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Loneliness is a major problem in our society. Especially during a pandemic. Loneliness is considered by many mental health professionals to be a public health epidemic, particularly in the US and UK.
We’re so connected on social media, yet even before the pandemic loneliness has been a growing problem with more and more people feeling disconnected than ever before in history. It’s not just affecting individuals. It’s affecting society as a whole.
Feelings of loneliness can be detrimental to how it affects our health and can lead to serious health issues.
The feeling of loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day in how it affects our health.
Loneliness increases risk for:
- Heart attack
- Blood pressure
- Cognitive decline (dementia)
Loneliness increases our risk of death by 30 percent.
One common misconception of loneliness is that it’s caused by simply being alone.
Loneliness is a subjective feeling. You feel lonely not just by being alone, but feeling alone. It can result by feeling that people are not with you emotionally, that people don’t understand you, and you don’t feel connected to anyone.
Loneliness is different from social isolation.
People can have many people around them, many friends, a wide social network, but still feel lonely. Most of the people who feel lonely are married or live with other people.
This is good to know as you can be alone yet not feel loneliness which carries health risks.
Your alone time is not correlated with feelings of loneliness.
What triggers loneliness the most is the quality of relationships.
There are people who do live alone, spend a lot of time alone, and prefer it that way, but still don’t feel lonely.
What loneliness boils down to is the quality of your relationships and how you connect with others.
You can spend a lot of time alone and still connect with others and have high quality relationships.
Improve the Quality of Your Relationships
Ask yourself if you’re making yourself vulnerable.
Are you sharing your imperfections and showing yourself to others? This is where connection comes from. Not from impressing others or making them think you’re perfect which is all too common on social media.
Are you willing to make yourself vulnerable?
And then consider if the people around you are willing to receive it.
Are the people in your life compassionate and willing to listen without judgement?
Loneliness results from not feeling listened to or heard or understood. It can result from feeling judged or like you can’t show your true authentic self.
Compassion and empathy going both ways in a relationship is essential to feelings of genuine connection on a deep level.
Become Aware of Cognitive Distortions
Loneliness can distort our thinking and cause negative cognitive distortions.
We may think things like:
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m not cool or popular.”
“I have no friends.”
“Nobody likes me.”
It’s important to realize that these kinds of thoughts are not facts.
Cognitive Distortions To Know About:
Personalization – Taking personal responsibility for things that are not our fault and taking things personally (“They haven’t reached out to me because they don’t like me.”)
Blaming – Holding others responsible for our pain (“My life sucks because they didn’t text me back.”)
Polarized Thinking – All-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking patterns (“I’m just not cool or likeable.”)
Mind Reading – Assuming you know how others think and feel (“They hate me.”)
Magnification – Blowing things out of proportion (“My life is awful.”)
Overgeneralization – Making a conclusion based on a single piece of negative evidence. (“Nobody likes me.”)
Labeling – Assigning labels to ourselves (“I’m a loser.”)
Fortune-telling – Predicting that things will turn out badly (“I’ll never make friends.”)
Notice these thoughts and challenge them. Ask yourself if the thought is a fact or if it’s helpful. Practice curiosity, acceptance, and self-compassion with yourself when you have these thoughts.
Reach Out To Someone Else
The problem with loneliness is that it caused us to withdraw and isolate ourselves even more.
Reach out to others as if they want help or are feeling lonely. Check in on them. Offer them support. Ask and see what you can do for them. This may feel counterintuitive. We feel lonely because no one may reach out to us. This is especially true to those of us who also have anxiety and avoid reaching out.
Like they say in networking – “Don’t ask what others can do for you. See what you can do for them.”
Remember that when it comes to feeling loneliness, you’re not alone. Many others feel lonely as well.
Also keep in mind that you don’t need to physically be around others to stop loneliness. You just need to connect with others on a deeper level.
The more you can connect with the senses of others, the better. This means talking on the phone instead of texting. Going on Facetime instead of phone calls.
Try Random Acts of Kindness
Acts of kindness don’t necessarily have to be done in person.
Kindness and generosity has a multitude of benefits. Being kind to others actually makes you happier according to science research.
You also don’t have to spend any money or even give much of your time to practice acts of kindness.
For a list of ideas for random acts of kindness, check out the article 105 Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness.
Get into the habit of interacting with others on a small level when you leave the house. Say hello to the grocery store worker or your neighbor. You can interact with others in a way that still follows social distancing guidelines.
Don’t underestimate what little interactions can do. These tiny actions can make a big difference.
Keep Yourself Busy with Goals, Projects, Hobbies
Having a lot of free time along with social isolation can increase feelings of loneliness.
Hobbies, goals, and projects can give your life purpose and meaningfulness.
When we feel like our life has purpose and meaning, we are less likely to feel lonely.
They also keep you busy from thinking and feeling lonely. It’s a distraction too.
Goals, projects, and hobbies give you something to look forward to and work towards. It also makes your life more fun.
For ideas to learning new skills from home, check out the article 28 Skills You Can Learn From Home.
Learn to enjoy your own company.
If you’re looking for ideas to add more fun into your life while at home, check out the article 21 Ideas to Have Fun If You’re Bored.
Find Online Communities with Similar Interests
Online friendships and communities can be just as strong as in-person friendships and communities.
With most mental health issues, one of the most important steps of treatment and recovery is putting yourself out there, getting outside yourself, and finding your people. People that share similar interests and values and will support you emotionally.
It can be really easy to stay stuck inside our minds and withdraw when we feel lonely. We may find we need to push ourselves to do this.
For information and advice on how you can find your people, check out the article How To Find Your People With These Simple Steps.
Get A Pet
Research shows that having a pet can improve your mental health. Having a furry friend can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. And of course, decrease feelings of loneliness.
They keep you company and can become long-time companions. They can also give you the opportunity to meet others in the near future at dog parks or anywhere else where they can become great conversation starters for others.
Keep in mind that many pets at shelters experience loneliness so adopting can help both you and a loving animal stop feeling lonely so make sure to check to your local shelters to adopt.
Practice Self-love and Self-care
Engage in activities that take care of you.
Notice how you talk to and treat yourself. Treat yourself as you would your best friend or a small child. Treat yourself with compassion and talk to yourself with compassion.
Do hard things now that take care of your future self. Your future self will thank you.
Learn to Embrace It and Be Okay With It
Remember that loneliness is a subjective feeling. It’s not from being alone.
Know that soon the pandemic will be over. It can be reassuring to tell yourself that loneliness resulting from unwanted isolation is temporary. And it gives you something to look forward to.
If you’re lonely and alone, remember that it’s better to feel lonely by yourself than lonely with others.
In late 2019, I left a toxic and emotionally abusive relationship where I felt increasingly lonely and depressed even though I was living with that person.
Remembering how I felt and that I would rather be alone and feel lonely at times that be lonely with someone has significantly helped me in dealing with feelings of loneliness. As well as reminding myself that the feelings are only temporary.
Practice mindfulness and accept your feelings of loneliness. Tell yourself that things will get better and know that everything will be okay.
Mental Wellness Resources
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255-
The Samaritans HelpLine – 1-877-870-4673
They also offer online chats.
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
If you’re feeling lonely and just want to chat, feel free to say hello and email me firstname.lastname@example.org.