I have recently been asking people about their fears about getting older. Of course, some people don’t fear it at all, and in future, I will be looking at how we could all learn from those people who welcome the process with a resounding “woo-hoo!”.
But I was struck by the number of times I heard about the fear of loneliness.
Then I went on a Street Wisdom event with a twist. The evening focused on one subject, facing up to our fears. I noticed, again, the number of people who raised the fear of loneliness.
And this was fear of something in the future.
It wasn’t that the people in the groups are already lonely. They were imagining that they would be lonely at some point in the future and going on to worry about it in the present.
There is some reason for this fear, as figures indicate that many older people are indeed lonely. The figures for Silverline, the charity that supports older people, show that since it was set up in November 2013 their helpline has received over 2 million calls.
They go on to say,
“Over two-thirds of these calls were made overnight or at weekends when no other helpline is available for older people who may be lonely, isolated or confused. We now receive around 10,500 calls every week from lonely and isolated older people; with 53% of callers saying they have literally no-one else to speak to.”
Loneliness can be behind a whole range of effects, not least the number of people visiting their GP. There’s a scheme used by NHS Scotland, the Community Chaplaincy Listening project, which is attempting to do something about it. The scheme allows doctors to refer patients who need it to a ‘listener’, usually a local chaplain. Since its rollout across Scotland, GPs are referring an average of 20 patients per year, and some as many as 120. Just having someone to listen to them has led to positive results for the patients, and the doctors that refer them. (Figures are from here and a report on the second cycle of trials.)
Of course, there is much to explore about what lies behind this at the societal level. However, in this blog, I invite you to think about it at the personal level for now.
If you fear future loneliness, it makes sense to address it now.
One of the Street Wisdom participants began exploring her fear of loneliness and realised that it wasn’t about numbers. In fact, she has lots of people in her life. Her fear wasn’t that she would be alone. In fact, she quite enjoys those times when she is on her own and is quite happy with her own company. She began to think about the quality of the relationships and the depth of the friendships she has. While a range of people was meeting her needs (for intimacy, for sharing good times, for love, for fun), no one person could do all of that for her. It turns out that what she was worried about was being her whole self to her friends.
(All that from a walk around central London!)
She left the group thinking about how she could face up to that realisation. Also, she chose one friend to have a chat with about some of the stuff she was keeping hidden.
There will be other blogs in this series on facing fears more generally, but if the fear of loneliness is something you’re facing, here are some tips for addressing it:
What is it about ‘loneliness’ that you worry about?
- Be really specific – is it that you won’t have friends to go out with and fear being stuck indoors?
- Or is that you won’t have anyone to chat with about the latest episode of your favourite soap?
- Or that you’ll have to play golf with a stranger rather than someone you’ve known for years?
What is that fear really about?
- Describe the fear in a single sentence
Write down all the things you could do now to address that specific issue?
Here are some suggestions based on the examples above. Try asking yourself:
- Could you make more friends, or make friends with younger people?
- join an online forum for discussions
- deliberately start playing golf with different people so that you get used to it?
When you’ve decided what’s your strategy, then ask yourself…
- What’s your first step?
- When will you do it?
- How will you celebrate when you have?
What is one thing that you could do this week?
Let me know on Twitter @JPCoaching what you’ve discovered about your fear of loneliness, and what you’re going to do now.
(If you’re struggling with any of these issues, or would like to talk through your fears with me, do get in touch or take a look at my MidLife Transition Workshops which include Street Wisdom events.)