Subscribe to our newsletter to receive news and inspiration direct to your inbox

The best ways to deal with loneliness, with Imane Dahmani

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, local therapist Imane Dahmani shared her tips for tackling loneliness through creativity and community

12 May 2022

Imane Dahmani

Loneliness appears in many forms and will be familiar to most of us at some point in our lives, and although it can feel strange, it’s a totally normal emotion. In Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly sought solace in trips to the New York jewellery store and the company of a nameless cat, while in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the namesake character found friends in the pages of books. 

Indeed, loneliness, which is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, can be hard to overcome, so we asked qualified therapist and Rapid Transformational Therapy specialist Imane Dahmani, who is based a stone’s throw from Sloane Street, to offer her best advice for feeling less alone. 


How can people identify that what they’re feeling is loneliness?

Talking about loneliness in our hyper-connected society can seem ironic, but it’s actually a common feeling many of us experience in the course of life. 

A person who is lonely might feel left out and somehow isolated, and this can persist despite having people around and socialising with friends. In fact, people can experience loneliness even in the biggest crowd, because it’s not related to the physical company of others, but more an inner feeling that one might lack nurturing relationships. 

Loneliness can be common when we go through a challenge or a difficult time because we feel more vulnerable and more in need of others, especially if our loved ones’ behaviour doesn’t match our expectations.

When a person feels lonely, they need to feel understood, supported and heard by someone they can trust and who they know genuinely cares about them.

In my own practice, I emphasise putting distance between ourselves and our feelings, and not allowing ourselves to be defined by loneliness (or another emotion), which is why I prefer to say “feeling lonely” rather than “being lonely”.

 

There has long been a stigma around loneliness – what can we, as a society and as individuals, do to change this?

The historic stigmas around loneliness can prevent people from reaching out for help, and it’s really important to change this. Back in 2018, the UK was the first country in the world to appoint a Loneliness Minister in order to tackle what was considered a public health epidemic, so we are moving in a positive direction. 

As individuals, we can be honest and more open about the fact that most people experience feelings of loneliness at least once in their life, and be understanding of others who are in a place of loneliness.

Today, public figures, particularly influencers and celebrities, play an important role in opening up a dialogue about this topic. The platform they have can give people who feel lonely a chance to relate and share their feelings more easily.

The bottom line is we must remember that no one is immune to loneliness.

 

Talking about loneliness in our hyper-connected society can seem ironic, but it’s actually a common feeling many of us experience in the course of life

 

Can you suggest some practical things that people can do to combat feelings of loneliness?

If we can reframe loneliness as an opportunity to focus inward, then we’re often able to navigate life events with more self-awareness and honesty. Exploring our creativity to find out what makes each of us unique is a useful way to do this. It helps to build strength and emotional resilience and raise self-esteem by offering a sense of purpose and enjoyment through creating something original. Researchers have also found that being in a creative state offers similar mental and physical benefits to the calming ‘flow’ of meditation.

For example, you could try painting or pottery-making classes (Chelsea Physic Garden offers botanical watercolour workshops throughout the year for all skill levels). But even putting pen to paper at home is a great way to explore your creative side – Peter Jones has a great range of art supplies, and Papersmiths on Pavilion Road offers dreamy stationery, or for a dose of inspiration, why not visit the Saatchi Gallery?

Another thing people can do is to put a conscious effort into reaching out to their friends and family, rather than waiting for someone’s call. Socialising improves overall wellbeing, but it does require effort – think of it like building a social muscle, and don’t be afraid to take the first step. This often means being more perseverant and saying yes to opportunities to interact with others when they do arise. 

Also, be mindful when building relationships with others – quality over quantity is often the key, and it’s important to have connections where there is honesty, kindness, mutual trust and supportiveness, as these are the kind of nurturing relationships that will last. 

Meeting new people can feel a bit daunting, but a small group yoga class, like the ones offered at Vita, can be a great way to start building your community. Similarly, KXU on Pavilion Road describes itself as a meeting place as much as it is a fitness space. 

Elsewhere in Chelsea, the Holy Trinity church hosts a monthly forum for older community members and a multitude of parish events – to which everyone is welcome. And at the Royal Court theatre, budding writers and performers can take part in its ongoing series of writing groups and creative workshops.

 And remember that digital connections can’t fully replace the physical interactions we have with each other – even greeting a friend with a hug when you meet for coffee helps to lower stress and anxiety levels. 

My last piece of advice is that if a person goes through a difficult time and experiences lasting feelings of loneliness, then don’t be afraid to seek help through therapy.

 

How can people help others who might be experiencing loneliness?

 Reach out to them in a consistent way, as this builds trust and encourages them to open up. When we don’t communicate on a regular basis, we stay superficial and avoid the deep conversations that might offer the chance to talk about how someone feels. Similarly, if you say you’ll call a person back or reach out, then do keep your promise. 

Continue to include and reach out to the person even if they’ve declined previous opportunities to meet. As a friend or a family member, try not to take ‘no’ personally, and trust that your loved one will join in their own time, when they feel confident and secure to do so.

It can also be useful to share your similar experiences of vulnerability or loneliness, if you can. This will help them to feel you’re empathising, and to de-dramatise their current state without minimising it. No labels, just feelings.

 

IMANE DAHMANI IS BASED ON DRAYCOTT PLACE, JUST OFF SLOANE STREET. SHE CAN BE REACHED BY EMAILING CONTACT@IMANEDAHMANI.COM

Discover more

Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of Sloane Street with our selection of insightful articles