A Coventry University psychologist has shared her five top tips to help young people soothe the feelings of loneliness, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.
Course Director of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies in Coventry University’s School of Psychological, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Nim Bahia has 14 years of health psychology practice experience working across health and education with children and young people.
Due to that background, she is able to share her insight into an Office for National Statistics survey that revealed young people aged 16 to 24 years reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.
She said: “Loneliness can be described as a hollow, sinking feeling of emptiness and in a physical sense is the pain experienced from feeling deficient of social connection, or a network of relationships that make you feel ‘heard’. We continue to live in a world where it is assumed a large social following, extroverted characteristics, are artefacts of being happy, heard and well – yet loneliness is as much about ‘context’, as personal characteristics.
“Transitions between life stages, a sense of disconnect, an inability to express themselves or at least when trying to feel they don’t matter, pressure to fit in or be socially accepted are a few examples of ‘why’. Social media is an example of one such platform which continues to harness a gap between young people’s authentic sense of self and what they perceive to appease others online.
“There are often two types of reactions that can precede when a young person describes feeling lonely, one that can unhelpfully label the feeling as a ‘problem, or deficit’, and a second which overlooks the debilitating nature of loneliness, as a method of ‘attention seeking’ or a characteristic of adolescent behaviour.”
She has put together some helpful tips that could give some relief to these feelings:
Map your Emotions: How am I feeling? How long have I felt this way? What events preceded this feeling? What’s the physical manifestation of this feeling?
Creating a roadmap of your earliest memory of feeling lonely, and how it manifests emotionally and physically is insight that will help you create practical and emotional resources. It can be common to ‘feel’ an emotion but equally be unknown to the reason why, and how long we have been harbouring this emotion. If we want to help ourselves, we need to know who can and how, for which this insight is invaluable. It might be a post-it-note with a few words, an extravagant doodle on a notepad or perhaps a letter to yourself?
Talk it Out: Who do you trust? Who are your meaningful others? Why?
Consider those who are meaningful to you in your life, and how they validate your unique qualities as a person and listen to your experiences – can you reach out to these meaningful others to share how you feel? Those who care and want to see you at your best will acknowledge your difficult times and want to support. One of the common exacerbators of loneliness is feeling hostage to the experience or ‘in it by myself’, so sharing it with someone can be the first step to relieve this feeling.
Channel Feeling into Activity: Loneliness can feel heavy, and thus emotionally tiring, and feeling ‘stuck’. Trace back your memory to an activity, hobby or past time that you enjoy or get a sense of satisfaction from or try something new which encourages you to channel the energy from thinking to ‘doing’. This could be something simple from writing a journal, potting a plant, visiting a favourite spot, to joining a club/group. This can encourage meeting like-minded others, but also initiate something active in your routine particularly if you’re feeling of loneliness is keeping you idle.
Create a Playlist: Music can have a therapeutic quality; lyrics or beats can act as soothers to our most difficult of emotions. The weight of an emotion sometimes leaves us bereft of words where a song or poem expressing this on our behalf can feel lifting or freeing. It can also reaffirm ‘you are not alone’ in your experience. Compile a playlist of music which acts as a soother to your emotion, or one which lifts your mood
Digital downtime: Social media platforms, WhatsApp groups and Snapchat all add to screen time but also can make us feel further distant from our authentic sense of self. Consider replacing your time on some of those apps with listening to a podcast. There are 7 million listeners of podcasts ranging from those who listen for entertainment to those who access these for ‘light relief’. Perhaps the time you would spend on Instagram is time you could spend on a mindful walk, playlist or podcast.
There is also extensive external support where parents, carers or professionals working with young people can find guidance:
Young Minds: Helpline and Webchat