Who comes to mind when you think of a lonely person? Chances are your mind springs to an image of an elderly person — abandoned and alone without anyone to talk to or care for them. And while there is a very real problem of loneliness among the elderly, it’s not the full representation of how loneliness is felt in society. Did you know that young people are the most affected by loneliness? In the US, data collected using UCLA’s Loneliness Index reveals that around 43% of young people claim to feel lonely, echoing the recent data from a study in the UK that surveyed over 55,000 people and found that 16-24 year-olds experienced higher levels of loneliness than any other age group, with over 40% of young people claiming to feel lonely “often” to “very often” — compared to 27% of those aged over 75.
The increased pressure on young people, the alienating world of social media and the competitive and unrelenting pace of many young people’s lives has created a “loneliness epidemic”, and everyone is talking about it. Far from a vague emotional gripe, loneliness is now considered by the medical community to be a life-threatening problem, with one study claiming that loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In response to the new findings, the UK has even appointed its first-ever minister for loneliness, Tracey Crouch, to tackle the problem at a policy level.
But how can we work to tackle the loneliness epidemic among young people? Whether you’re a young person dealing with loneliness or a concerned friend or relative, find out four ways you can help fight loneliness.
4 Ways to Combat Loneliness
Tackling loneliness among young people is tough. We’re prone to equate loneliness with being alone — the more isolated a person feels, the greater the level of loneliness — but this equation neglects the deep-rooted causes of loneliness. After all, you can be surrounded by friends and family, and even enjoy a rich social life, yet still feel lonely. Loneliness is subjective too, so while one solution might work perfectly for one person, it won’t necessarily be as beneficial for another. With that said, here are four simple yet effective ways to combat loneliness.
Make Time for Hobbies
Knitting, cycling clubs, netball teams, salsa classes, reading groups — today, there are hundreds of ways to indulge in your hobbies. The only problem, of course, is finding the time. Today, the workplace is more competitive than ever. Among the long hours of studying, internships or overtime to impress the boss, young people are finding less and less time for their hobbies and passions. And while building a career is an important pursuit for many, it shouldn’t be the only focus.
Hobbies provide an opportunity to learn new skills, restore a work/life balance, develop interests and meet new people who share common interests and passions. Personal time isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity for a healthy and balanced life, so schedule some time, sign up for a group, club or whatever it is that allows you to enjoy your interests and indulge in something that makes you happy.
Embrace Group Identities
A recent survey by personalised clothing company Yazzoo revealed that young people value group identity more highly than any other age group, with over 50% of 16-24 year-olds claiming that group identity is as important as individual identity. It seems that group identity not only encourages a sense of collective identity but also bolsters a sense of individuality — it helps you to feel more you.
Embracing group identity is about taking time to remind yourself of the communities you belong to and the places, times and people that made you who you are today. Your perfect way to acknowledge and celebrate that will vary — it might be a football shirt, a leavers’ hoodie, a club sash or something else that pays homage to you and your past. Showcasing the colours and logo of your school or dance club or sports team is a tangible way of reconnecting yourself to a broader community of people — and a powerful tonic against loneliness.
Do a Digital Detox
Young people are more digitally connected than ever before. At a click of a button, huge and ever-expanding clouds of social network connections open up, from friends and followers to likes and retweets. But does the size of a nebulous social circle help to fight loneliness? A recent study reveals that not only are social networks unable to alleviate feelings of loneliness, but they could actually be making it worse. In fact, UCLA’s survey found that those who reported feeling lonely the most had more online friends across social media than those who didn’t.
It’s not surprising, really — for all the genuine connections and engagements that social media brings, there’s a dark underbelly. Who hasn’t spiralled down the vortex of social media only to find themselves enviously flicking through photos and posts of people who seem happier, prettier and more successful than them? These carefully curated online personas that present a perfect life may be cultivated, but they can still be a powerful source of self-doubt and insecurity.
Get away from it all and break the cycle with a digital detox. Start with just 30 minutes every day when you turn off your phone, close your laptop and get out of the virtual sphere. No tweeting, posting or sharing — just live in the moment. To really make the most of your digital detox, try getting out in nature. Immersing yourself in nature is proven to have drastic effects on mood and happiness, so whether you head to a garden, park or forest, go outside and embrace the present moment.
Be Brave and Open Up
“A problem shared is a problem halved” may have become a tired cliche, but there’s real truth in it. Talking about emotional problems can be difficult even for the most expressive of us, but talking about your feelings and exploring how you feel with friends, families or professionals is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
It takes bravery, and unlike when airing your thoughts on social media, you’ll have to make yourself vulnerable to the person you’re confiding in; you’ll have to trust that they will listen without judgement — but it’s worth it. Choose people who you can trust, who will respect your emotions and who are willing to listen, then open up. If you feel there isn’t anyone in your friendship group or family you can confide in, there are thousands of resources and professionals ready to lend an ear.
Loneliness is a serious and devastating problem in today’s society, but by taking small and practical steps, we can help fight back against this epidemic.