How to overcome loneliness
Everything you need to know about how social isolation can affect you, and how to deal with loneliness.
We’re living in an age where it seems almost impossible to be alone. Texts, tweets, email, Messenger, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Instagram and TikTok. The list of ways people can reach out to us goes on and on. So why do 1 in 4 Australians admit to feeling lonely?
Loneliness has very little to do with how many friends you have, how popular you are at work or how many likes you get on a Facebook or Instagram post.
“Loneliness is about not having quality, meaningful relationships,” explains clinical psychologist at Swinburne University of Technology, Dr Michelle Lim.
“You may have 1 relationship that fulfils your needs, so you don’t feel lonely. Another person may have 5 relationships, but still feels lonely.”
In short, it’s about quality, not quantity.
To overcome loneliness, and live healthier and more connected lives, we need to understand it and the risks it can pose to our physical and mental health.
Why do we feel lonely?
At different life stages, or after a specific change in circumstance - like losing a job, a relationship ending or moving house - we can all experience feelings of loneliness.
Research tells us that age can also be a factor. Young Australians, aged 16-25, report high levels of loneliness that coincide with big transitions – leaving school, starting a first job, and moving away from family and friends.
People aged 55-64 years report a drop in social support and increased levels of loneliness, perhaps as they retire or become less active.
According to Relationships Australia, women are most likely to feel lonely between the ages of 25-29, also the average age they’re most likely to become a parent.
Relationship status can also be a factor in how lonely you feel.
Married people are less likely to be lonely than those people who are single, separated or divorced, and single parents report high levels of loneliness.
How loneliness can affect our health
If someone feels lonely it’s unlikely they would go to the GP to ask for help or advice. There is a stigma in admitting we feel lonely, and people find it hard to see loneliness as a serious issue. But, research into just how big an impact loneliness can have on our physical health, says something very different.
Studies suggest that feeling lonely poses the same risks as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being morbidly obese. According to Dr Lim, people who are lonely are “…twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease”.
Other physical symptoms connected to loneliness can include:
- high blood pressure
- cardiovascular disease
Not surprisingly loneliness also has an effect on our mental health and wellbeing and people who feel lonely may also experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How to overcome loneliness
While the physical effects of feeling lonely might be surprising, it makes sense building strong social relationships can increase your wellbeing by more than 50%.
Here are 7 useful tips to help us stop feeling lonely in our day to day lives.
1. Acknowledge how you’re feeling
Admitting you’re lonely can be tough. It’s not an easy thing to say out loud. But trying to understand how you feel and give your feelings the attention they deserve is a good place to start.
2. Talk to a professional
Talking to a counsellor about how you feel can help you find ways to cope with loneliness. It can also help identify any underlying issues that might be making it hard for you to engage or connect with others. Talk to your GP who can refer you to the right heath care professional or service and can get you set up with a mental healthcare plan.
3. Make some small talk
A simple “good morning” to someone at the bus stop, chatting to another dog walker, or learning the name of your local barista, can help you feel seen, and help build confidence in talking to others. Even small connections can make us feel less lonely.
5. Find something you enjoy
Think about something that brings you joy – like gardening, chess, quilting, walking, etc – and find a local group that can connect you to other people with the same passion. While joining a new group can feel intimidating, sharing an interest can help make socialising easier.
6. Get a pet
Pet owners report feeling less lonely, and new dog owners say they feel less lonely within 3 months of getting a dog. Walking a dog is also a good way of meeting others and gives you something to talk about and focus on, taking the pressure off you.
7. Look after yourself
Eat a healthy diet, do regular exercise and develop a regular sleep pattern. Taking the time to be kind to yourself is also a way of saying ‘I feel worthy of good things and happiness’.
Getting help with loneliness
We're trying to make it as easy and fast as possible for you to access the mental wellbeing support you need. PSYCH2U mental wellbeing and navigation services are unique to HCF, giving eligible HCF members* access to video consultations with psychologists, psychiatrists and other allied health professionals.
GP2U allows users to speak to a doctor through video, giving access to information about mental or physical health without having to visit a clinic. All HCF members have access to online GP consultations through GP2U for free^ for a limited time. See hcf.com.au/gp2u for offer end date.
HCF members can also access a range of online courses through THIS WAY UP⁺, a not-for-profit initiative developed by experienced psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, to help you take control of your mental wellbeing. Clinically proven to help, the courses understand and improve mental challenges like stress, insomnia, worry, anxiety and depression.
Where to find more mental health help:
First published in Health Agenda magazine
Updated May 2021
How to deal with depression
Don’t deal with depression alone. There are many ways to lessen symptoms to live a healthier life.
Am I depressed?
While emotional ups and downs are normal, there’s a big difference between feeling sad and suffering with depression.
WHAT CAUSES PANIC ATTACKS
Find out what causes panic attacks, what are the signs and how to deal with the symptoms.
Men and depression
What are the causes and symptoms of depression in men and what can friends do to help? Here are some expert tips.
This communication contains information which is copyright to The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia Limited (HCF). It should not be copied, disclosed or distributed without the authority of HCF. Except as required by law, HCF does not represent, warrant and/or guarantee that this communication is free from errors, virus, interception or interference. All reasonable efforts have been taken to ensure the accuracy of material contained on this website. It’s not intended that this website be comprehensive or render advice. HCF members should rely on authoritative advice they seek from qualified practitioners in the health and medical fields as the information provided on this website is general information only and may not be suitable to individual circumstances or health needs. Please check with your health professional before making any dietary, medical or other health decisions as a result of reading this website.
⁺This service is not affiliated or associated with HCF in any way. You should make your own enquiries to determine whether this service is suitable for you. If you decide to use this service, it'll be on the basis that HCF won't be responsible, and you won't hold HCF responsible, for any liability that may arise from that use.