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All the Lonely People

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by Lesley McCall

Autumn 2019

All the Lonely People…

… where do they all come from?

As the Beatles said… where do all the lonely people come from? They’re everywhere, the elderly, the teenagers with no friends, the new mother stuck indoors with her new-born. Many years ago, when many of us lived in small villages with no transportation except horses, it is easy to see why people may have felt isolated and lonely. Now, when we need never be alone – where friends are a click away, why does loneliness seem to be getting worse rather than better? And is there a link between increased loneliness and the decreasing mental health of people – teenagers in particular? All those lonely people, where do they all belong?

So, before you unpack your family size pack of tissues, let’s see where a difference can be made. It’s no coincidence, in my mind, that the rise of social media has coincided with increased mental health problems, especially in teenagers. They spend so much of their time interacting with friends but online. We interact more and communicate less. Also, it’s quite a self-centred and judgemental world – the word ‘selfies’ kind of says it all – all about you, never about anybody else. Everybody seems to be having such an exciting life – the wonderful highs and lows, the breakups, the grief, the love, all played out to hundreds sometimes millions of people. So, with all this interaction with so many people

Pants drunk

Perception is also a big part of it, after all, what is lonely? and how do you know you are feeling it? For example, the Finnish have an expression ‘pants drunk’ which means to get into your pyjamas and get blind drunk. Now to many people that is the very definition of loneliness but to the Finnish it’s normal and quite fun (the Finnish describe themselves as a nation of introverts). There is a difference between loneliness and being alone – and the difference is choice. Many people prefer to be alone for a lot of the time, they need space to reflect and recharge, they enjoy it, they choose it. Loneliness is an unhappy way to be, to feel. People that describe themselves as lonely are not happy, it’s not their choice, and interacting online does not fill the gaping hole, the need for compassion and a hug.

Reaching out for a connection

I could talk about how technology is separating people, making them more isolated and lonelier but that’s a whole other article (and frankly I’d rather kiss Boris Johnson eww). What this article is trying to say is that kindness can be a way to combat loneliness. If isolation leads to loneliness, misery and low mood, then surely, we need to do the opposite? why are people still lonely? Is it the type of interaction that is ‘normal’ today which is at fault? As I said before, the online world can be selfish and horrible – more opportunity for bullying and unkindness, where all that matters is the attention you get – not a particularly nurturing experience. The problem with this kind of negative interaction is that it can drain you of confidence and make you miserable – and miserable people tend to withdraw from society, to isolate themselves and that is a lonely place to be, watching online while everybody else seems to be having fun.

Do you see the problem?

Society is not face to face anymore. You can get anything online – shopping, clothes, therapy, dates, sex, you name it there is an app for it. Businesses use video conferencing, but you can’t replace face-to-face interaction – most business is done privately in the coffee breaks. Therapy can be done online and is obviously a wonderful tool, but does it really replace compassionate, face-to-face listening? Because all this technology is new, we don’t really know the answer, we can’t know what effect it has, but we need to keep a close eye on it. Obviously, it also depends on the person and their perceptions and beliefs. If we take the example of online therapy, then for the introverts who get anxious when they are out, it is quite literally a lifesaver but what about us poor extroverts who get miserable without company, who need to be with people to gain energy? Online simply isn’t the same and doesn’t give us the same joy. I find being in a coffee shop lifts my mood, whereas talking to friends online is nice but simply makes me wish I could be sat next to them with a cup of tea and a cake. A good gossip simply isn’t as fun online for extroverts.

Engage! Reach out! Connect! Change your way of thinking; instead of saying: ‘Who can help me?’ Ask: ‘What can I do to help?’. If you are healthy, then get off your bottom and help someone, be kind. Search out a community that would be grateful for your help. There are accepting places that will be welcoming, your local church, for example, now before the atheists amongst you start screaming, this is just a suggestion, I have more. Acting groups, you can work backstage, charity shops, The Salvation Army (sorry back to religion again – my bad!), volunteering at an animal shelter (my client looks after baby hedgehogs – BEST JOB EVER). All of these will bring you into contact with people, nice people, friendly people. However, it can be simple random acts of kindness – make your elderly neighbour a cup of tea, help that new mum out by offering to sit with the baby while she sleeps, etc. There are online apps that are kind too – Be my eyes is an app where you can help the blind find stuff in supermarkets, etc. using facetime or Borrow my doggie where you take people’s dogs out when they are at work – go look!

ILOC vs ELOC

It’s up to you, but nobody needs to sit around in their pyjamas getting drunk unless you want to (the Finnish also have wife throwing competitions, and you don’t need to do this either). Google this – take control. Internal Locus of Control people don’t wait for the world to make them happy – they go out there and take it! Many RAK’s are to do with interaction, if you are lonely, pick the ones that involve face-to-face positive interaction – watching cat videos on Facebook simply isn’t enough. When you are out helping someone, you aren’t as lonely. It’s a vicious circle, misery makes you want to isolate yourself, isolation leads to loneliness and loneliness makes you unhappy… Break the circle, find somebody to help, be kind.

Teach the children

Our children don’t go out anymore, their brains have far more stimulation online, but it’s not good for them. So, teach them how to help, do chores. The Duke of Edinburgh scheme is excellent – they must volunteer, learn a new skill and camp. Even the most introverted of people need face-to-face interaction, so get them out.

What can I do to help?

Help other people and help yourself. Reach out, be kind, think about others and you will find yourself less alone and less lonely. All the lonely people wouldn’t be alone if they reached out and found each other.