Loneliness or being alone – what’s the difference between friends?

Jul 28, 2019

Have you ever felt the disturbing sensation of feeling completely alone in a bustling crowd of people?

It’s a completely different feeling from spending an evening at home, with only yourself for company.  For some people – particularly those with young children – the prospect of that could actually be classed as luxury!

The problem with loneliness today, is that we’re more visibly connected than ever before.  In a world where a single person can have thousands of social media followers, there’s no need for anybody to feel lonely any more.

Isn’t there?

As we make more and more ‘friends’ online, it seems we’re gradually isolating ourselves from the real world.  More than a quarter of UK households consist of just one person, and that figure is predicted to increase over the next decade.

The case for solitude

Of course, living on your own doesn’t mean you’re automatically lonely.  Lots of people enjoy their own company, while solitude is an often-quoted motivator for producing creative work.

But the main difference between loneliness and being alone is choice.  It’s one thing to choose your own precious moments of solitude and privacy, and another to have them forced upon you, because you don’t feel meaningfully connected with anybody else.

The fight against loneliness

David Halpern, who heads up the UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team, has spent years studying social isolation.

He concluded that: “if you have got someone who loves you, someone you can talk to if you have got a problem, that is a more powerful predictor of whether you will be alive in 10 years’ time, more than almost any other factor, certainly more than smoking.”

If that sounds dramatic, consider the point that we humans are naturally social animals.  Doctors have known for years that loneliness is bad for us, and they also know that, in most cases, social media just isn’t enough of a remedy.

Extending the hand of friendship

Genuine connections are key to reducing social isolation.  If you don’t feel you have enough of those, a good start could be to make more small talk with others throughout your day, rather than browsing social media feeds.

Prioritise real friendships that make you smile, even if that means scheduling in a weekly phone call with someone who lives far away.

Instead of fretting about feeling lonely, and letting those thoughts overwhelm you, try to find a habit you can lose yourself in for a while – or even sign up for a new class.

And don’t forget to extend the hand of friendship to others whenever you can, too.  A smile or a few words can be all that’s needed to make another person feel noticed and included in life – whether they enjoy their own company, or not.

If you’re concerned about feelings of loneliness, for yourself or somebody else, All About People offer a friendly, qualified and non-judgemental counselling service for you to talk openly, and in comfort.  To find out more, or to arrange a session, please get in touch.

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