Joyful weddings and sun-kissed birthday celebrations in the park. Boomerang of clinking prosecco glasses at airports. Summer can feel like one big holiday after a quick scroll through social media. But sometimes it feels like a party we weren’t invited to.
It’s been over a decade since Lana Del Rey released the absolute bop that she is Summertime Sadness and, ever since, musicians and memes have made the idea of sinking into seasonal loneliness-induced misery seem not only wholly satisfying but perfectly acceptable fodder for self-deprecating humor. But is it a good thing that the concept of “sad girl summer” has become so normalized? Or are we all laughing at a major mental health crisis?
Research by the Office for National Statistics found that one million people aged 16-29 experience ‘chronic loneliness’, while a survey of 1,500 Cosmopolitan UK readers have found that 96% of you have dealt with loneliness at some point. In fact, 74% of you say they actually experience more feelings of FOMO during the sunnier months, with 66% believing this makes it more difficult to fit into social situations and form new friendships.
“Everyone was living a life that I didn’t have,” says Alex, 31, of the summer two years ago when she realized she was so alone that she “had no desire to live.” “My best friend lived with me during the pandemic, but she moved in with her boyfriend that summer,” Alex says. “I had recently ended a relationship, and as my friend walked away, I felt alone for the first time.”
74% of you say you experience more feelings of FOMO during the sunnier months
Turning to social media to fill the void has only made things worse. Alex, an HR manager in Manchester, recalls scrolling through what seemed like an endless feed of everyone else socializing and having fun, while all she felt was jealousy and a ball of sadness forming in her stomach. she. “Everyone was posting highlights of their lives, as I sat around the house alone on the couch.”
Things came to a head when she attended a wedding with no one left. Surrounded by happy couples, she Alex says she felt out of life. “Loneliness made me feel unlovable and like an outcast, like I was never able to make new friends or be in a new relationship.”
As isolating as it may feel at times, the data show us that we weren’t alone in our loneliness, and the stereotype that these emotions only impact older adults has proven largely inaccurate. “Some studies suggest that young people feel even lonelier than other age groups and that being female is associated with greater loneliness,” notes Dr. Anne-Kathrin Fett, clinical psychology reader at City, University from London. “For some, loneliness may be worse in the winter due to lack of light and limited outdoor activities,” she says, and of course, these feelings can be exacerbated for those affected by seasonal affective disorder. But on the other hand, some people “might feel loneliest in the summer, when they think everyone else is having a good time, while lacking the social connections for those experiences,” says Dr. Fett.
The perfect (summer) storm
It also has a ripple effect. In our survey, 86% of you said feeling this way was having a negative impact on your mental well-being. “Loneliness has been associated with a number of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and even psychosis and suicide in extreme cases,” adds Dr. Fett. “The links to mental health issues go both ways, as poor mental health can be isolating and vice versa.” That’s why talking about it is so important. But, while society has made huge strides when it comes to mental health in recent years, those conversations aren’t always easy, something Maddy, 27, knows well.
‘It was embarrassing to tell my friends,’ says the Nottingham primary school teacher, whose loneliness fueled such ‘crippling anxiety’ last summer that she was made redundant for a while. “She made me feel needy.” Similarly, 61% of you told us you’re too ashamed to admit how it feels when loneliness hits hard. “People were shocked,” Maddy adds outwardly, she looked like she had it all. “My friends and family didn’t understand. They kept saying, ‘You’ll be fine,’ which invalidated my feelings.”
Alex had a similar experience at the opening. “I talked to my best friend, but she just rattled off the things I had: my house, my car, a good job,” he says. “That made me feel worse, like I don’t have to feel lonely because I have a nice house to crash into.”
Both women point out that there is confusion about what loneliness is, and experts agree. “Loneliness doesn’t just happen when someone is socially isolated, it can happen when there are seemingly abundant social relationships. It is related to
our internal state,” explains Dr. Fett. “Not feeling comfortable alone [is another trigger]“adds psychotherapist Sharnade George, along with “low self-esteem and not feeling good enough.” Other triggers include a major change in circumstances (firing, moving or becoming a parent, for example), despite being from a marginalized or discriminated against group it can also feed.
“Loneliness doesn’t just occur when someone is socially isolated, it can occur in the presence of seemingly abundant social relationships”
For Elisha, a 24-year-old public relations specialist from Brighton, other people’s expectations also weighed heavily. “Your mid-twenties are a weird time. Half of the people in your life are telling you to settle down; the other half are encouraging you to milk every second of your youth,” she explains. “That pressure can be isolating and make you question whether you’re meant to be where you are or whether you should be doing more.”
It may seem obvious, but all three women agree that social media intensifies these feelings. “It does this amazing job of connecting us with a lot of new places, new experiences, new foods to try,” says Elisha. “But it’s easy to see these posts and feel like there’s no one you can explore these things with.”
Finding a ray of light
According to Alex, Maddy and Elisha, acceptance is the first step. “I had a real turning point after deciding to embrace solitude,” recalls Alex, describing the solo vacation she took last year. “I was constantly worried about missing out on life experiences if I had to do things on my own, so I decided to take a vacation. Suddenly, being alone didn’t make me feel lonely. It empowered me.”
Similarly, Elisha says she enjoys creating solo challenges for herself, some of which have become the “best experiences” of her life. “I bought a VIP bracelet at a three-day music festival and went solo,” she says. “It was brilliant. I make conscious decisions to put myself in positions of ‘loneliness’, even moving to a new city on my own. It’s my way of honoring the healing journey I’ve taken, towards independence and self-love. “
And that’s not all. He adds, “Not everyone is going to like the same things as you and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean I have to give up on creating adventures and experiences. I can enjoy them with the one person I know is always around: me.”
Of course, for some, a solo trip or festival may seem like too big a step, but there are smaller, equally effective ways to combat loneliness, such as reconnecting with old friends or volunteering to meet like-minded people. while building a sense of purpose. Experts have also suggested filling your weekends with activities you enjoy, whether it’s a nature walk or coffee at a local gallery, and knowing when to ask for support. Contacting organizations like Campaign To End Loneliness or deciding to connect with a mental health professional or therapist could have life changing results, Maddy, Elisha and Alex all agree.
Beyond individual steps, change must also happen at the level of the whole of society and soon. “In Brighton, there are a lot of community groups and services dedicated to bringing people together that I haven’t seen anywhere else,” shares Elisha. “I’d love to see more opportunities like this elsewhere in the country.” Allocating more government funding to mental health spaces would also be an effective way to create tangible and positive change.
Until then, Dr. Fett reminds us that a little really goes a long way. “Loneliness is a complex phenomenon, but each of us can talk about it, be inclusive and consciously interact with others in our daily lives. It could be a simple act of kindness, such as helping a neighbor or making time to talk and listen to someone that needs an open ear.” And if a break from social media seems in order, don’t hold back from eliminating any of the apps that are bringing you down, if only until the sunny days feel less daunting and more liberating.
For more information on coping and accessing support, visit Campaign to End Loneliness.
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