Loneliness – the very word conjures depressing images of an old lady sitting in isolation on Christmas day with only the television for company, or a solitary child in the school playground, alone despite the dozens of schoolmates all around.
They are horrible, disquieting images, but surely in this modern age of mass communication, there is less of a place for loneliness, particularly among professional adults? Those with colleagues, families, friends and the ever-present social media platforms like Facebook can’t possibly be lonely. Or can they?
What do we mean by loneliness?
If someone asked you to define loneliness, you might go for a dictionary-type definition and say it is a state of solitude. On reflection, though, that’s inaccurate. Look at that child in the playground again, or a soldier on a new posting in a faraway land. Neither are in solitude, but both might feel desperately lonely.
Perhaps loneliness can be better described as a feeling of isolation or disconnection. Put that way, you can see how the company of others can actually make you feel more lonely rather than less.
Why are people more lonely today?
Despite this being the communication age, there are more people talking about social isolation and loneliness than ever. Earlier this year, the government even announced a Ministerial Lead for Loneliness following the Jo Cox commission. Is it the rise of the online world and evolving social habits that are making our existences more lonely?
It’s a compelling argument. We spend hours of each day glued to our smartphones, and who’s not been guilty of instant messaging someone in the next room instead of simply talking to them? Of course, there are also loneliness triggers that have been around far longer than Snapchat or WhatsApp, such as bereavement, family break ups or relocating.
How to combat loneliness
Loneliness can often be linked to other conditions such as anxiety and depression, and these in turn can have physical causes. It is important that you don’t overlook the simple task of taking care of your health, and ensuring your serotonin levels are maintained, or you can find yourself descending into a black hole of despondency.
If you are a remote worker, we have already established that it is not the solitude that causes loneliness but the feeling of disconnection. How can you be sure that you are part of a team and that what you are doing makes a difference to the business? Those online tools like Slack are useful here, but only if they are used right. The “water cooler” type chats are not a waste of time, they are an essential part of building and fostering effective teams.
Loneliness is nothing new, but the changing world makes it manifest in different ways. The fact that there is an awareness of the issue, even at government level, is a positive sign. However, as human beings it is down to each and every one of us to be conscious of one another, and to be ready to extend a hand of companionship whenever we are able to.