We all feel lonely from time to time, however, persistent loneliness appears to be on the increase. This is especially true of the younger generation.
There are several factors that may be causing this increase among the younger generation, including changes in the way we live and increased use of social technology. However, happily, there are also several ways to overcome loneliness.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is not necessarily just spending a lot of time alone; it is more a sense of social disconnection, often accompanied by social awkwardness and feelings of inadequacy. While lonely people often spend a lot of time in solitude, it is just as possible to feel lonely in a crowd of people. Conversely, many people are quite happy when they are alone.
Why are we getting lonelier?
Human beings are social animals that have always existed in close-knit groups. Because this is our nature, we need to feel a sense of belonging to a group to feel safe and valued. Feeling isolated is bad for our health and well-being and can lead to feelings of fear and stress. This makes sense when you consider that throughout our evolution, we have depended on each other to survive. The social pain of isolation is as real to us as physical pain.
It is possible that changes in the way we live today have caused the increase in people’s feeling of loneliness. In modern society, we live in nuclear family units, often a long distance from our extended family and friends. We may also move house and job, more frequently, which disrupts our social connections. Our growing reliance on social media may also be a contributing factor. This is because these technologies foster superficial relationships rather than deeper, more rewarding ones. These factors may especially affect the younger generation.
Why is the younger generation lonelier?
When we think of loneliness, we often think of older people living alone with few family members nearby. However, a recent survey found that surprisingly, younger people often feel even lonelier than older people.
The study showed that younger people considered themselves lonelier, while those over 50 years old claimed to be the least lonely. For men, loneliness peaked at 73% in the 18-30 age ranges, while the loneliest age range for women was 31-40, at 83%.
One reason that younger people may be more likely to feel lonely is that they tend to use social media more frequently than the older generation. It is also possible that the kind of life changes younger people often make, such as starting university or moving to a new area, are key reasons why the younger generation feel lonely.
4 tips to help you overcome loneliness
Loneliness can be difficult to overcome and as it has many different causes, it is hard to find a technique that suits everyone. However, the following tips offer a few ideas for how to go about broadening your social circle and beginning to feel more connected.
1. Try to overcome the desire to stay home alone.
Though it can be difficult, it is vital to get out in the world if you are going to feel less isolated. Try joining groups where you will find people that have a shared interest. Volunteering for a cause you believe in is also a great way of getting out and meeting new people. Focus on being interested in others and asking questions to break the ice and get to know others.
2. Fight the urge to ruminate over everything you did or said
Thinking too much about past social situations can make it harder for you to go out and be social again. If you make a faux pas, remember that people probably didn’t even notice the comment that you are dwelling on. Most people are too busy thinking about their own actions to worry much about what you did or said.
We all tend to analyze our performance in social situations but remember no one is perfect all the time. If you notice negative self-talk, such as ‘I am so stupid, I always say the wrong thing,’ try to switch your attention to something good that happened in the social situation.
3. Nurture your support network.
Even if you only have one friend to start with, you can build on it. We don’t need a huge list of friends to feel connected, just one or two people that ‘get’ us is enough. Don’t be hesitant to talk to people, even if you feel awkward at first.
Being genuinely interested or curious about other people will make them more likely to open up to you. This increases your chances of developing a good relationship with them. For younger people, it is important to make time for real-world relationships rather than relying too heavily on social technologies.
4. Take care of yourself
Being kind to yourself improves your self-esteem and can help you overcome social anxieties. Write a list of your positive traits and accomplishments to boost your self-confidence. It is also important to take the time to relax, get some exercise, eat well and treat yourself as you would a good friend.
If you have any other tips for overcoming feelings of loneliness, please share them with us.