About sharing When the BBC launched the Loneliness Experiment on Valentine's Day a staggering 55, people from around the world completed the survey, making it the largest study of loneliness yet. Claudia Hammond, who instigated the project, looks at the findings and spoke to three people about their experiences of loneliness. If you have a good piece of moe or a bad piece of moore, it's not having that person to tell about it. Lacking those people in your life can be really hard.
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She is friendly and chatty and enjoys her job - she seems to have everything going for her, but she feels lonely. She has lived in a few different cities so her friends are spread around the country and tend to be busy with their children at weekends. She does go for drinks with colleagues after work, but tells me it's the deeper relationships she misses.
Ever since I was a teenager, I've always felt a little bit different and separate from large groups of friends, but in the last five years it's crept in more. It's almost like an out-of-body experience because I can hear myself saying these positive things, when I'm mpre about how I struggled to get out bed yesterday. It's the loneliness of knowing how you feel in your own head and never being perdon to tell people. But the BBC survey found even higher levels of loneliness among younger people, and this pattern was the same in every country.
The survey was conducted online, which might have deterred some older people, or attracted people who feel fhat. But this is not the first study to see high rates of loneliness reported by young people: research conducted earlier in by the Office for National Statistics on paper as well as online with a smaller, but more representative sample also found more loneliness among the young. It's tempting to conclude that something about modern life is putting young people at a higher risk of loneliness, but when we asked older people in our survey about the loneliest times in their lives, they also said it was when they were young.
There are several reasons why younger people might feel lonelier. The years between 16 and 24 are often a time of transition where people move home, build their identities and try to find new friends.
Michelle has been open about her loneliness and her mental health, even blogging about them. This is not something everyone feels they can do. The survey suggested that younger people felt more able to tell others about their loneliness than older people, but still many young people who feel lonely told us they felt ashamed about it. Were persln people afraid to tell us how they really felt or had they found a way of coping?
The online survey was created by three leading academics in the field of loneliness research. When loneliness becomes chronic it can have a serious impact on both health and well-being.
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To try to pin down why some feel so lonely, we looked at the differences between people. Those who told us they always or often felt lonely had lower levels of trust in others. The survey was a snapshot in time, so we can't tell where this lack of trust in others came from, but there is some evidence from research that if people feel chronically lonely they can become more sensitive to rejection.
Imagine you start a conversation with someone in a shop and they don't respond - if you're feeling desperately lonely, then you might feel rejected and wonder if it's something about you. Michelle recognises some of this in herself. You are dealing with so many things alone that when people do take an interest you can be quite defensive sometimes. It can be incredibly debilitating being lonely.
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A third did say that being alone makes persin feel lonely and in some cases isolation is clearly at the root of their loneliness. Jack King is 96 and lives alone in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England, after losing his wife in On his windowsill sits the tennis-ball-sized rock that hit him, leaving a hole in his forehead, when he spent more than three years as a Japanese POW during World War Two. Today, he says, the days feel very long, but to distract himself from his loneliness he fills his time writing novels and poetry, playing music and painting.
I'm creative, it's a curse," he says. It was his creativity which kept him going when he was held captive all those decades ago. He would write comic plays and perform mayge for the other prisoners, fashioning stage curtains out of rice sacks. After the war he was on a train which was just pulling out of the station when a young woman on the platform shouted to him that he could take her to the pictures if he liked. At first he thought she didn't mean it, but he did notice her beautiful head of hair.
They did go on a date and married the same year.
After 65 years of happy marriage she had a stroke, followed by another, developed dementia mayve eventually died. This is when his feelings of loneliness began.
We took delight in the simple pesron in life, like walks. We used to morre time after time to watch the cloud shadows on the sea at Seven Sisters. And that's what I miss - that type of companionship that is so close and so intense. Now that he's too frail to leave the house very often, he says it's opened up the world. They have fewer friends who overlap with real life, and more online-only friends.
Social media might heighten feelings of loneliness, but it can also help connect people. Michelle has found it both helps and hinders. Celebrities are trying to be a bit more honest about the less glamorous sides of their lives, but there's a long way to go. Megan Paul is Like Jack and Michelle, she's very sociable and lively.
She is blind and looks back now on a very lonely time at school, set apart by her disability and even more so by others' reactions to it. I loved my books and animals, so I didn't have the same interests. I couldn't talk about whether boys were cute, so there was that natural growing apart. When the teacher asked omre whole class who wanted to work with Megan, there would be an awkward silence until eventually the teacher perwon up with her.
Sometimes she felt the staff set a bad example. Pupils learn a lot from adult role models at that age and they saw that the teachers didn't know what to do with me," Megan says. My mental health was the worst it's ever been. I wanted to die rather than be at school. Then in Year 11 they agreed that I could do a lot of my work at home.
I found that was much better than being stressed out at school and it taught me great study skills. If someone who can see comes into a room they will gravitate chst someone who smiles at them. I'm not smiling until I know that they are there, so they don't get any feedback from me. It does mean perskn friends I have are really special though, because they're the kind of people who persevered. I appreciate the friends I have so much more because I don't have many of them. Sometimes I feel I'm overshadowed by my dog.
I know I'm mmore cute and furry but I do have mre to offer. She would like to, but finds access can mayve a problem. I recently tried to a walking group with my dog, but they wrote back and said I needed to find ,ore group that walks slowly. I'm a fast walker. They should decide mayybe fast we walk together. If I do go to a group, I'm in the corner and everyone swirls around me.
But the more groups I couldthe better. If I feel really bad, now I drop people a message. I don't tell them I'm feeling bad, I'm just making connections and reaching out, so I can work through that feeling. She includes tips, perwon as holding the door open for people in order to start a conversation. A lot of people walked through without noticing, but cjat if you got a 'Thank you' or a peeson at least it was an interaction. I wasn't able to go up to people and say 'Hi' because I didn't know where they were.
So it's one way of getting noticed. It's nice to be seen as helpful rather than 'Here's the weird blind girl again. I remember talking to a teacher who told me her cat had had kittens. Afterwards I thought, 'That's one less break time spent alone. We found that people who say they often feel lonely score higher on average maybee social empathy. They are better at spotting when someone else is feeling rejected or excluded, probably because they have experienced it themselves.
But when it comes to trust, the findings are very different. Although they may be more understanding of other people's emotional pain, on average people who say they often feel lonely had lower levels of trust in others and higher levels of anxiety, both of which can make it harder to make friends. Michelle can relate to this. I do have trust issues and I think they stem from my anxiety. I think when you become lonely you do start to look inward and question people's motives.
You find yourself wondering whether people spend time with me because they want to, or because they feel guilty. So instead, perhaps what's needed are strategies to help mroe with the anxiety of meeting new persson. Loneliness around the world People from different countries, islands and territories took part in the survey The type of culture you live in has implications for loneliness People from cultures which tend to put a high value on independence, such as Northern Europe and the US, told us they would be less likely to tell a colleague about their loneliness In these cultures maybf with partners seemed to be particularly important in the prevention of loneliness In cultures where extended family is often emphasised, such as Southern Europe, Majbe America, Asia and Africa, older women in amybe were at lower risk of feeling lonely Both Jack and Michelle find weekends the hardest.
Michelle would like to go out for brunch, but has no-one to go with. You see people sitting outside laughing and joking and I think how I want to be part of that. It's not the most healthy or practical way of dealing with loneliness, but it's about being around people and it's great because you can lose yourself in the crowd. We asked people which solutions to loneliness they had found helpful.
At one was distracting yourself by dedicating time to work, study or hobbies. Next was ing a social club, but this also appeared in the list of the top three unhelpful things that other people suggest. If you feel isolated then ing a club might help, but if you find it hard to trust people, you might still feel lonely in a crowd.