It’s a well-documented fact, loneliness is a plague of our times. It not only causes misery for countless numbers of people (of all ages), but it contributes to a greater risk of many health issues such as cognitive decline, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Loneliness hasn’t always affected the vast numbers it now does, and much of the reason for this is the way we now live has changed.
Many people of retirement age can still remember multi-generational households where grandparents (one or more) lived with their children and grandchildren, or at least in the same suburb. There was a time when it was unfathomable neighbours were unknown to each other, or the concept of ‘community’ meant something other than mixing with those who lived close to one’s own home. Now, however, family and community are often spread, not only far and wide within a single country, but also across the globe. This means connection with those who matter most can be much more difficult to access. When connection with others is lost, so is the feeling of being needed – whether it’s as a helping hand around the home, or a passer-on of wisdom to those who respect what you know.
Playing into this scenario, is the digital age. Even when we do live close to those who matter most, the people who once sought out our help, now frequently turn to the internet for advice. Sometimes this is because it offers information on matters intensely personal and which are able to be discussed in a more anonymous way than face to face chats. At other times, simple DIY information is readily available on the likes of You Tube, where instructions can be viewed again and again and where we won’t suffer the potential embarrassment of feeling like a ‘slow learner.’ The internet can even provide company in the form of social media ‘friends’ who can feel every bit as intimate as a much-loved grandparent or neighbour.
As valid as digital connections can be, it leaves many, who don’t live in the internet world, feeling as if they are no longer needed. Knowing we are ‘needed’ gives our lives purpose, and builds our self-confidence and self respect. When we sense we are ‘redundant,’ we quickly begin to feel worthless and inadequate, and lose our sense of self-esteem. This creates a vicious cycle as the less we value our own worth, the more likely we are to retreat from others, and isolation and loneliness quickly set in.
As difficult as it may seem, and even though it may not feel like something we should have to do for ourselves, we can combat loneliness in our lives by taking some simple actions. Start by being an active listener when the opportunity for conversation does arise. Be the person who doesn’t interrupt, who listens without stepping in to contradict or offer unwanted advice, who is simply ‘there’ for another. Do this, and you will soon find friends and family turn to you more regularly as a listening ear. Step outside your comfort zone, and offer your service as a volunteer. It doesn’t even need to be in a situation where you are adept (allowing someone else to show you the ropes is helping them to feel needed, too). Be sure to let those around you know how much you value them – this will forge or strengthen a relationship which will in turn have you feeling needed. Set out to be a reliable person in whatever you do for others – because the sad fact is few people have this attribute. Whether it’s turning up regularly to walk a puppy at the local SPCA, or minding a child for an hour on Saturdays, weekend after weekend, the organisation or person you are helping will come to rely on you, like no other. This is the sort of ‘feeling needed’ that will boost your confidence and eat away at loneliness. Look for clubs and social activities (such as walking or craft groups) that will put you in contact with others, and don’t be afraid to attend meet-ups (such as coffee groups) specially set up for those feeling lonely. There is no shame in seeking out company, and in fact, acknowledging this openly can be a way to feel needed as it can give others permission to acknowledge this, too.
We all need to be needed, and none of us deserves to be lonely. But if we wait for others to help us beat the plague of our times, we may be waiting a long time!