Loneliness can show up in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of people. Maybe you’ve just moved to a new country or even just to a new neighborhood, and find yourself missing the friends and familiarity of home. Maybe you’ve lost someone important to you, and you feel the weight of their absence as you move through your day. Maybe you’re starting a new job, with all new people. Those pictures of loneliness are heavy– loneliness is always hard. But those pictures also make sense to us. We might expect it of ourselves or of others to feel lonely for a while in those situations. But sometimes, the loneliness sticks around even when things settle down. Sometimes it shows up for no apparent reason, or in times we don’t expect.
When I sat down to write about this topic, I decided to google “loneliness”, just to see what others have had to say. Now I knew loneliness was a bit of a hot topic, but I had no idea just how widespread this experience is in today’s world. Countless organizations, from CNN and PsychologyToday to Forbes and the Harvard Business Review, have all weighed in on the rampancy of loneliness. Great Britain has appointed a government official specifically to address the prevalent sense of loneliness. A US surgeon general has called it an epidemic, not just because it is so widespread, but also because of the physical suffering that can result. Loneliness can feel suffocating, and often we get bogged down and find ourselves stuck in a cycle of loneliness, anxiety, and despair. Teens, adults, the elderly, moms, dads, celebrities, CEOs, artists, introverts, extroverts – this feeling doesn’t discriminate, but two things are certain: you are not the only one who feels alone, and there are ways to break the cycle.
So with a problem that is so extensive and so universal, how can we even begin to address it?
There has been a lot of research into why exactly we feel lonely and what the remedy is, and there are plenty of different ideas out there. Here are just a few tips that have helped some lonely men and women feel a little less isolated:
- Take off your headphones. It’s almost second nature to slip on your headphones when you walk down the street or hop on the train. But some have found that even a few minutes of small talk, even if that is just a greeting back and forth with a stranger, has helped them feel a little more connected. There are people all around you, hungry for connection. It might be worth keeping the headphones off or putting the phone away for five minutes or so and chat with someone (in person!).
- Break the cycle, be with people. When we start to feel stuck in loneliness, often our anxiety can keep us from wanting to reach out or to spend time with people. We’re afraid that we’ll end up not quite fitting in or feeling too uncomfortable, so we avoid those situations and just help the loneliness continue. It might be scary, and it might not be comfortable, but try to go to an event or invite a friend over.
- Spend some time reflecting. Often, loneliness is kindled or worsened by a fear of being alone. It can be a good idea to take some time to look at why we feel uncomfortable with ourselves. It sounds cheesy, but get to know yourself! Maybe you’ll find that spending time alone isn’t so bad after all. Maybe you’re great company yourself!
- Be kind to yourself. Challenge yourself to spend some intentional time reflecting or to go to an event, but don’t make the challenges so extreme that they are unrealistic. Set attainable goals (i.e., chat with a colleague for a few minutes after work) and work your way up to some bigger ones. Change is a process, and deepening connections takes time.
- Talk to a counselor! If you are feeling alone and you can’t seem to break free of it, please reach out to someone. If you’re unsure of who to connect with, it could be a good time to get in touch with a counselor. As a therapist at Optimum Joy, I would love to walk with you in this. Book an appointment with me today!