Ever read something that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you consider what is going on in the world? That is exactly what happened to me when I read through The Office for National Statistics recent report on loneliness in the UK . The ONS reported that young adults aged between 16 – 24 reported feeling lonely more often than the older groups that were surveyed, within that sub group the majority were women. This for obvious reasons breaks my heart, aren’t your late teens and early twenties all about finding your tribe and taking on the world Spice Girl style? These stats got my thinking, what does it mean to be lonely and why are we being faced with such bleak statistics?
Why is it these girls are feeling so lonely? Is it because we live in a world where there’s a lack of communication between people? Is it because we live in a world where technology has taken away any hope of creating real, candid connections? Is it because there is an unspoken underlying lack of trust and empathy in society? Or is it something even more worrying like a lack of connection to oneself, ones own “being” which is often spoken about in spiritual teachings as the key to being content when alone. In this article I’m going to explore some of these ideas and draw upon my own experiences regards feeling lonely and consider ways we can address the problem.
Personally I spend a lot of time on my own, I crave being alone! Being alone allows me to recharge and reconnect to myself. Life is 100mph and without being able to shut off and disconnect from the white noise of modern living once in a while, I really struggle to focus on work or have the energy to socialise. There is however a really fine line between a healthy amount of aloneness and feeling desperately lonely. There’s been times in the past where I’ve suffered from the latter; I’ve found myself in really dark places emotionally, trapped in cycles of negative inner chat, feeling so isolated because I couldn’t find the words to speak out or I didn’t want to burden anyone. Feeling lost and sure that no one would understand how I felt so I kept my silence and tried managing the weight on my shoulders alone. This speaks volumes about the kind of culture we live in doesn’t it, we’re almost too polite to ask our friends for help. Ridiculous.
We live in a world where there is so much stigma attached to speaking up because we fear being judged or misunderstood. We have been constantly told to “be quiet”, “don’t cause a fuss”, “just get on with it”, that we have almost lost our way when it comes to self expression. It isn’t the social norm to talk about how we feel and we are often discouraged from being real. Open and honest communication has been replaced by the shallow, fickle, nothingness chat that our mobile phones enable. It is so easy to attain this superficial connection with people over the web; likes here, shares there, direct messages and group chats – it strokes the ego and momentarily feels great. There’s a feel - good chemical released in the brain when we see your online profile receive attention but where’s the real, meaningful connection at?
Years ago I used to feel lonely a lot, I didn’t have close connections with other girls because I felt to scared to be open and trust others. I had my fair share of experiences with the Mean Girls type when I was younger, the ones that were too busy trying to belittle me because I was different or tried pulling me down because I was succeeding. I feel like this was common and that it probably had a lasting effect on us as a generation – I see so many women with trust issues when it comes to others. There’s a lack of community because people are fearful of engaging with others due to old emotional scars and social conditioning. Thousands of years ago we were creatures that relied upon others, we quite literally couldn’t cope without the support of community and now we live in a world where we’re all so separate.
The idea of separation and old emotional scars is something that really plays on mind, we are products of our pasts; our parents, our school years, the media and the social situations we’ve been exposed too – there are so many factors that make up our inner dialog and how we preserve ourselves. When considering why young people are feeling so lonely I think it is also important to consider why they struggle to be alone, I worry that too many people are uncomfortable with who they are so they fill their time with external distractions. I feel like people have such little self esteem that being alone becomes difficult because the inner chat is negative and takes over. We are put on this planet to co-create, human beings need connection, it’s so important for our mental and emotional state however; the media, technology and lack of community have created a society which cultivates loneliness.
Time for change?
Surely. I am calling for shake up in society. I believe that if enough of us make a conscious effect to change how we relate to each other, have more empathy and communicate more we can create a community that flourishes, together. We need to create a community where we feel comfortable to reach out to others and learn to trust in the collective more. It’s time to recognise our human nature and be there for one another, together is better.
 Office for National Statistics. (2018). Loneliness - What characteristics and circumstances are associated with feeling lonely?. Available: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/lonelinesswhatcharacteristicsandcircumstancesareassociatedwithfeelinglonely/2018-04-10. Last accessed 21st April 2018.