Loneliness is not the same as being alone – we can be alone without feeling lonely, and on the other hand we can be surrounded by hundreds of people and still feel lonely. If we feel lonely it is probably because we don’t have the kind of close personal relationships that make us feel secure, comforted, and content. If this sounds like you, why not find out more about loneliness and what you can do about it.

Do I have a problem with loneliness?

Although other people might have an opinion on the subject, you are the only person who can decide if you are lonely. It is not necessarily about how many friends you have or how much time you spend alone. Loneliness is how you feel about that – are you unhappy about it? If so, then it’s time to do something about it. Overcoming loneliness can be difficult, especially if you are shy, but you can tackle it in small steps.

Why am I lonely?

There are many reasons why you might feel lonely. It might be practical issues – like if you’ve recently lost a loved one (if so, you might want to find out more about grief) or just moved to a new area and don’t know anyone. It might be because you lack the confidence or the "know-how" to meet new people and form new friendships. It might be a result of other psychological problems. People who suffer from mental health problems like depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder often become withdrawn and isolated, cutting themselves off from others. And the way we think is very important. When we are lonely, we often make it worse by thinking negatively – "there’s something wrong with me", "I’ll always be alone", or "no-one else feels like this".

Sometimes people feel so lonely that it seems like the only way they’ll feel better is by hurting or even killing themselves. If this is the case for you, please seek urgent help.

What can I do about it?

Self-help

The first step to overcoming loneliness is to think about why you’re feeling like this. Different problems require different solutions.

Do you have enough social contact in your life?

Do you have people you can talk to, go out with, ask for help from? If not, then increasing your social support through building relationships with other people might be your first task.

Take Action: Build Social Connections to reduce loneliness

You’re less likely to feel lonely if you have good social support.

Use the Social Connections tool to identify the people in your life who you can spend more time with and who can offer you different kinds of support.

When you’re starting out you can focus on spending more time with those closest to you. Over time, you can work on building a wider support network by reaching out to people who you do not see as often or have lost contact with.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go. 

Do you worry that you don’t have the "know-how" to develop relationships?

Is it hard for you to get conversations going, to think of things to say? Are you awkward and uncomfortable in social situations? If so, then doing some social skills training may be helpful. Although you can read about it from books and on the internet, the only real way to learn these skills is in person. Enquire at your local community health centre or neighbourhood house – many of them run social support groups.

Do you find that negative thoughts get in the way?

Are you always predicting the worst or putting yourself down? Remember that negative thinking is at the heart of loneliness: it is not being alone, it is what we think about being alone. The more we can think positively about ourselves, our lives, other people, and our futures, the more happy and productive we will be. Being pessimistic and expecting the worst runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; expect the worst and the worst will happen. Helpful thinking can change the way you feel.

Take Action: Change The Thoughts that contribute to loneliness

The way that you think influences the way you feel. Thinking in an unhelpful way about yourself and how you think other people view you, can make it more likely that you will withdraw from others and be lonely.

Use the Challenging Thoughts tool to help you to identify whether you are thinking in an unhelpful way, then start to challenge and reassess unhelpful thoughts.

When you’re starting out it’s a good idea to apply the helpful thinking tools at a time when you’re not feeling overwhelmed with loneliness. Once you’ve learned the skills you can apply them during more troubling times. With practice, you’ll be able to apply these skills day-to-day as the need arises, no matter how you’re feeling.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go.

Do you have enjoyable activities in your life (especially things you do with others)?

These may be hobbies or interests, sports, or voluntary work. Being with other people while you’re doing an activity together is a great way to build relationships without putting too much pressure on yourself.

Take Action: Reduce loneliness through Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities

Connecting with others might be hard at first, but doing it through enjoyable and rewarding activities will make it easier.

Use the Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities tool to identify activities and plan how to engage in them. Choose activities that will help you to connect with others.

You can use this tool to help plan and build connections with others, or once you have already started. You can also use it whenever you get stuck for ideas for activities.

In the meantime, try to look for opportunities to get involved with others and say "yes" when the opportunity arises (even if it is a bit scary). And when you’re alone, try and enjoy yourself and feel comfortable. If you can enjoy and value your own company, there’s a good chance others will too.