Why you might be feeling lonely

Loneliness is the feeling of sadness that can come from not having the social contact you would like. It may be the result of social isolation. But you could be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. It may be triggered by an event or change in circumstances. Or you may have felt lonely for some time.

Some common experiences of older age could make you more likely to feel lonely, such as:

  • retirement
  • health problems that make it harder to get out and see others
  • hearing or sight loss
  • caring responsibilities
  • the loss of someone close.

You may also feel lonely if:

  • you’re living on a low income and can’t afford to socialise as much as you’d like
  • your adult children have moved away
  • you’ve lost touch with friends or family
  • you’re shy or suffer from social anxiety
  • you live alone.

These are just some examples. There may be no particular reason why you feel lonely and you don’t need to look for one.

Loneliness and depression

Loneliness and depression are distinct experiences, but they are linked. One can lead to the other. If you’re feeling low, visit our mental health hub. Find out more about depression and where you can get help, as well as ways you can keep yourself mentally well.

How to deal with feelings of loneliness

It can help to be aware of when you’re feeling lonely, so you can try to change things. For example, you could try keeping a simple journal for a week. This may help you to see if there are particular times or situations that bring on feelings of loneliness.

Look for opportunities to feel more connected. You could try setting yourself a weekly target, such as phoning an old friend or speaking to your neighbour. Our guide If you're feeling lonely has more suggestions.

If there are practical barriers that are stopping you from getting out, such as caring for someone or lack of money or transport, you may be able to get support. Call our Helpline for advice.

Thinking about yourself

If you’ve been feeling lonely for a while, it might feel daunting to go out and meet new people. You might worry that others won’t understand you or want to spend time with you. If your confidence is low, addressing how you’re feeling and reaching out to others can help.

Try to be kind to yourself and challenge negative thoughts. You could try using self-help resources, such as:

  • the Overcoming series of books recommended by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Titles include Overcoming Anxiety and Overcoming Low Self-Esteem
  • resource packs from the Red Cross
  • online tools on Every Mind Matters.

Self-help isn’t right for everyone, so speak to your GP if you think you need some support. They might refer you for a short course of counselling through the NHS. You can also refer yourself.

Talking about it

If you’re going through a difficult time and need some emotional support, you might find it useful to talk about what you’re feeling. If you have people close to you, try reaching out to them. Loneliness affects almost everyone, so they’ll probably be able to empathise.

If you’d rather talk to someone who isn’t close to you, there are organisations that can help, such as:

  • The Silver Line –  a free helpline providing emotional support and advice to older people
  • Cruse Bereavement Care – for support after the death of someone close
  • Relate – for help if you’re experiencing difficulties in your relationships
  • Samaritans – free, confidential emotional support. You don’t have to be depressed or suicidal to call them – they’ll talk about anything that’s worrying you.

Volunteers to visit or call you

You may just want some company or a chat on the phone with someone. There are many organisations that offer befriending schemes, including Independent Age. If you find it difficult to get out and about, a volunteer can visit or call weekly or fortnightly for a chat.

Other organisations that offer befriending services include Age UK, the Royal Voluntary Service and The Silver Line.

Our Staying connected page has more ideas on how you can boost your social contact.

Partners and loneliness

For some people, the loss or lack of a partner can be the hardest thing to cope with. You may have people around you but miss having one person to share your life with. Being single and lonely can be very difficult. You might feel you want to put all your energy into meeting new people. But learning to spend time alone and building other supportive relationships can help you to feel less lonely, whether or not you’re looking for a partner.

If you do feel ready to start a new relationship or friendship, there are many ways to meet people. Joining a group can be a good way to spend time with others and get to know them at a pace that suits you. See Staying connected for some ideas of groups you could join. Some people also try online dating – an increasingly popular way for people of all ages to meet new partners. 

Learning to be alone

This may feel like the opposite of what you should be doing but being on your own is different from being lonely. Learning to enjoy your own company can help you to feel less lonely even when you don’t have others around you.

Try using your time alone to learn a new skill or indulge an interest your friends don’t share.

If you find it hard to relax, you may find it helpful to practise mindfulness. This involves focusing your mind on the present moment, for example by concentrating on your breathing. Mind has more information.

Spending time outdoors – even looking out of a window – can help you feel connected and ease feelings of loneliness.

If you want more company at home, you could consider getting a pet. Many people find them very comforting. Having a dog that needs walking would also give you a reason to get out and keep active. If you wouldn’t be able to keep your own dog, you could sign up to look after or walk one for someone else through organisations like The Cinnamon Trust or Borrow My Doggy.

Next steps

Download or order a copy of our free advice guide If you're feeling lonely.

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