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We all feel lonely at times – it’s a natural human emotion. We're biologically wired for social contact, and loneliness is our signal that we need more. A helpful definition: Loneliness is a perceived mismatch between the quality or quantity of social connections that a person has and what they would like to have .
Why do I feel lonely when I'm with other people?
You don’t have to be on your own to feel lonely - you might feel lonely in a relationship or while spending time with friends or family – especially if you don't feel understood or cared for by the people around you. Other people might choose to be alone and live happily without much social contact. Loneliness can also be characterised by its intensity, or how strongly it is felt, which can change from moment to moment and over different durations of time .
What is the loneliest age group?
Most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives, regardless of age, circumstance and background. We all experience loneliness differently. It’s a common misconception that loneliness is limited to older people. In fact, it’s now the 16-24-year-olds who are the loneliest age group in the UK (3). Research shows that 40% of young people now feel lonely compared with 27% of over 75's. Have a look at some more stats on loneliness and age here.
What are the 4 types of loneliness?
There are more than four types of loneliness. Here are some examples:
Emotional loneliness - When someone you were very close with is no longer there. This could be a partner or a close friend.
Social loneliness - When you feel like you’re lacking a wider social network of friends, neighbours or colleagues.
Transient loneliness - A feeling that comes and goes.
Situational loneliness - Loneliness which you only feel at certain times like Sundays, bank holidays or Christmas.
Chronic loneliness - When you feel lonely all or most of the time.
What are the main causes of loneliness?
There are key life points which will increase the likelihood of feeling lonely. Some examples are:
Moving away from home
Starting university or a new job
Becoming a new parent
A relationship breakup
Suffering a bereavement
Is loneliness a mental health problem?
Loneliness is not a mental health condition. But, long-term or chronic loneliness can have serious impacts on our mental and physical health. Being lonely for a long time can lead to a negative spiral: loneliness makes it harder to connect, which leads to people being afraid of social situations, meaning it is harder to find joy in life and escape negative thoughts. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.
Has loneliness always been an issue?
Human beings evolved to feel safest in groups, and as a result, we experience isolation as a physical state of emergency. Imagine if you lived in a tribe and while you were out hunting, you found yourself alone. You’d be under serious threat without the protection of your group - your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, would rocket up, and would stay raised until you’re back with your tribe .
How to talk about loneliness
Telling someone that you’re lonely is an important step but it’s also important to be mindful of how we talk about it. We still use words like ‘admitting’ to and ‘suffering’ from, which can unintentionally add to the belief that something is wrong with us. There is absolutely no shame in feeling lonely and changing the language around loneliness is a positive and liberating step forward. The more we talk about it, the more we normalise it and we can move towards a society where it can be spoken about openly.
What are the signs and symptoms of loneliness?
Loneliness is a normal human emotion which feels different for each of us. For some, it might feel like longing for something or feeling like you're missing out. For others, it might feel like no one truly understands you or is there for you. Sometimes it feels like you're completely alone, even if you're surrounded by people.
If you've been lonely for a long time (chronic loneliness), you might experience decreased energy, an inability to focus, insomnia, feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness, or worthlessness. You might even feel cravings for physical warmth, such as hot drinks, baths, or cosy clothes and blankets. Some people feel body aches and pains and a decreased appetite.
Do you ever get over loneliness?
Yes, you can. Loneliness can often feel overwhelming and something out of our control, so it can be useful to have a starting point. To help you and others to feel less lonely we have framed it into three parts: acknowledge loneliness in yourself or others, identify what you or they need, take the appropriate action. Discover our three-step approach > . We are hard-wired as humans to need social connections. We are here to help you with simple ways to connect with yourself and others - click here to learn more.