In our hyper-connected world communicating with others is easier than ever before. But the digital revolution has not eradicated loneliness and despite younger generations being the most active on social networks, they are surprisingly vulnerable.
We recently conducted a study and found that 27 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds surveyed admitted feeling lonely most of the time, with almost one in four (24 per cent) in the same age group saying they have no one to talk to most of the time.
Transitional periods are often unsettling and young people may throw themselves into studies or work in order to cope with feelings of loneliness. However, this not only masks the issues at hand, it can also compound them, leading to a vicious circle that sees people isolating themselves further. This was reflected in our survey where 29 per cent of 18-24 year olds said they are too busy with work and family commitments to spend time with friends.
Financial issues can also have an effect, with young people struggling to fund a social life while working in entry level jobs or undertaking part-time work while studying. A quarter of 18-24 year olds responding to our survey on loneliness said that they restrict socialising in the winter months due to finances.
Loneliness in the young is an issue that should be taken seriously, mostly because it is a somewhat hidden phenomenon. Young people may appear content, and the perceived excitement surrounding their lives can hide difficult realities.
‘Loneliness is an issue that can affect the physical and mental wellbeing of people of all ages. While addressing your experience of loneliness may take time, taking steps to build new and improve existing connections will help to improve your health and overall wellbeing,’ says Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare.
If you feel lonely, following the tips below will help you get started and move in the right direction:
1. Making new connections is arguably the most obvious way to combat loneliness, but it can really help. Joining a group or class you are interested in will increase your chances of meeting like-minded people to make friends with. For example, joining an exercise club is a great way to socialise and can give your mental health a boost. Increasingly too we are turning to the internet for companionship, with community groups existing in almost every niche interest group you could imagine.
2. Be more open. If you have a fairly big social circle but don’t feel truly close to any of them, the underlying issue may be that you need to open up more. Letting your friend or acquaintance in on your vulnerability or honest opinion can help to deepen your connection with them.
3. Stop comparing yourself with others. The desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is not a new one, however the rise of social media has exacerbated the problem by giving people the chance to constantly compare themselves with their peers. If you’re already feeling lonely, the idea that everyone else’s life is more idyllic than yours can make you feel even more isolated and alone. This can lead us to ‘compare and despair’ – which only exacerbates our negative experiences. Remind yourself that people only share what they want others to see about their lives. Don’t form unrealistic expectations about life and friendships based on what you see online.
4. Keep all lines of communication open. Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them. Or you can stay connected with loved ones online. Talk over Skype, exchange photos and keep up to date with the latest news from friends and family with Facebook or on email.
5. Volunteering is also a popular route to meet people, improve your mental health and do good for wider society. You will not only give something back to your community, but it will also help you to feel more connected, involved and needed. There are lots of volunteering roles that need your skills and experience.
6. Pride comes before a fall. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask for help, companionship or just a chat. They may be feeling lonely too!
7. Take it slow. If you’ve felt lonely for a while, or experience anxiety around new social situations, throwing yourself in at the deep end could exacerbate the problem. Instead, dip your toes into the water first by going to a local café or sports event where you are surrounded by people, and just enjoy sharing their company. Or try a class where you can dive into the activity itself to distract you from the pressure of introducing yourself to people straight away. With loneliness, slow and steady often wins the race.