Monday, 18 May 2020

Feeling Lonely

If you follow the blog then you'll know that I've been doing a series called Feeling Your Emotions. You can read the intro post here (and find all the posts under the label "FYE"):

One emotion I haven't covered is loneliness. Since  I'm "moving up" through the scale of the so-called more positive emotions, I decided to do a stand alone post on loneliness. Hopefully it will be useful, especially during this time when we are advised to self- isolate and social distance due to the coronavirus. :)

Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, so if you're having mental/physical issues please seek medical help in addition to reading this. :)

What is loneliness and what does it mean to feel lonely?

Loneliness is described as an "unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation and also "social pain" (Wikipedia) ,and a "distressing experience that occurs when a person's relationships are perceived by themselves to be less in quantity or quality" (Encycloapedia Britannica). So it's a strong feeling that is thought of as negative. I would also describe it as an "empty" feeling.

To me feeling lonely is also to do with feeling sad and down. Like if I'm going through a "down period" in general, I might also feel more lonely.

Why might you feel lonely?

There are many reasons why someone might feel lonely, including lack of close relationships (friendships, family or romantic), being physically isolated (very relevant right now) and not feeling able to relate to those around you (perhaps they're of a different culture or age group to you). So you can be surrounded by people, but still feel lonely and like no one understands you. You may also be in a different life stage to those around you, e.g. you're single while all your friends are in relationships and have families, you're a parent while your friends aren't, or you're a carer to a family member and don't know anyone else in the same situation.

For me personally I have felt lonely due to not having many close friendships and lack of a romantic relationship. If you have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression (which I do) you could also feel lonely because you find it hard to connect with others, you don't go out much, are unable to cope with socialising much or you feel that nobody understands your condition/s.

During this time especially with most countries having some form of lockdown/quarantine we have  to self- isolate and social distance, which of course can make things worse for those with existing mental health conditions. And even people without any previous mental health issues have been feeling depressed and/or anxious during this time. There has been worry that we're all heading into a mental health crisis. It's all quite strange because we're normally  told to get out and socialise with others to lift our mood, and there has been research done that says people who don't feel lonely live longer. Which of course can be depressing if you don't get out much or see many people. But I think that we shouldn't dwell on it too much because research changes all the time, and it's not very helpful if you're in certain situations, especially now. (Although I know trying not to dwell on something is easier said than done!).

I've never had that much of a social life in the past (I mainly socialise with my belly dance group) but in the past couple of years I've been attending courses at a local mental health resource centre and also joined Meetup groups I'd got into a routine of going to Meetup events but of course now with the coronavirus all that has stopped. You can still attend online Meetup events but it's just not the same for me. Its nice to have the option though. Also the resource centre has been good at keeping in touch with us.

Advice/help for loneliness

Here are some articles and posts with more on loneliness, and advice for dealing with it and feeling better.

Note: Some of this stuff won't apply right now during lockdown and isolation, social distancing etc. but hopefully it will be helpful for the future. :)

Coronavirus specific:

Things that I have found helpful are:

Penpalling- I've had penpals since my late teens and have found it a good way to get to know people for those of us who have anxiety/depression or similar conditions and may find it hard to get out and get to know people in person. I've made some good friends. It's an ideal time to try this out now if you'd like to, with everyone staying at home!

Belly dance classes- Most of my social life has been through dancing in the past. Note: Of course, right now all classes/events are cancelled, so taking a class is something to keep in mind for the future. :)

Facebook groups- If you find the right group for you, these can be great for interacting with people and making new friends in a supportive environment.

Courses/groups- I've taken several courses and joining groups through Recovery College and at a local centre in the past couple of years. Courses are obviously not on right now though.

Meetup- Meetup has been good for expanding my social life. All Meetup events are currently hosted online.

I hope you found this post helpful and at least one of the links can be of use to you. :) It's a very stressful time for everyone right now. I hope you're coping as best you can and staying safe. :)

Below I'll share some general links for taking care of your mental health during this time.

Mental health resources from Gabrielle Bernstein:

Also if you're feeling not good enough/"less than" I wrote a post called Feeling Like a "Loser" last year:

Photo: Marks and Spencer car park, Holmbush, Shoreham-by-sea. Moonsparkle 2020.

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