Even before the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to spend the vast majority of our time at home, possibly alone, loneliness itself was being described as an epidemic.
In March, most of the things we take for granted for helping us to stay connected were paused, almost overnight. Socialising with friends, visits with family, even connecting with people at the shop, the gym or the school gates, stopped.The Mental Health Foundation reported that a survey of UK adults which took place during lockdown showed that 24% said they had feelings of loneliness in the previous two weeks.
It’s hardly surprising that this situation made so many of us feel lonely.But what you may not know is that experts suggest there are many different types of loneliness, and different ways that loneliness can manifest itself. Knowing more about the different types can help us to recognise them when we encounter them, and is the first step in knowing how to deal with them.
Firstly, let’s look at the ways that loneliness can manifest. Let’s call the first one intimate loneliness. Think of life as being made up of three circles. The first circle is that inner circle of the people we are closest to. That could be a partner, it could be your parents, it could be housemates - whoever you put into this category will be the people you are incredibly close to. If this circle is suddenly taken away, for instance through bereavement, separation, or even lockdown, this can trigger a feeling of loneliness.
The middle circle is social loneliness. This can arise if you feel that you’re not part of a friendship group, for example.
And then we've got collective loneliness - the outer circle. This can happen when we're yearning for a community, or a network of like-minded people. So you could be surrounded by people, say at work, but if you don’t feel a connection with them this can bring about a feeling of loneliness.
Author and ‘happiness expert’ Gretchen Rubin describes seven types of loneliness . Among these are feeling lonely because of being in a new situation, for example moving town, starting a new job or school. Another is a feeling of loneliness triggered because those you are close to seem no longer to have time for you - perhaps their own lives have changed with the arrival of children, for instance.
There’s also the feeling of loneliness that arises when you feel that you no longer have anything in common with your friends and that you have grown apart. A danger is here is clinging on to these relationships even though they don’t have anything to offer you any more. This can in fact increase feelings of loneliness. Losing a pet can also be a significant trigger of loneliness for some people.
It’s important to remember that every single one of us is likely to experience loneliness at some time - and we may even be feeling several different types at the same time. Essentially this is down to our brains telling us that social contact is missing.
The key thing to remember is that loneliness is a sign of an emotional need, and a reminder that we need to do something to fulfill it.