As we are surrounded by social media and connected with people more than ever before, loneliness remains an issue often swept under the rug. Emily Stamp explores the stigma around loneliness, and ways in which we can pull ourselves out of the slump.
In a world interconnected by phones, tablets and computers we are never very far from instant contact with another person, regardless of their location. Despite this, loneliness is a prevalent factor in society, affecting all ages: from the elderly who struggle to meet people (or are unable to travel) to the 20-somethings that flood cities looking for somewhere to belong, only to find that everyone is busy with work. More and more people are flat sharing with strangers who have their own lives. Similarly, events once celebrated with family or friends back home cause sweeping loneliness - the first Christmas or thanksgiving alone or at your partners, the first birthday only surrounded by friends.
Even the excitement of travelling carries loneliness, with people moving from place to place, and sitting in restaurants and coffee shops for the countless time alone. Moving countries and travelling can involve a language barrier which makes forming friendships harder. Sure - having friends from all over the world is amazing, but when you can’t spend any time with them, then loneliness sets in. It also affects our mental health, being lonely means not having anyone, and that means not sharing our issues or trusting someone enough to open up, which can be problematic. Sometimes it gets so bad the “hello” of a barista makes a vital difference, as it creates the sense of someone having seen you as a fellow human, not just another face in the crowd.
Moreover, with social media alerting us to the ‘exciting’ goings-on in the personal lives of both friends and strangers, staring at these photos on your phone in your room and feeling alone seems embarrassing. Yet it takes the brave among us to mention it, as though loneliness is something to be ashamed of. After all, how can we be lonely when we have hundreds of friends just waiting for us on Facebook?
Loneliness should not be humiliating. Humans are social creatures, and it is normal to miss family and friends, to long for friendships to grow stronger, and to want to explore and do things with others. As an introvert, I like spending time alone, but it doesn’t mean I want to spend all of life that way. Making friends can be difficult, despite the countless apps and online communities aimed at easing this process.
My advice? Do something new that catches your eye, and who cares what the people back home would think? Take up knitting, volunteering or the tango - whatever it is that interests you the most. Even if turning up alone is slightly awkward, we have all done it at some point, whether it was the first day at a job or moving into university dorms. You may love it and become best friends with that stranger who waved you over. Even if you hate it, you could make friends with the person who’s been reluctantly dragged along by some of their mates.
Loneliness it tough but use it as a force to change something in your life. There are countless people out in the world who you haven’t met yet, who probably feel the same as you. Yes, the world is a scary place and you were told as a child not to talk to strangers, but how else are you going to meet that new friend who welcomes your texts at any time of day and has a special mug that only you use? Don’t be afraid of loneliness; be afraid that those people are going to slip out of your grasp if you don’t venture out of your room. Admit you are lonely (even if it is just to yourself), take initiative, go for out for coffee with someone new, and break the cycle. You never know, they may have been just as lonely as you were.