Today, I’m going to talk about a subject that touches many of us: loneliness. So much so that I have a section about it in my book about mental health, “Happy, Not Tortured”.
In this article, I will talk about my experiences of loneliness, why it is bad for your mental health, and ways to get out of it.
Loneliness can happen because you genuinely have nobody to talk to. Perhaps you don’t have any family anymore, or you moved to another city where you know nobody. This happened to me twice in my life. The first time, it was when I moved to Switzerland, when I was 21. Up until then, I had only lived in my native Belgium, in my parents’ hometown. All my friends were in Belgium, I knew no one in Switzerland. Fortunately, I had a job there, which helped me socialise, and little by little I met people and felt less lonely. But the first weeks, even months were difficult. I remember the shame I felt every Friday, knowing that I would speak to nobody during the whole weekend until I went back to work on Monday.
The second time I felt really lonely was when I moved to London. And this time, it was worse because I didn’t have a job to get me out of the house every day. It took me a lot of time to start socialising and to not feel completely alone in this big city.
… Or Not
However, you don’t need to move to a place where you are completely alone to feel lonely. A lot of the time, loneliness can happened even if you are surrounded by people all the time. It happened to me when I worked at a previous job that I hated. Unlike me, everyone seemed passioned about what they were doing, and I felt very lonely. I felt like nobody could understand why I hated it there, and I didn’t feel like anybody could understand me.
Loneliness is the feeling you get when there’s a lack of connection, when you feel isolated, perhaps even rejected. Therefore, you can feel lonely even with your closest friends or with your family.
Loneliness is completely subjective. Some people will feel lonely if they don’t see other people every day, others will feel absolutely fine if they only have interactions every few days. It is a question of personality, habit, time in your life and what’s happening at that period.
Mental Health Consequences of Loneliness
Loneliness has been linked to depression and anxiety in several scientific studies, and it is a risk factor for suicide. It is also linked to substance abuse (including alcohol) and is shown to have bad effects on your sleeping and eating habits. It has even been linked to health issues such as cardiovascular diseases and lowered immune response.
I think many people underestimate the effects of feeling lonely all the time. As someone with anxiety, I have noticed that if I am left on my own for too long, the anxious thoughts will be stronger and more difficult to interrupt. If I can’t confide in anyone, or if no one is distracting me from my own thoughts, chances are that they will only get worse.
The problem is, often mental health problems can lead to loneliness. When I feel anxious, I don’t like interacting with other people because I am constantly questioning their motives, what they really mean when they say something, and I feel like a burden on them. My anxiety perpetuates the sense of loneliness because it prevents me from interacting with people. It’s a vicious circle that is difficult to break.
Loneliness and Creativity
Now, I know what you might think: I need loneliness to create. And I agree with you. I need to isolate myself to write sometimes, or just to put down ideas in a notebook. I can’t interact with people all the time, and sometimes out of my feelings of being alone and rejected comes the most beautiful story.
On the other hand, being an artist often implies that you work alone, and therefore feel lonely. I write alone, and I don’t know many other writers, so more often than not I’m alone in front of my mammoth of a book, with all the problems and doubts that it implies. Artists are often isolated, because they don’t know any other artists. For some of us, the only chance we have to socialise with others who do things that are similar to us is the internet. And even there, you have to be part of a group or a “clique” sometimes to be accepted.
I think as artists it is very important to make a difference between loneliness and solitude. The latter one is something you choose to facilitate your artistic process, to help you create something. The second is something that is imposed on you, whether by your circumstances or what is happening in your life at the moment. And it can be detrimental to your mental health and your creative process.
How to Create More Connections
I firmly believe that anyone can create more connections in their life, but I also know that it takes efforts and commitment.
1. Invest Time in Relationships
As an adult, I find that making new connections is difficult, but it’s a whole different challenge to keep the relationships I already have. Which is why sometimes I still feel isolated and alone, even though I have friends and family. It takes time to reach out to people, find a suitable day to meet or speak on the phone. Social media makes us falsely believe that our friends are just a click away, but keeping the connection really alive takes much more than that.
Next time you feel lonely, try to see if there is a friendship or a relationship that you might have neglected recently. Perhaps a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or a family member that you miss.
2. Ditch the Bad Connections
Now, this might appear as a contradiction with my attempt to reduce loneliness, but this is very important. Have you ever had a friend that you kept messaging, but who never messaged back? Do you have someone in your life who never makes an effort to speak to you? Or doesn’t listen to you when you finally manage to meet up, and spends all the time speaking about themselves?
These are bad relationships, and these are the ones you should NOT spend time or effort on. This is a big caveat to my first point, but I feel it is necessary. If you are going to spend time reaching out to people, make sure you reach out to people who will respond and make you feel more connected and less lonely.
Bad relationships tend to make us feel even more isolated. We wonder: perhaps it’s me? Perhaps I’m in the wrong somehow. No. It’s not you. It’s them. If someone is flaky, doesn’t put any work and doesn’t make any effort, ditch them. It’s for your own good.
If you feel like your mental health is isolating you from other people, it’s a good idea to seek help. My anxiety became an obstacle between me and other people. Therapy really helped me re-learn how to make connections, how to be vulnerable and true with someone else.
It is not easy, of course. And therapy will not solve everything about your feelings of loneliness. But a good therapist can give you tips if you feel self-conscious when you are surrounded by other people. It can help you sort out the conflicting feelings you have towards someone or a group of people. And it can give you the confidence to try new avenues to meet people.
There are a lot of artists out there who seek others, who want to meet and talk about what they love. Whatever type of art you are doing, it gives you a fantastic starting point to meet new people. Whether it is by joining a group, a class or going to events linked to your art, you can socialise and talk about your interests with people who are likely to share them. A good starting point to meet other artists in your area is Meetup.com, which I have used previously and 100% recommend!
Don’t discount internet to make connections too. I know that a lot of people blame social media for the lack of meaningful connections, but I think that it’s a very helpful tool when you live in a place where there isn’t much happening art-wise. When I was in university and writing fanfictions, I started to socialise online with a group of fanfiction writers who liked the same things I did. It really helped me at a time where I felt like I didn’t have much in common with the people I saw every day. I ended up meeting several of them in real life and we still keep in contact today.
The important part of this is to find people who have things in common with you so you have at least one topic you can get back to when you talk with them.
5. Be Patient
Making new connections take time. It will take more than a few weeks to make valuable friendships. This is something I’ve learned the hard way when I lived in Switzerland. People there all had friends they knew since childhood, and therefore I never felt I was as close to them as these friends.
Make sure you leave enough time for these relationships to develop organically. It won’t be perfect, it won’t be like in the films where people meet and become best friends immediately. This is rare. In real life, it takes sometimes months before you can feel close to someone.
6. Don’t Demonise Yourself
While you are doing all this, it’s important to watch your inner dialogue. Loneliness has a particular way to make us feel like aliens, monsters or just maladapted people. When I feel lonely, I feel like a weirdo, and I assume that other people won’t want to talk to me. And this inner dialogue sends a weird vibe to the people around me.
Being alone doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, a weirdo, a freak or whatever name you might have used to describe yourself. Constantly demonising yourself, putting yourself down, will only result in you fighting against your own progress. That’s something you can do yourself or with a therapist, but it’s an important thing to notice if you tend to be hard on yourself.
My experiences with loneliness have taught me that it doesn’t need to be like this for the rest of my life. I can do something about it, even if it is hard, even if I sometimes needs to ask for help. I hope that you’ll find this article helpful and that it will inspire you some solutions if you are experiencing loneliness too.
Let me know in the comments if you have other strategies to combat loneliness, or if you want to share your own experience with it!
Céline is an author and podcaster passionate about helping fellow artists reach their potential and live a happy, balanced life.