Loneliness and mental health

Most of us have felt loneliness at some stage in our lives and some of us feel it more acutely than others. Being lonely isn’t a mental health issue in itself, but it can make us feel down and it can lead to existing psychological health issues getting worse.

Emotional issues such as anxiety and depression tend to make us feel less confident and more socially awkward and this can lead to us not communicating with friends and thus becoming more anxious and depressed. 

Life events like death, illness, leaving friends and family and moving to a new town, relationship breakups or changing or losing a job can make us feel disorientated and subsequently cut off or lonely. 

People need people. It differs from individual to individual, but the innate primeval drive ‘to belong’ is strong. The belonging drive is very complex in human beings but most of us have a basic longing to be liked, valued and even loved. 

During recent times we have been obliged to isolate. It comes as no surprise to me that many people have enjoyed the respite of interacting so frequently with others. Some people who suffer with social anxiety have actually found the isolation restful. 

“We all require human contact but finding out how much, and in which way you personally require it, is the question.”

By becoming self-aware, and acknowledging and accepting your genuine preferences, you can do what you want to do rather than what you think you should, must or ought to do. 

Some of us have lots of friends, some of us have one or two. Some contact each other very frequently, while many of us talk occasionally. Lots of us like big groups and lots like one on one chats. There is no right number and it’s not to say it’s good to be gregarious and bad to be introverted - it’s good to be yourself.

In terms of making friends, I feel acceptance of yourself and who you feel realistically genuine with, is the key. Once you’ve found friends who you are relaxed with, who you sit really easily next to, value them and nurture those friendships. 

If you are feeling lonely, I would advise people to be with other people and to try and connect in an authentic and understanding ‘true to yourself’ way. If you want more friends, it might be a good idea to try and join in, share and try to empathise. 

Remember, you don’t need to like everyone or to be liked by everyone, or have huge numbers of friends. Having two or three close friends that will actually try to understand your thoughts and feelings, while putting their own stuff to one side, is extremely valuable and deeply comforting.

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