Written by Allegra Frunz, Provisional Psychologist
Feeling lonely? You are not alone. 1 in 2 Australians are feeling more lonely since COVID-19.
Loneliness is the common negative feeling we get when there is a discrepancy between the relationships we would like, and the ones we feel like we have. It is a subjective feeling, it’s not about the number of people we interact with, or the time spent with other people versus the time we spend alone. The quality of our relationships is more important than the quantity. Therefore when people are feeling lonely, it is common that they don’t feel understood by others, or that they don’t hold meaningful relationships. This feeling of loneliness provides us with a signal to seek out others, with the goal of reducing this distress.
Long term loneliness can have significant impacts on our brain, immune system, lifespan, mental health and ability to cope with stressful situations. When we become lonely we start to act and see the world differently, we are more likely to notice threats in our surroundings, expect that we will be rejected and become judgemental of the people we interact with. People we talk to can feel this, and may start to move away from us, continuing our cycle of loneliness. These unhelpful thoughts, negative beliefs about others and the world underpin our loneliness. One way to target loneliness is to change our perception of the world, however this is often easier said than done and it may be helpful to reach out to a health professional who can support you through this change.
We can also work on improving the quality of our existing relationships, by building intimacy with those around us. By increasing positive emotions and social behaviours it encourages deeper and more meaningful connections with others.
A few tips for staying connected (particularly during COVID-19):
● Focus on your current social network rather than trying to make new friends, as this can be daunting.
● Enhance the quality of your interactions, for example by putting away distractions like phones and giving others your full attention.
● Social media helps many people, but it can also increase disconnection. Having a healthy offline life is important – perhaps invite trusted online friends to catch up offline.
● Embrace opportunities to join, volunteer or participate. This connects us to other people, unites us in a shared activity, and provides an easy way to get to know people better.
● Reach out to friends from the past. Many people welcome such efforts and the feeling that we care.