How To Tackle Loneliness Later In Life
First, positive psychology coach Elle Mace says…
The first step is to understand yourself fully. Why are you feeling lonely and what does lonely mean to you? It’s about identifying what your mental and physical needs are and why. What voids are missing in your life and what really needs to change to help you feel more connected and less lonely? Invest in your self-worth and be able to spend time on your own. If you’ve lived a busy life juggling kids, work and everything else, then you won’t know how to spend proper time on your own.
Set yourself daily challenges. Feeling lonely can knock your confidence and make you feel like you aren’t loved or worthy enough. So, setting yourself small challenges that you can achieve will help you build up that trust muscle with yourself and give you the boost you need to take on harder tasks like joining new clubs or meeting new people. Get outside in nature or do some movement/exercise to release those endorphins; and, even better, do this with friends you can talk to openly about how you are feeling and build on the connections you already have as well as make new ones.
Find your identity and purpose. For those who feel lonely after the children have left home, you need to find your identity that isn’t just a parent. Being a parent is part of your identity but not all of it. Who are you? What do you like? What are you good at? If you are struggling to identify things you like, a fun task is to think back to when you were a child and what you got immersed in and spent your time doing? Going back to these activities will feel therapeutic and may spark a new hobby. Enjoy more head space and potentially more time for yourself, which no doubt you spent years craving, and get creative in redesigning a life that works for you with new adventures.
Focus on what you can control. You can’t control your children growing up, losing loved ones or anything anyone else does, but there is an element of things you control like how you process your emotions and build your own emotional resilience (meaning feel your feelings rather than suppress them). This may be painful at first but, with time, this gets easier and you will feel like you have a clear head and less stress building up within your body. Start a journal to write up what is coming up for you each day and list your thoughts with compassion and no judgement.
Trust that you are loved and safe. Others may make you feel that little bit more loved and safer but work on feeling content and safe with yourself. Building your self-worth will help with this, and practising affirmations specifically for compassion and loneliness, and doing gratitude will also speed up this journey. Focus on the exciting things that are still to come and everything you already have.
Then Kath Temple, psychologist at Goldster.co.uk, suggests…
Work on redefining who you are. At every age and stage of our lives, we can redefine who we wish to become. When we re-envision our lives, a new sense of purpose can arise within us, and it may help to bridge us into a new community of people with shared values and a shared vision. Create a vision board and feel the energy of it as you do. How do you want to live your life? What do you want more of? What do you want to start doing? What kind of community and tribe of people do you want to attract and connect with? What activities do you want to be doing? What’s the energy you want more of in your life? Happiness? Fun? Adventure? Passion? Love? Peace? Empowerment? Enlightenment? This action will shift your energy system, reignite your sense of urgency, and help you to see the power of your choices, and the consequences of your choices.
Chart your interests and hobbies, and things you are curious to learn more about. Then do an online search for similar groups in your community and connect with the organisers. If there aren’t groups available, then consider starting one. Call your local newspaper and talk to one of the journalists to see if they’ll give you some coverage for your new group – ask for volunteers to help you organise it, some suggestions for venues, and set a date for a planning meeting at a local café. Take control of your future and connect with some like-minded people as you do.
Book into evening or day classes. Is there something you’d really like to learn? Check out your local college or community organisations involved in learning for local classes and join one. This will connect you with a new community of people who all share a similar interest as you.
Volunteer. Have a think about where the needs of your community and your world interconnect with the experience and skills you have to offer. Check in with your local Volunteer Bureau and the possibilities for volunteering in organisations that align with your values, and your skills and experience. This will connect you with people with some shared values and interests – plus, Harvard research shows that volunteering adds years to your life. In a study of 13,000 participants, researchers found that two hours’ volunteering a week had significant psychological benefits and reduced the risk of premature death.
Find your spiritual community. Investigate local churches, mosques, synagogues, a Buddhist centre, spiritual church or group that aligns with your beliefs or faith. This will connect you with a community of local people who share your spiritual beliefs, making conversations and relationships easier. The church or centre may also have different groups running that you may enjoy joining. Research shows that people with faith – and it doesn’t matter which faith – live between five to nine years longer than those who do not have an affiliation to a faith.
To go deeper, Claire Williams, accredited counsellor & founder of Therapy Finders, advises…
Acknowledge what you’re feeling. Loneliness is experienced by many people at different times in their life and for different reasons. It can appear quickly and understandably, or it can creep up on you slowly, so much so that you might not even recognise that what you are feeling is loneliness initially. Loneliness can often be accompanied by shame and self-doubt; it’s important to remember that there is no shame in loneliness – it is not something you are suffering from or something you need to admit to. It is a normal state of being, experienced by many that needs to be normalised and spoken about – you need to understand where these feelings may have come from, why they exist at that moment and how these feelings can change.
Understand why you’re feeling it. There are several different types of loneliness and it is important to understand which of these are causing you to feel lonely:
- Social: This loneliness comes from not having friends or family to share social experiences with – i.e. at Christmas or other occasions when family and friends tend to gather.
- Temporary: A loneliness that comes and goes, it may be a feeling of not being seen or heard in a particular relationship.
- Emotional: This is a loneliness that you experience because of the loss of a loved one, a life partner or a dear friend. It feels like there is a hole that can’t be filled. Emotional loneliness can also arise when adult children leave the nest.
- Chronic: A deep and almost constant feeling of being alone.
Talk about it. We don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness within a relationship or because your children have left home, try talking to your partner or close friend about how you are feeling and why. The old saying of “a problem shared is a problem halved” is often true and other people don’t know what you are feeling until you tell them. If talking to family or friends isn’t an option, you might consider talking to a therapist – expressing yourself to an unbiased ear can provide comfort and help to normalise what you are feeling.
Know what works for you. We are all different and often complex creatures and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Do you enjoy being in a crowd? Do you enjoy your own company but thrive from one phone call a day to a special someone? Do you want to be around people all the time? Are you happy with one social interaction a week? Whatever it is, self-awareness and understanding of what works for you is important in helping you make changes in those moments of loneliness.
Take Action. This is often hard and you may have to push yourself out of your comfort zone but, if you can and you do, there may be new experiences and new relationship waiting for you. If you don’t have people that you can talk to or spend time with, there are other options for you to try:
- Community: Try connecting with your local community, say hello to your neighbours, go on walks or to the shops at a regular time each day/week. You may start seeing familiar faces. Relationships of any kind can start from a nod of the head, a simple “hello” or just by catching someone’s eye. Volunteering can also introduce you to like-minded people in your local area.
- Technology: While technology can sometimes be the cause of loneliness, when used in the right way it can also be a lifeline. There are lots of websites that connect you with people in different ways, from looking for love or companionship to local activities or groups such as walking/running groups, dance classes or even a bingo night. Whatever appeals to you.
Inspired? Try working through Claire’s working exercise to get to the root of the problem and find a possible solution…
- Why are you feeling lonely? Is this a new feeling? When did it start? What triggered it? What can they do to alleviate the loneliness that isn’t going to be too daunting?
- Can you say how you’re feeling out loud? When you say something out loud rather than internalising it, it can lose the hold it has on you.
- Accept that this is how you are feeling at this moment, own the feeling – no feelings are “wrong” or “bad”, so don’t blame yourself. This is temporary, a moment in time that can change if you want it to.
- Try not to blame yourself and try to not think negatively about how you are feeling. Remind yourself of what you think you do well or are good at.
- Finally, think about the things you enjoy, even if it’s as simple as breathing in the fresh air. We can find comfort in the natural world as it helps us focus on the present.
For more support and information, visit Goldster.co.uk, TherapyFinders.co.uk and follow @IAmElleMace on Instagram.
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