We all feel lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone's experience of loneliness is different. Loneliness is not always the same as being alone. You can choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others find this a lonely and dreadful experience that they try to avoid by all costs.
While I am a person who really craves and enjoys her alone time, there were times in my life when I would have given anything for somebody to truly and deeply connect with me. What I personally found the worst is the feeling of complete and utter loneliness when you're surrounded by people; your family and friends, of who, I had the feeling, nobody really "saw" me.
To define loneliness we can say that it is a subjective feeling of being alone against your own will. It is a complex mental and emotional phenomenon that is based on a powerful emotion that has survival value for children - abandonment.
All of us have experienced some degree of abandonment, and remember the painful and scary feeling that goes along with it. That's why, when we are reminded of it or anticipate it in the future, we trigger abandonment distress that we perceive as loneliness.
Feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health too, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems, and increased stress.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University who has studied loneliness extensively, says the social connection is something we biologically crave. “We’re social beings and our bodies respond when we lack the proximity to others,” she said.
So, what to do when we feel isolated and all by ourselves?
1. Identify why you’re lonely
We are usually told to cope with loneliness by engaging in social interactions, but this isn’t always wise advice. If you have underlying issues that are stopping you to build intimate relationships with others, no number of social connections will make you feel less lonely. That is why, in order to truly cope with loneliness, you must understand why you're feeling lonely. Once you identify the reason why you're feeling like this, you can find ways how to tackle them.
2. Understand that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact
We often create self-centered stories to explain our feelings. When we're lonely and sad, we usually assume other people don’t like us when that's rarely the case. Loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are not good enough, or that you are an outcast. You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings and this is not serving you in any way.
Here you can learn more about how to control your thoughts, beliefs, and perception.
3. Focus on the needs and feelings of others
If you are able to, volunteering is a good way of meeting people. Helping others can also really help improve your mental health. It is also a good idea to check that you will receive adequate support from the organization you are volunteering at.
Or, you can walk down the street grateful for the diversity of people you get to see, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person you meet.
4. Find others like you
Take it slow. If you've felt lonely for a long time, even if you already know lots of people, it can be terrifying to think about trying to meet new people or opening up to people for the first time.
If you are feeling lonely because of a lack of satisfying social contact in your life, you could try to meet more or different people. In today's online world there are numerous opportunities to connect with somebody. I personally love to get my dose of love and kindness in the Facebook group Daily Calm Community. The amount of support in this group is simply incredible.
5. Open up
You might feel that you know plenty of people, but what is actually wrong is that you don't feel close to them, or they don't give you the care and attention you need. In this situation, it might help to open up about how you feel to friends and family.
If you don't feel comfortable opening up to the people you know, you could try speaking with a therapist. Therapists allow you to explore and understand your feelings of loneliness and can help you develop positive ways of dealing with them. For example, therapy can provide a space for you to discuss the emotional problems that make it hard for you to form satisfying relationships.
Here you can learn how my 1 on 1 coaching program helps my clients deal with loneliness and anxiety.
6. Stop comparing yourself to others
It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others, especially if you're a woman. We all do it. Just try to be aware that things are not always what they seem to be from those perfectly curated Instagram photos.
On social media, we often only see what other people want to share about their lives, and this can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely. It's important to remind yourself that you don't know how other people feel when they are alone, or when their social media feeds are turned off.
7. Visualize your "happy place"
This method worked the best for me personally and got me out of some really scary and dark places in my mind. You know what I did? I visualized winning the lottery (a big fat sum of money ofc) and then started planning what would I do with that money. I designed and furnished my dream house, found places I wanted to travel to, and hotels I want to stay in. Don't even get me started on shoes and clothes! I literally browsed a gazillion of pages and clipped everything I liked on Pinterest or OneNote so I could get my kick of inspiration whenever I needed it.
Someone could say that I was just wasting my time, but by visualizing and curating my dream life I started to FEEL like I'm living it. I was so excited, playful, and carefree! I would choose those emotions over being sad and lonely every time.
8. Get comfortable with your own company.
A lot of people crave company, almost anyone’s company, because they fear the ‘void’ and discomfort when they are alone. But getting together with others as a desperate attempt to not be in one’s company will just leave you feeling more lonely. Instead, learn to enjoy your own company. You can start with meditation, reading, watching inspiring YouTube videos and listening to podcasts, or starting a gratitude journal.
9. Take care of yourself
Feeling lonely can be very stressful and can have a big impact on your general wellbeing, which might make it even harder to make positive steps to feeling better.
Try to get enough sleep. Getting too little or too much sleep can have a big impact on how you feel.
Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing, and boost your self-esteem.
Take daily walks.
Spend time with animals. A lot of people find spending time around animals can help with feelings of loneliness, whether through cuddling your own a pet or spending time around animals in their natural environment.
Avoid drugs and alcohol. While you might think drugs and alcohol will make you feel better, in the long run, they can make you feel worse and can prevent you from dealing with underlying problems.
10. Realize that This Too Shall Pass
This is just a current episode in your life. There were most likely times in your life, before this one, that made you feel sad and lonely. And, then you know that they were replaced with times of joy, fulfillment, and happiness. Everything changes. It is the nature of life itself.
So, don't beat up on yourself if you're feeling lonely at the moment. You're just experiencing this thing called Life.