Even though I have many contacts from my youth movement, I am feeling lonely.


Did you know this?

Loneliness is not the same as being alone. The latter refers to a situation. Loneliness, however, is a feeling; a lack of social relationships. Loneliness is often associated with aging, but it occurs at every age, even amongst young people. Women are more likely to feel emotionally lonely, while men are often more socially lonely. Being able to come home to people in your surroundings – especially when you are going through a hard time – is of vital importance to everyone.

Loneliness: different for everybody

Loneliness is a feeling, so it does not always mean the same to everyone. For instance, someone can have very few contacts, but not feel lonely at all, while another person can have a large network, yet suffer from loneliness.

There are two types of loneliness:

  • emotional loneliness: missing a close, emotional and intimate bond with someone (e.g., a close friendship)
  • social loneliness: lacking a broad social network of people with whom you have something in common (e.g., colleagues, neighbours, an inner circle of friends)

People need both forms of relationships, but the extent to which they do differs from person to person. That is why you cannot put a number on how many high-quality contacts you “should” have in order not to feel lonely, as it is a very subjective experience.

Everyone feels lonely sometimes. Mostly, this lonely feeling disappears spontaneously as soon as you start feeling better.
When someone has no or few social contacts, we can speak of social isolation.

Overcoming loneliness

The impact of loneliness can be far-reaching, especially when it lingers for a longer period. In such cases, a vicious cycle of thoughts like ‘I feel lonely’ or ‘nobody is here for me’ can arise.

Loneliness can lead to worrying and that, in turn, can incite you to withdraw. Hence, you feel even lonelier and start worrying more. It is crucial to break this vicious cycle of loneliness. An important step is to recognize that feeling and talk about it.

The power of connection

Social contacts help to combat loneliness. However, building these is more easily said than done. So start with small, achievable steps: the lower the threshold, the higher the chance of success.

Small steps you can take:

  • Try to figure out when you feel lonely. It might be a good idea to keep track of this for a while. Once you are aware of precisely when lonely feelings arise, you can tackle them more directly.
  • Make a list of contacts you have lost touch with. Maybe you can call or email someone? Take the first step and send a message yourself; most people will be very happy to hear from you, so give it a go and see what happens.
  • Push your limits and shift your boundaries. Say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ sometimes. When people ask you to do something together, it means they really want you there. Do not just assume you are a burden to others.
  • Start from your own interests. Whether this is sport, theatre, dance or Italian class, it can be a way to make contact with like-minded people.
  • Seek out approachable, low-threshold connections, for example amongst the offer of nice initiatives by and for students.

Give yourself some time. Your loneliness has not suddenly arisen in one day and so will not disappear in one. Try out carefully who you are able to have a good conversation with. Who do you feel comfortable with? With whom do you have common ground? It might be that you have to overcome cold feet at first, but you are capable of so much more than you think.

Start to Talk was an ideal stepping stone to expand my social network.


Talk about it

Talking about your loneliness can give you the feeling you are not alone. So try to start a conversation with a friend, family member or fellow student.

If you don’t immediately have the courage to tell someone in your direct surroundings, then try to approach someone who is familiar with similar experiences, such as a GP or a student counsellor at your college or university.

You can also anonymously contact Awel (102 or via www.awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or via tele-onthaal.be), or the Suicide hotline (1813 or zelfmoordlijn1813) for questions regarding suicidal thoughts.

Worried about someone?

It is not always easy to realise when people are lonely. If you do sense that someone in your close surroundings feels that way, talk to him/her about it. You can never go wrong by showing someone you care for them.

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