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Feeling lonely as you get older

Feeling lonely? You're not the only one. According to research we did in partnership with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely and more than half of those have never spoken to anyone about how they feel. 

feeling lonely 

The stigma of loneliness and isolation

Despite this being a widespread issue, no one really wants to admit to being lonely. Our research showed that 56% of those who said they're lonely say they've never spoken about their loneliness to anyone and 71% say that their friends and family would be astonished to hear that they feel this way. We don't want to be a burden to our family and friends and most certainly don't want anyone's pity.

But being isolated is something we need to address. We are by nature social animals. We are programmed to need to feel part of something - a community, a network, a part of something bigger than ourselves.


Feeling lonely - why do I feel this way?

In today's fast-paced world, busy-ness is often prioritised over personal connections. Families are under more pressure financially and may well live far away from each other. Many of our members are long-distance grandparents, with family and grandchildren living as far away as Australia, Canada and the US. Skype, FaceTime and even Facebook are all wonderful ways of staying in touch more easily. It's not quite the same as having them in the same room of course but it's great to be able to interact via screen rather than over a bad phone connection.  



Should I move in order not to feel so isolated?

If you are very close to your family, the temptation to follow them across the country (or indeed, globe) can be a strong one. For some this works very well and it can tie in nicely with a need to downsize, but there are some unforeseen complications that could arise. If you are considering moving closer to your grandchildren, here are a few things you might want to consider first.

skype grandchildren


Ill health or disabilities leading to loneliness

Increasing years, sadly, also takes a toll on our bodies and minds. Some of us find ourselves isolated because we simply aren't able to leave the house without a massive effort or indeed, help from someone else. In these situations an online 24/7 community like the forums on Gransnet can be a huge help. There is always someone online and it's very likely you'll find someone ready and willing to offer you advice, support, a laugh - or even a virtual slice of cake.


Coping with retirement

"I think the popular press would have us believe that retirement is all beer and skittles but for many people it isn't like that and there is a void."

While some people take to retirement like a duck to water (see gransnetters' favourite things about being retired), you might be one of those who takes a little longer to adjust.

"So much of my life my work has defined me and I'm concerned I'll feel lost without it.”

Yes, lie-ins are lovely but not having an everyday routine or regular interaction with work colleagues and friends, can leave you feeling isolated. Some gransnetters even admit to missing their bosses! Their advice is to embrace the freedom as much as you can, get rid of your watch - you've got nothing to be late for! - and take a little time to try and discover the things you actually like (rather than have) to do.


Feeling lonely in a relationship

For some people retirement also means suddenly spending more time with a partner which can throw up all sorts of issues. Gransnetters know only too well about dreaded 'Retired Husband Syndrome' and the curse of the Grumpy Old Man.

Our research revealed that 9% of people feel lonely in the company of people with whom they no longer connect, whether it's a partner or family.

As with most things, it's usually an adjustment period, and once you've both found your new roles and got used to seeing more of each other than before, gransnetters report that things do get easier. 


Bereavement or divorce

arguing coupleOf course, some people have lost their beloved (even if they were grumpy) old men and coming to terms with bereavement (or indeed divorce) can be extremely difficult at a time when you thought you'd have all the time in the world together. Talking to family, friends, organisations such as Relate or even others on Gransnet who are in similar positions can be incredibly helpful.  


Loneliness and depression

"It is important to remember that depression is an illness. Just because other people can't see it doesn't make it any less corrosive than, say, cancer (and I am a cancer survivor!)."

It won't come as a surprise to many that loneliness has been identified as a major risk factor for depression. Being on the receiving end of love gives people the opportunity to discuss their mental health condition and ask for help. If they are alone, this opportunity doesn't exist and they have no way of finding a way out. So what can you do? If you feel yourself becoming depressed, it's important to tell someone. Don't bottle it up and hope you'll feel better in the morning. Britons have a reputation for keeping a stiff upper lip which prevents us from seeking help when we need it. Friends, family members or GPs are there to listen and advise and there is no shame in receiving treatment for what is a very real and surprisingly common disease. 


Signs of loneliness and depression

What are the signs or symptoms you need to look out for if you think you, a loved one, or even a neighbour might be depressed? Physical symptoms may be more obvious and may include:

  • fluctuations in weight
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • restless sleep or insomnia

Emotional symptoms may manifest themselves in:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling tearful
  • feelings of guilt and/or hopelessness
  • feeling irritable

Be aware of yourself and those around you and if you notice these symptoms, don't be afraid to talk about it and seek help. If you're want to find out more, then do look at our in-depth guide to depression for more information.


What can I do to feel less lonely?

The first step is realising that you are not alone in your loneliness. Here are just a few things that other gransnetters have found worked for them: 


1) Routine

Unanimously the advice on Gransnet is to set a daily routine. It needn't be onerous and there's no need to overfill your diary, but starting the day at roughly the same time and getting the usual morning routines out the way early is one way to stop inertia setting in. 


2) Have something planned for a Monday

mindful mondayGetting the week off to a productive start is the best way of setting a positive tone for the rest of the week. Even if you falter by Thursday at least you will have accomplished something early on. Put something in the diary - be it a course, an appointment, an afternoon gardening or a lunch out - and stick to it. 


3) Make friends

Of course no one's going to replace the old ones, but if circumstance means they're not round the corner anymore, you're going to need someone else to share that cake with on a more regular basis. Read our helpful page on making friends later in life. And check out your Gransnet Local site to see if there are meet-ups happening in your local area. 


4) Learn something new

Where to start? From local classes, to U3A talks and free online courses, there's no end to ways to fill your time. Take a look at 10 ways to keep your mind sharp with suggestions ranging from language classes to ancestry and Tai Chi

The following organisations also offer classes and discussions that might be of interest:


5) Volunteer

There are loads of opportunities to help out your local community. Be that at a charity shop, for an animal shelter, your local community centre etc. 

Or you could find out more about becoming a Local Editor and meet up with other gransnetters living nearby. 


5) Go online

“I never dreamed I would use this kind of 'social network’ - but knowing there are people out there who have given thought to my predicament gives me a warm feeling. I am surprised too, it’s made me feel less alone.”

While online friendships will never replace the intimacy of face to face interactions, Gransnet community members recount time and time again about how helpful talking on the forums has been for them. 59% of those surveyed say social media helps them feel less lonely and 82% say that talking about feeling lonely is much easier when you’re anonymous and online. In response to this we've recently launched the Gransnet Cafe, a place on the forums specifically for those in need of a virtual cuppa and supportive ear to pop on for advice, support, or simply to chat.


6) Keep active

The benefits of exercise later in life can not be over-emphasized. There's no need to run a marathon or necessarily join a gym either. We've got some great, easy ideas on how to build exercise into your daily routines. It can be a great way to meet new people too.


What can I do to feel less lonely at night?

Nighttime can be the worst for those of us who suffer from loneliness. You're alone with your thoughts, there aren't any easy distractions, and you don't want to bother anyone at such a time so the ability to reach out for help isn't there. You're also probably tired from the day so tackling the feelings of loneliness or depression head-on can feel too much for you.

So what can you do to feel less lonely? The first thing to do is address the reason you can't get to sleep, if insomnia is the issue. If the usual reading a book or having a warm drink doesn't work, there are plenty of other natural sleep remedies you can try, as recommended by gransnetters.

Trying to decipher if there is anything bothering you is another thing to try. Sometimes we're aware of a niggle, an imagined slight, a forgotten birthday, yet our brain refuses to acknowledge it outright, and we merely feel like something is out of kilter. Confronting these issues and accepting that we can or can't change them will help with peace of mind and hopefully a peaceful night's sleep.


How do you cope with loneliness?

Have you come up with a good strategy for dealing with feelings of loneliness? If all else fails, know that there is always someone to chat to on the Gransnet forums - even at 2am - and of course organisations like the Silverline offer helplines at all hours too. 


Other helpful organisations








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