How to deal with loneliness

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How to deal with loneliness

If you are feeling lonely, you are not alone.

YouGov research in October 2019 revealed 88% of people in the UK aged from 18 to 24 say they experience loneliness to some degree, with a quarter (24%) suffering often and 7% saying they are lonely all the time.

Human beings are social creatures by nature. Interacting with other human beings is a crucial need that most of us have to meet to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.

The amount of social interaction we each need can vary from individual to individual but, in general, a lack of social contact with other people can impact on our mental health.

Strategies for coping with loneliness

Being lonely may affect your confidence and self-belief. You might also feel that this situation will go on forever and you’ll never meet anyone, either friends or a romantic partner.

1. Practice self-compassion

It is important to be especially kind to yourself and not lose heart

2. Attend to the Five ways to wellbeing
  • Connect with others – even if it is only saying hello to a neighbour

  • Keep learning – maybe join a class. You’ll learn something and be with other people

  • Stay active – this helps mental and physical health. If you join a sports club or exercise class you may meet others

  • Give to others – volunteering is a great way of meeting other people and giving something back

  • Notice – noticing the world around you and staying in the present moment can help you appreciate things in a new way.

Each of these activities may help you start to overcome your loneliness

These activities may help you start to overcome your loneliness
  1. Reconnect with old friends from home that you knew before college or university.

  2. Think of creative ways of staying in touch with friends or partners who are moving away, for example:

    • Video calls
    • Writing letters
    • Regular reunions - meet up for a weekend every so often, to explore a new part of the country together
    • Whatever works for you

  3. Keep up with hobbies, sports or other interests

    • Join a sports club, team, theatre group, choir or class - whatever interests you
    • Having something to do is vital for keeping a sense of purpose
    • It also helps you to stop ruminating on negative thoughts and to keep depression at bay
    • Dating apps are a good way of meeting people, especially if you have moved to a new area

  4. Try volunteering. It is a good way of meeting people and has proven benefits for your mental wellbeing. If you are still looking for a job, it will also help with your CV. In her book, ‘Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life’ (1996), Professor Jacqueline Olds puts forward a strong case for the mental health benefits of volunteering to tackle isolation.

Being lonely can also increase your likelihood of becoming depressed.

Being depressed can increase loneliness by making you isolate yourself and think negatively.

If you feel you are becoming depressed, it is important to get help.

The impact of loneliness on your mental health

Being lonely can have a profound impact on our mental and physical health.

Professor John Cacioppo, former director of the University of Chicago's Centre for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, wrote of the health impacts of loneliness in his 2008 book, ‘Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection’1. In this book, he established five possible implications of loneliness on our health and general quality of life:

Reduction in will-power

  • Lack of distraction, motivation or gratification from others
  • More likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours when lonely
  • Drug & alcohol abuse, bulimia, over-eating, lack of exercise

Exposure to stress

  • Lonely people report greater exposure to stress
  • Possibly due to lack of people to offload on or confide in
  • Lack of perspective on or distraction from personal problems

Vicious cycle

  • The longer you remain isolated, the harder it is to re-integrate
  • Lonely people are more likely to avoid engaging with others, perpetuating isolation further

Physical impacts

  • Tests have found links between loneliness and impaired immune and cardiac function
  • Possibly due to biological roles of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine - these are stimulated by social interaction

Sleep deprivation

  • Tests show people are more likely to have difficulty sleeping when lonely
  • Metabolic, cognitive and hormonal implications 


Helplines and crisis contacts

Organisations that offer support for mental health problems, including helplines and online support.

View support organisations

Asking for help (adult)

When it’s time to talk about your mental health.

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Asking for help (young person)

A simple guide for young people to help talk about their feelings.

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Depression booklet

Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depression

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Life at university (A4 poster)

A4 poster with QR code for students to find information about life at university,

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Life at university (A6 postcard)

A6 postcard with QR code for students to find information about life at university,

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Low mood poster

Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.

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Making the move to university: care leavers

Read how to look after your mental health if you are starting university after being in care.

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Making the move to university: international students

Moving to university is especially tough for those who are coming from another country. Don't forget to make sure you prioritise your mental health, and read how to do so here.

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Making the move to university: LGBTQ+ students

Read our resource on how you can best take care of your mental health when making the transition to university if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Making the move to university: not fitting in

Read our guide on how to protect your wellbeing if you are starting university and feel like you may not fit in in any way.

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Making the move to university: students with adverse childhood experiences

Resource for those starting university who have had adverse childhood experiences such as trauma or abuse.

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Making the move to university: young carers

Read how to access support and prioritise your mental health while transitioning to university as a young carer.

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Patent and trade mark professionals

Protecting your mental health and wellbeing: A guide for patent and trade mark professionals

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Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.

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Students Against Depression posters

Posters to be displayed in Higher and Further Education areas

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Top Tips For Students

A booklet giving tips on how students can look after their mental health.

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Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

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Wellbeing Action Plan (child)

A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult times

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Wellbeing Action Plan (young person)

Our Wellbeing Action Plan is for all young people attending sixth form or college.

View resource

Wellbeing Journal

A simple, journal to help young people think about and write down the things which make them feel good.

View resource

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