LONELINESS CAN STRIKE at any life stage, especially during relationship changes or health issues. "Loneliness often occurs when we're in transition, and we lose our connection to our anchor points," says Prof Olivia Sagan, a chartered psychologist who researches loneliness.

My reflections on loneliness and the human condition are relatable. I often experience moments of solitude and feeling misunderstood or abandoned. I've realised that these feelings, while painful, are a part of the human experience many of us share.

My isolation can be overwhelming but acknowledging it has been a significant first step. I've learned that it's okay to reach out for support, whether from friends, family, or mental health professionals. Connecting with others who have had similar experiences can also provide comfort and understanding.

I hold onto my strength in expressing these emotions. It's a reminder that even in my loneliest moments, I am not truly alone. Others have felt what I feel and can offer empathy and support. I strive to keep holding on to that hope and seek connections that bring peace and understanding.

Understanding your 'anchor points' – family, work, friendships – is critical. These anchor points may be stripped away in midlife, leading to loneliness. Later in life, loneliness can re-emerge when we no longer work and have a lesser role in our families. Recognising this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared loneliness to be a global health threat, with one US surgeon general claiming that its mortality effects are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Recent research by the Campaign to End Loneliness in the UK reports that over 25 million British individuals sometimes feel lonely.

Loneliness has become a significant issue because of the transient way we live our lives, affecting the quality and depth of our relationships. Prof Sagan explains that loneliness research indicates it's not about the number of friends you have but the quality of those relationships. The Campaign to End Loneliness defines it as an "unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship" when there's a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships we have and those we want.

Our 'transient way of life' significantly contributes to loneliness. Modern society offers a broader range of choices than ever before. And these choices can come at the cost of loneliness. Our way of living, accelerated by digital platforms and social media, makes us less capable of sustained human contact and conversations. We see people fleetingly and invest less in the relationships around us.

Humans need connection, but we live in a time of true disconnection. While technology allows us to run businesses from the beach, the screens around us disconnect us from nature, ourselves, and others. Face-to-face interaction is crucial for thriving, and the pressure of performing on social media and presenting a perfect life can make genuine connections harder to achieve.

Learning to connect with yourself and be authentically you is not just important; it's empowering. This authenticity can then extend to your interactions with others. Give others your full attention: put your phone down, listen, and reflect. This focused attention is one of the most potent connection tools in today's distracted world, and it's in your hands to use it.

Sociologist Michèle Lamont's research highlights the importance of feeling that you matter in the world. People often want someone to see them, communicate with them, make eye contact, say hello, or offer a small gesture.

If you're feeling lonely, focus on small actions you can do to increase visibility and reduce loneliness. It might involve confronting and accepting that you're hiding away and then taking steps to change that. The loss of daily social interactions provided by work can lead to a loss of identity. However, retirement or working from home is also an opportunity to reinvent yourself, discover new passions and interests, and connect with others differently.

Conclusion Loneliness is a complex issue that peaks during midlife and older age transitions. Overcoming it involves proactive steps at every life stage. We can combat loneliness by reconnecting with ourselves, investing in quality relationships, and engaging with our communities. Small actions can significantly change our social well-being, helping us lead more fulfilling, connected lives.

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