Britain could be experiencing a loneliness epidemic with half of Brits suffering from a lack of connection and human interaction, a new study has revealed.
The survey, released by Sainsbury’s Living Well Index in partnership with the National Centre for Social Research and Oxford Economics, said that the lack of human interaction is affecting our wellbeing.
The research quizzed 8,000 people on everything from their sex lives, quality of sleep, finances, relationships and jobs.
Surprisingly, nearly 1 in 10 (9.1%) people said they never met friends, relatives or co-workers socially, with 21.4% doing so less than once a month.
A further 17.5% only socialised once a month.
And it is often men who are most impacted by loneliness.
A further study by dating app Lumen revealed that nearly 1 in 5 (17%) of men feel lonely everyday (17%).
Of those men who described themselves as being lonely, almost a third (32%) said it was because they were single, while 31% said it was because they’ve lost friends.
Almost 1 in 10 men have no close friends, while over a quarter (27%) described themselves as having no friends at all.
The findings, from more than 2,000 people in the UK, announced ahead of Loneliness Awareness Week (17-21 June), also reveal that almost a third of Brits (30%) have less friends than they did five years ago.
Stats revealed earlier this month found that an increasing number of fathers end up losing contact with close friends in the first year of welcoming a child.
So what’s going on? Why are men becoming more isolated?
Though it sounds like a cliche part of the problem could be that men aren’t quite as good at communicating as their female counterparts, particularly online which is how many of our interactions are carried out today.
And research seems to confirm this. A recent study by the University of Oxford found that men bond better through face-to-face contact and activities, whereas women find it much easier to hold onto an emotional connection through phone conversations.
And according to a study in the journal Plos One, male friendships are more likely to prosper in groups, whereas women favour interactions that are more on a one-to-one basis.
A change in the way we interact socially could also explain why men could be feeling more isolated. The Sainsbury’s research cites a notable deterioration in the quality of people's relationships and social connections for this loneliness spike.
“Loneliness can easily sneak up on a man, especially where there are underlying issues with social anxiety,” explains Mindset coach, Dave Cottrel, from Mindset by Dave.
“Saying no to a social arrangement can feel like such a relief in the short term and choosing to be alone and do your own thing can be a very tempting short term solution when struggling with anxiety or depression.
“The problem is that we tend to sink further into this isolation, we turn down the social arrangements earlier and earlier. Next we start letting group chats and texts go unresponded to and eventually people stop reaching out.”
Cottrel says that this then leads to men’s comfort zone shrinking to the point when reaching out (even via a text) can feel like the biggest obstacle in the world.
“We then tend to beat ourselves up even more as we feel we "should" be able to handle this and we can't; it brings our identity as a man into question which sends the loneliness and isolation even further.”
The problem is that loneliness can actually have a very real, very serious impact on men’s health, both physical and mental.
“Loneliness can have adverse consequences for health and mortality,” explains Sarah Romotsky, Director of Healthcare, Headspace.
“The physical manifestations of loneliness are real and being lonely can cause your stress hormones to elevate as your body produces more cortisol (the body’s main stress hormone) when stressed.
“It can also have a negative impact on sleep, causing your body to take a fight-or-flight response, interrupting regular sleep patterns. Over time, this can have a detrimental effect on your overall health and lead to serious mental and physical health conditions.”
How can men feel less lonely?
Reassess your friendships/relationships
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott www.noelmcdermott.net advises that anyone feeling lonely should use it as a starting point for assessing friendships and relationships.
"Loneliness is a useful emotional signal which allows you to assess whether you have enough of the right people in your life,” he says.
“Loneliness isn't about the number of friends you have, it's about the quality of those friendships.”
He suggests doing a friendship/relationship MOT. “Assess whether these relationships have the availability to talk about how you feel about stuff,” he says.
“We are designed as emotional animals and we need emotional regulation on a daily basis, it doesn't need to be in depth or traumatic but it does need to be available.”
Reach out and reconnect
Cottrel believes one of the best courses of action in combating male loneliness is to reach out. “My advice to any man who can relate to this is to reach out early and reach out often,” he says.
“We worry that our friends won't know how to handle it so we hide the problem until it is too big to handle. If you're someone who is already in the isolated state then the advice would be to take the smallest step towards reconnection just to get you started and to understand that it's not a weakness in you, it's just a difficult situation.”
“Stepping out of the mind through meditation is a powerful antidote to loneliness,” explains Romotsky.
“It enables us to become more present in our feelings, making the crucial distinction that being alone and feeling alone are two very different things.
Romotsky says that if we allow ourselves to be open to feelings of loneliness through meditation, we can discover things about ourselves that surprise us.
“This openness can be a gateway to greater understanding of ourselves and our own lives, as well as the lives of others.”
She suggests trying the Headspace ten-day loneliness pack which is designed to help people combat feelings of loneliness and increase wellbeing.
Develop your relationship network
And don’t fall into the relationship trap. “Typically straight guys will over invest in their relationships with their female partner and will think because they have one person in their life they can share things with this is enough,” explains McDermott.
“However, it's not, often men need to look at their relationship network and develop it.”
McDermott suggests men who are feeling lonely look at joining groups for the types of activities and interests that they enjoy.
“Once there look at starting new friendships with the guys who not only share the same interests as you, but those who are able to be emotionally open and available and who can talk about their feelings,” he says.
“There are courses that men can go on to learn about relationships, you could also look at others who are doing what you want to achieve and ask them how they do it.”