What is loneliness?

Loneliness – that feeling that you’re on your own in the world – is a really hard thing to experience. But you're not alone in feeling lonely! Recent research from ReachOut has found that one in two young people are stressed or worried about feeling lonely.

You don’t have to be physically alone to feel lonely. It can also happen when you’re surrounded by friends or family. The good news is: loneliness isn’t something you have to manage by yourself. First, it’s good to clarify what loneliness feels like, then you can try some strategies to make you feel more connected to other people.

What does loneliness feel like?

Sometimes accepting that you’re feeling lonely can be really tough, especially if you don’t understand why you’re feeling that way.

When you’re lonely, you might be feeling:

  • isolated or cut off from others

  • sad or down

  • like nobody cares about you

  • like everyone is too busy to talk to you

  • like there’s something wrong with you

  • a strong desire for connection and meaningful relationships.

If you’re feeling lonely, you might notice:

  • you’re more worried or anxious in social situations because you feel like you have no one to talk to

  • you’re texting or calling a lot of people to try and feel connected

  • you’re struggling to sleep

  • your appetite has changed

  • you’re picking up unhealthy habits like excessive gaming or abusing drugs and alcohol

  • your mood, mental health or wellbeing is affected.

Why do people feel lonely?

Just because you’re feeling lonely, it doesn’t mean you’re ‘different’ or ‘weird’: in fact, it means you have more in common with the people around you than you might realise. Because loneliness is so common, it makes sense that there are also lots of different reasons why people feel lonely. Here are a few of the main ones:

  • Feeling distant from friends. Ever felt like you’re not really connected to your friends, even though they’re just one tap of a button away? It’s very common to feel this way.

  • Being single. Whether it’s your friends all getting into relationships and dating, constantly seeing dating shows on TV, or feeling pressure from your extended family to bring someone home, it can feel like romantic relationships are at the front of everyone’s mind. It can be tough feeling like you’re missing out on something.

  • Not fitting in. Maybe you have different interests to the people at your school. Or maybe you just dress differently. In any case, feeling like you don’t fit in can make the symptoms of loneliness even worse and can mean it’s even more difficult to make friends and feel connected.

  • Looking after a parent or sibling. Being a carer for someone close to you who is sick or has a disability can often make you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. After all, a lot of your friends won’t know what it’s like to have a brother with Down syndrome or a mother with bipolar disorder, so being a carer can leave you feeling like you can’t really talk to people – let alone have them over for dinner or a sleepover.

How illness, disability and racism can cause loneliness

Sometimes loneliness can be caused by something else that’s going on in our lives. Here are some of the main issues that can cause loneliness:

  • Mental illness. Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression can make people feel very lonely. Having a mental health issue can make you feel anxious about seeing others, so you might spend more time alone. Or it can lead to insomnia, which in turn can make you feel tired, irritable and lonely.

  • Disability. A range of disabilities can often make people feel as though there is no one around them that cares. These feelings can get even worse if people in public are unkind or rude. Having to face discrimination on a daily basis can make loneliness even harder to bear.

  • Racism. People who encounter racism say that being discriminated against can make them feel very alone, and can make it harder for them to form real connections. Racism takes a lot of forms, all of them hurtful, so sometimes even a ‘minor’ or ‘casual’ act of racism can have a big impact on someone’s self-esteem.

When do people feel lonely?

Loneliness can affect anyone at any time. Sometimes there may not be an obvious reason for why you’re feeling lonely, and what you’re experiencing may be connected to other things like depression or anxiety.

But it's true that a lot of people tend to feel lonely during big life events. Maybe you’re moving house. Maybe your parents are separating. Maybe you’re going from primary school into high school. Or maybe you just feel like you’ve outgrown your friendship group, or that they’re starting to get into things that don’t really interest you.

All of these things could be making you feel lonely and lost, and you might be finding it hard to connect with the people around you.

What to do when you feel lonely

There’s no single way to fight loneliness: if there was, everybody would be using it! But that doesn’t mean that loneliness is impossible to beat, or that if you’re feeling it now you will be feeling it forever. Here are a few quick tips for feeling more connected to the people in your life:

  • Talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling.

  • Think about your interests and hang out with like-minded people. (Check out your school or local community centre to see if there are any groups you might like.).

  • Get a pet, or try minding someone else’s pet.

  • Search the Ending Loneliness Directory for community activities near you.

  • Get online and play a game or check out our Online Community.

  • Say yes to any social invitations that come your way.

  • Practise dealing with the feeling of loneliness by validating the emotion (e.g. ‘It’s okay that I feel this way’ and ‘Everyone feels this way sometimes’) and by talking to yourself like a friend (e.g. ‘I’m here for you. This will pass.’).

For more information on these steps, have a read of ReachOut’s step-by-step guide for fighting loneliness.

What can I do now?

  • Hop on the ReachOut Online Community to connect with other people who might be feeling lonely.

  • Call a friend and suggest a movie or a walk outdoors.

  • Read about making friends.