It might sound ridiculous when you first hear about it, but did you know that the UK has appointed a minister of loneliness?
According to HuffPost, Tracey Crouch was first appointed back in January and has been quite busy fielding requests and pleas for help on dealing with loneliness ever since.
In an interview with HuffPost UK, she says that she’s been floored by the number of people who have been calling to offer solutions for “communities to stay connected” and believes that those who have been responding believe that this has become a wonderful opportunity to highlight how very real of an issue loneliness is.
Because the truth is that loneliness is something we seldom talk about.
It’s like the guilty family secret everyone knows about but no one wants to talk about because it brings shame upon the family – it’s considered a weakness, a sign that you’re not able to make friends, even.
Except that sometimes loneliness isn’t a feeling that’s always rooted in physically being alone. Many people enjoy bouts of solitude and never truly feel like they don’t have to constantly be surrounded by people.
I know this because the worst kind of loneliness is the kind I’ve felt when I’m actually in a crowd.
If I examine that feeling on a closer level (but by no means from an expert point of view), I could easily say that things like social awkwardness and struggling to make a connection with people are just two of the big reasons that loneliness have crept up on me.
Loneliness can stem from feelings of inadequacy, from the idea of never being good enough and even from feeling like you’re living on the fringe of society, not quite fitting in.
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The video above actually goes on to explain how loneliness is an epidemic and that it’s actually not a very healthy emotion for us to experience.
And I think it’s a feeling that’s far worse when you find yourself in a new country or city. In fact, when reaching out to some friends and folk on social media, the responses to how they struggled with feelings of loneliness makes for some hard, but important reading.
Yes moving and travelling are so much fun – but we spend so much time glorifying and romanticising the idea of a “great big adventure” that we forget that it’s okay to acknowledge that there are difficult things that we don’t talk about.
My friend Cat has been living in Scotland for more than a year now and says that it’s been hard and it does get lonely (I made a specific point of asking if things like Seasonal Affective Disorder make it worse)
“Where I am, because the winter days are so short, I felt wrecked by winter. At the peak of winter the sun is only up by about 9 and sets by 3:30.
I’d be fetching my kid from school in the sunset. Also, the sun stayed in the south the whole time, which was very weird for me.
I have Whatsapp and Skype, but it's not the same thing as seeing real life friends and family, though it does help a little.
In reality, the things that made the biggest difference were getting involved in local community (I often help with school outings if I'm available, and I try make a monthly Science Fiction event in Edinburgh as often as possible), getting medicated (I was suicidal after about eight months here), and taking up a hobby that forced me to not only get out the house, but interact with other people.
It's much harder to make friends as an adult, but there are others in a similar position - immigrants, or even people who've just moved towns - and often we end up banding together because we understand how hard it is.”
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Shaheema worked as an au pair and hated every minute of it.
So how do you deal when you’re struggling with feelings of sadness and loneliness?
Our ed, Zanele offered some tips on how to combat loneliness and said that it helped to have friends come visit while she spent a few months in Spain.
“I made friends quickly because a few friends in SA connected me to their friends in Barcelona and I had family and friends come to visit regularly.
"I also went to Spanish classes and made close friends with a guy there and we were inseparable until he went back to Canada. We're still in touch as I am with a lot of the people I met during that time. I also joined an organisation called Internations and would go to networking events organised through them – and we went to some great restaurants or interesting spots that would help spark conversation.
"I’m not saying I didn’t have any lonely moments but that’s not how I remember the experience.
"I would say that you should sign up to a class or join groups so you can meet people who will be in the same boat as you.
"If you’re interested in photography for example, see if there any gatherings you can join.
"The thing that was most frustrating though was not being able to be funny because of the language barrier. Or being able to communicate anything intelligent until I could speak to someone in English!"
So, it’s clear that while loneliness isn’t easy to eradicate, there are some things you can do to hold it at bay in order to help you cope.
The most important takeaway that I’ve gotten from the responses is that you become lonely because it feels like you don’t have access to connections and the ones you have aren’t within physical reach.
Humans often require connection to thrive. I suffer from social anxiety disorder and even I need to be around people sometimes – not a lot, but I need that stimulation from having a heart-to-heart with someone who is sitting or standing right next to me.
Combat that isolation and that disenfranchised feeling by finding ways (not matter how small) to befriend someone – even if it’s just one person to start off with.
Have you struggled with feelings of loneliness while being in a new city or country? What helped you get through it? We’d love to hear your stories.