Woman sits in a gloomy room on the edge of a bed in a black shirt. She looks lonely.

Is Generation X the most lonely generation?

Do you feel lonely? It might be that our lifestyle is giving us the lonesome blues… 

A recent study found that almost half of adults in the UK feel lonely at times, with around 7 percent experiencing ‘chronic loneliness’, meaning they often or always feel lonely. And it’s possible that Generation X is the most lonely age group. 

While feelings of loneliness can be experienced at any age, the lifestyle, social and professional changes that happen in midlife and beyond can exacerbate feelings of isolation which may increase the risk of our becoming lonely. 

Types of loneliness 

We may associate feeling lonely with simply feeling alone, but in fact there are different types of loneliness we may experience. These include: 

Emotional 

The feeling of not having any significant relationships.

Social

Feeling we aren’t as socially connected as we’d like to be. 

Transient  

A feeling of loneliness that comes and goes. 

Situational 

Associated with being lonely at certain times – for example after work in the evenings. 

Chronic loneliness 

Feeling lonely most or all of the time. 

Planning for retirement - Pension Buddy and The Tonic

Loneliness in later life 

A time of transition 

Those in midlife and beyond often experience situational change. This is a time when for many, adult children may be leaving home, and/or parents or older relatives may pass away. Such events can cause enormous change to a person’s lifestyle, making us more susceptible to feelings of loneliness. 

Living alone 

With ages 45-49 the most likely age to divorce, many aged 50 and beyond may be adapting to a new phase in life, perhaps in a new living situation. Midlife is also the time for many when children fly the nest, leaving us with changed households and more time on our hands. Sadly, as we age we are also more likely to experience the death of a partner or spouse – with the average age for widowhood happening in our mid to late 70s according to Age UK. 

Working life 

Changes in the world of work since 2020 have also means that 44 percent of UK workers now work from home at least some of the time. This may be a godsend for many but may also lead to fewer opportunities to socialise. Other changes in work tend to happen as we move towards retirement, whether it’s changing roles or reducing hours, disrupting our usual connections. 

Health problems 

According to ONS data, people who suffer from health problems or conditions that they feel are ‘limiting’ are especially at risk of feeling lonely. Those in an older demographic are more likely to suffer from a chronic or limiting health condition, putting them at increased risk of becoming lonely. 

Becoming a carer 

Being a carer may happen at any age, but becomes more common in later life as partners and parents become older. Caring can take up a great deal of time, leaving very little room for meeting with friends or exploring interests. It can be very isolating. 

Loneliness and Health

As well as affecting our emotional health, feelings of loneliness can be bad for our health. “Feeling lonely can make you hypervigilant so that you respond to threat more quickly than you would normally and this can increase your stress hormones, which in turn can increase blood pressure and affect your immune system,” explains Andrea Wigfield, Director of the Centre for Loneliness Studies and author of Loneliness for Dummies. 

Combatting Loneliness 

While the above may make grim reading, the message we can draw from this information is that loneliness is incredibly common. And that, clearly, it’s a situation that is best avoided. 

The good news is that if you are experiencing feelings of loneliness there are many ways to overcome this issue. 

Read more: Feeling lonely? There’s an app for that

Acknowledge your feelings  

Admitting we feel lonely – even to ourselves – can be difficult. But acknowledging and accepting we feel this way can be the first stage of addressing and overcoming the problem. “When you feel lonely, remember that it’s simply a trigger to remind you that you need to make more connections. Just like hunger is a trigger to remind you to eat. It’s a signal to make more meaningful connections and make a plan to develop those connections,” advises Wigfield. 

Reach out 

The Covid pandemic has led to many of us reducing our ‘real life’ contact with others. This led to many people losing the habit of socialising, making it harder to create connections once the world went back to normal. Many of us need to rebuild or extend our social network after this huge life event.  

“Use every opportunity to build your social network: reconnect with people from the past, connect with your neighbours; take advantage of chance encounters with people and initiate conversations with passers-by,” advises Wigfield. 

Join in 

Rather than join an organisation or club simply to combat loneliness, try to find meaningful activities to enjoy – connecting with others will be a likely side-benefit. “Getting involved in activities which have meaning to you and which you enjoy is a good way to distract you from your feelings of loneliness, get you out of the house, and meet other like-minded people with whom you might form a meaningful relationship,” explains Wigfield. 

Connect online 

While online socialising may not be quite as beneficial to our mental health as socialising in person, it is still possible to make meaningful connections online. Find groups with similar interests, or groups for people in your area. Conversations online may well lead to new opportunities to connect. 

Use specialist services 

There are many services designed to help those struggling with feelings of loneliness in midlife and beyond. There may well be friendship groups in your local area, or organised activities for people to meet others seeking connection. Charities, too, play their part with organisations such as ‘Contact the Elderly’ running afternoon tea parties for those over 75 to meet with others. Age UK also offer a ‘Silver Helpline’ for those aged 55 and over to have a confidential chat with an advisor who will be able to offer guidance and support. It’s free to call: 0800 4 70 80 90. 

Whatever your situation, with the right support you can widen your social circle and reduce feelings of loneliness. So don’t suffer in silence. After all – you are not alone. 

 

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Gillian Harvey

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