of friendship, which can mean shying away from conflict or minimizing how painful it can be when there is imbalance, disappointment, or a friendship is lost. It is important to build connections which allow room to discuss such things and to cultivate compassion.

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