As many of us will know, we don’t need to be physically alone to feel lonely. Have you ever gotten into bed at the end of the day and realised that you haven’t spoken out loud to anyone since the day before? Or stood surrounded by people, perhaps in a shop or a crowded city street, and felt completely and utterly alone?
We live in a hyper-connected world, and yet we’re lonelier than ever before. We have more social media followers than friends, and it’s easier to swap digital messages with strangers on the other side of the planet than it is to sit down for a chat with an actual person. All of this makes for a grim, Black Mirror-esque reality, in which the majority of our interactions take place between our fingers and our screens, and our relationships become whittled down to pixelated emojis and thumbs-up “likes”.
Despite being traditionally viewed as an affliction that’s limited to the elderly, it’s now 16-24 year olds who make up the loneliest age group of all. And scientists are warning of the damaging effects of a ‘loneliness epidemic’, with loneliness even being equated to the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
As many of us will know, we don’t need to be physically alone to feel lonely. A toxic friendship or relationship can be incredibly isolating, for example, while spending too much time with people we don’t feel close to can have damaging effects on our psyche. Loneliness affects people in different ways, and for this reason there are four distinct types of loneliness identified by psychologists: emotional, social, situational and chronic.
But how do we know what type of loneliness we’re experiencing and, more importantly, how can we tackle it? Here, Stylist talks to registered psychologist Dr Becky Spelman, and hears from women who have experienced loneliness – and managed to keep it at bay.
“Those who are emotionally lonely will find it difficult to improve things without tackling the root of the problem,” says Dr Spelman. “Emotional loneliness is not circumstantial but, rather, comes from within.”
Dr Spelman recommends therapy to help tackle the root cause of these feelings of emotional loneliness. “Working with a therapist, possibly with a technique such as behavioural cognitive therapy, or attending group therapy, is likely to lead to the best possible outcome,” she says. Read more