What a heartbreaking tale of loneliness. Nigel the gannet, an Australasian seabird, lived in solitude for several years courting a concrete replica of himself. He became a social media darling, winning hearts from admirers from all over the world who sympathised with his plight.
Day in, day out, on Mana Island about 25km northwest of Wellington, New Zealand, Nigel would preen his mate, with conservationists hoping that this oddly manufactured colony would entice others to join and help revitalise the surrounding environment.
It worked. In December, some mates arrived to join "Nigel No Mates", as a regular observer affectionately dubbed him. Nigel, however, remained aloof from the new group and three weeks later he passed away.
Maybe Nigel wasn't lonely at all. He may have been perfectly happy with his lifeless companion. Loneliness is very subjective.
In the human world, we all have our own level of tolerance of social connectedness. Sometimes we enjoy having lots of people around us, sometimes we just want to be alone. That's OK and that's normal.
Sometimes we're forced into feelings of loneliness, like when we've got a cold and, like it or not, we're placed in quarantine by friends and family who don't want us passing on our germs. That's very normal too and passes quickly when we're back up and running at full steam again.
When feelings of loneliness move beyond a temporary state and we feel lonely no matter if we're alone or in a social situation then that can have a negative impact on your physical, mental and social health.
There are so many reasons we can feel lonely and everyone is different. It's important to remember that loneliness can be overcome.
There are things to try...
- Taking control is one step. Your health and fitness is a great place to start. Go for a walk, get some fresh air. It doesn't have to be with someone else. Maybe that can come later when you're ready. But setting a regular schedule and sticking to it, is a great foundation for showing yourself that you have the ability to take charge and make changes in your life.
- Replace negative self talk with more positive thoughts. Instead of saying to yourself, "I'm such an idiot" when you arrived at work 10 minutes late because you missed the news about the rail strike, try saying "Well, that didn't turn out how I thought. Next time I'm going to check the timetable before I have breakfast, just to be safe". Negative self-talk can send us in a downward spiral, leading to more feelings of isolation.
- Book yourself into a course to learn something new. That can be a great way of meeting new friends, or just participating in something in the company of others with no commitment to take it further until you're ready.
- Get support. Reach out to someone you trust about your feelings, or see a GP, or a counsellor.
Feelings of loneliness don't have to last forever. Be confident that you can make changes and get back on track.