A growing epidemic, loneliness affects almost one in 10 people in Ireland. Following on from our last blog on Tackling Loneliness in the Elderly, we will be looking into tackling loneliness in young adults.
“The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness reported 43% of 17 to 25-year-olds using Action for Children — a charity helping vulnerable and neglected young people — reported feeling isolated”.
The Causes of Loneliness
Life is filled with obstacles that can challenge and overwhelm us. The changes that we make or are made for us can also cause a lot of stress that in turn lead us to isolating ourselves to try and cope with it.
Here are some example of why people might be lonely:
Work related - your job could be too fast paced for you and overall far too stressful.
Leaving home, moving to another city/country and going to college
Living in remote rural areas or in urban areas without a strong sense of community can lead to isolation and suffering an illness can also all lead to feelings of loneliness.
There is also such a stigma around loneliness that people do not alway realise. Even if you have lots of friends and a great social life; you can still suffer from loneliness. You could be feeling misunderstood or feeling you have lost your identity whilst not feeling comfortable to talk about how you feel to those around you which in turn can make you feel isolated.
“Loneliness does not come from having no people around, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible”. Carl Jung
The Effects of Loneliness
Loneliness may be as bad for a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Some of the many health effects of isolation and loneliness include:
Higher levels of stress hormones and inflammation.
Heart disease, including high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.
A heightened risk of developing a disability.
Increased vulnerability to chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes.
“Loneliness can impact your health in distressing ways — can make it harder to sleep, increase your blood pressure and make social interactions difficult, and a new study from King's College London, Duke University and the University of California found that lonely young adults are at a higher risk for mental health problems and negative coping mechanisms”. - Bustle
The researchers from these colleges analyzed the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, an existing dataset of more than 2,200 young adults born in the 1990s. The questions participants were asked were:
How often do you feel that you lack companionship?
How often do you feel left out?
How often do you feel isolated from others?
How often do you feel alone?
Based on their answers about how frequently they felt alone, researchers were able to determine a loneliness score. Between 23 and 31 percent of participants reported experiencing the feelings ‘some of the time’ and 5 to 7 percent said they often felt lonely. Those participants were more likely to have experienced anxiety, depression, alcohol or cannabis dependence, and self-harm. They were also more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, and have unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. The researchers didn't find any associations between gender or socioeconomic status and loneliness — millennials from all backgrounds were susceptible.
Spend Less Time Online
Dr Grant Blank, a survey research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, points out that social media and the internet can be a boon and a problem. They are beneficial when they enable us to communicate with distant loved ones, but not when they replace face-to-face contact. "People present an idealised version of themselves online and we expect to have social lives like those portrayed in the media," says Challis. Comparing friends' seemingly perfect lives with ours can lead us to withdraw socially.
Prioritise self-care by taking time to meditate. There are numerous mindfulness techniques that you can learn. A variety of apps have developed over the last while has helped promote wellness, a variety of these apps are here
Start Off Small
Start to overcome lonely feelings by making small talk with the people who you interact with every day. That might be a shop assistant, a work colleague or your flatmate.
Get started with topics of conversation that most people are comfortable talking about, such as what’s happening in the news, in your area, or even just commenting on the weather.
Start small talk with a question about the other person, such as asking how they are, and try to keep the conversation going.
Joining Clubs / Societies
Get involved in clubs, societies or volunteering opportunities that interest you. Not only will you meet new people, you will be more likely to meet people with the same interests and passions as you.
If you want to learn something new you could even take evening classes.
Reach Out To Friends
Instead of waiting for people to contact you, reach out to friends or people you know and ask if they'd like to do something. Try your best to stay in touch and check in with them regularly.
Talk To Someone
If there is something specific happening in your life, which makes you feel lonely, don’t be afraid to seek out help and support for it. Click here for details of support organisations.
Talk to someone you trust about how you feel – sharing your feelings and worries with others can help lessen the loneliness or feeling of isolation you are going through.
If you find it hard to spend any time alone, think about seeing a counsellor to explore the reasons why you are so uncomfortable spending quality time with yourself.
Helplines can also reduce loneliness, at least in the short term. One in four men who call the Samaritans mention loneliness or isolation, and Get Connected is a free confidential helpline for young people, where they can seek help with emotional and mental health issues often linked to loneliness. There are also support services on websites such as Mind's that can remind you you're not alone.
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