Do you have close friends and loved ones and yet still not know how to deal with loneliness?
The aching, gnawing feeling, that despite the close proximity of other humans, you don’t have the emotional connection you need…
We’re a social species after all. From an evolutionary perspective, we’ve come to rely on each other, not just for physical backup, but for psychological support too.
In such a hyperconnected world, it’s curious that in many ways we’ve grown more distant, to the point that social isolation has become a significant issue.
And even though loneliness may be invisible for its sufferers, its effects are serious. Research shows that the condition can be as detrimental to health as obesity and cigarette smoking.
In this article, we’ll look at how to deal with the symptoms by getting back to basics. But first, what does loneliness mean to you?
What Is Loneliness?
You can’t address something until you know what it is. So, according to our chums at Wikipedia,
“Loneliness is a complex and unusually unpleasant emotional response to isolation.”
Call me captain obvious, but it helps to clarify. Definitions done, let’s see how we can combat the symptoms.
How to Deal With Loneliness
Recognise Loneliness as a Feeling
Loneliness is a feeling, not an objective fact.
Much of the time we attribute our emotional states to the absolute truth. Instead, we have to remember that we’re not our thoughts.
When we’re caught in the throes of our mind’s dastardly negativity vortex and struggle to escape, it can be hard to remember.
Whatever your current situation, it’s your perspective that determines your response and ultimate mental wellbeing.
Change your thoughts about a situation and you change your reality.
We’ll talk more about a powerful technique to do this shortly.
Analyse Your Emotional Triggers
Are there particular times you feel prone to loneliness?
As with any other emotion, there may be certain triggers which elicit these feelings.
Is it when you’re at home, alone, or perhaps when you’ve had an argument with a loved one?
Perhaps you wonder why you feel lonely even if you’re in a relationship…
Figuring out why you feel lonely is an essential first step in identifying a solution.
Only when you’ve diagnosed the issue can you treat the condition.
I’ve surely banged on about meditation enough in my digital ramblings to make you realise it’s pretty amazing.
Meditation allows you to gain clarify your thoughts, and see them for what they are; a mere illusion.
It allows us to take a detached look at what’s going on inside our crazy little skulls from moment to moment when we’re not subjecting ourselves to every scrap of distraction going.
Becoming the observer of our thoughts helps us put our loneliness into context and gives us the space to put practical strategies in place for addressing any feelings of social isolation.
Reframe the Situation
This really is a superpower when used correctly and the difference between strong emotional health or becoming a slave to your thoughts.
Reframing is a common technique used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and like meditation, it teaches you that to your thoughts are not the absolute truth.
You might feel lonely now, but how can you reframe those feelings in a positive light?
When I’m struggling psychologically, I’ll often emphasise how good it’ll feel to embrace the feelings as a challenge and how I’ll grow as a result.
This not only builds mental resilience but also give me added motivation to find actionable strategies moving forward.
Realise That You’re in Control
The ancient stoic philosophers taught us of the importance of focusing on what’s in a control and disregarding the rest.
This can be an empowering mental stance.
If you’ve analysed your emotional triggers, you should have some idea of what’s causing your feelings and whether those stimuli are within your control.
Are you feeling lonely because your relationship has ended or you’ve lost a loved one for example? Can you do anything about it, or is it time to move on?
Often we’re so busy obsessing over the past or future events that we don’t stop to think that we may have little influence on proceedings.
Bringing things back within your locus of control means you focus on what you can do right now, in the present moment, to improve your situation.
That may be a simple as calling a friend or even sending a message to a loved one.
Talk to Someone You Trust
It’s often tough to go beyond stock responses when people ask how we are. But if you reply honestly, a closer connection can emerge.
As the recipient of an honest response on a few occasions, it’s actually quite liberating to hear,
“No actually, I’m not doing ok.” Said no-one, ever.
We’re wired, after all, to be there for our brethren. And when someone you know is suffering, your immediate response is to help, even if it’s just by listening.
So the next time you’re with a confidante, try opening up a bit. I hate to use this hackneyed self-help word, but be a bit more vulnerable and see where it takes you.
Since we’ve been taught that we’re all unique little snowflakes, it’s easy to become self-absorbed.
The fact is, with the utopian technological development that’s put a tablet in the hands of every child, our community has grown weaker.
Our basic needs on Maslow’s hierarchy have been met, so we begin to focus inwards, on how to make our lives even more peaches and cream.
But while it’s always good to grow, this new found focus on the “cult of me” can teeter dangerously on the precipice of narcissism.
Want to know how to deal with loneliness?
Get out of your own head and focus on helping those around you. Volunteering is great.
Human connection and lifting others up helps releases a nice little dose of oxytocin, a feel-good chemical that’s ideal for enhancing empathy and communication.
There are numerous benefits of getting on meet-up to check out salsa classes or heading down for some spoon carving.
It breaks you out of a daily routine which could potentially be exacerbating your feelings of social isolation. That change of scenery can really breathe fresh life into your day.
By meeting new people in the context of trying something new, it also takes the pressure away from getting a conversation going.
For example, I’ve been on “coffee meet-ups” before where the sole purpose is getting to know new people. This makes it super awkward to actually get to know anyone new as there’s too much pressure on it.
Meetups also maximise the chances that the people you meet are potential friends. After all, if they’ve been drawn to the same hobby that you find interesting, perhaps you’ll have other common interests.
Okay, so ideally we want real human connection by getting out into the community for some good old fashioned interaction.
But what if you live somewhere that makes it difficult to be yourself? Or if your mobility is restricted through disability, for example?
Well, we should make use of online tools wherever possible. One good thing about our digital age is that we can source communities that resonate with us.
See yourself as a passionate giant courgette grower? I’m sure there’s a forum for that with likeminded folks somewhere.
Try to develop a sense of belonging wherever you can and then take those interactions offline wherever possible.
Change Your Scenery
You feel lonely and hide away behind closed doors. Loneliness can be a negative spiral. The more you shy away from human contact, the harder it becomes to integrate into social situations.
When you do finally interact, you feel awkward, confirming your pre-existing beliefs that you’re better off alone. Socialising is like a muscle – if you don’t use it, you lose it.
That’s why it’s imperative to keep getting out there and into social encounters, however intimidating they may feel at the time.
Whereas the natural impulse for the lonely among us is on of reclusion, we must battle this urge and take comfort in the healing force of our fellow humans.
Journaling might be just the type of outlet you need for your feelings.
If you feel like you have no one to talk to, a journal can provide the feeling of meaningful dialogue and be a good space for non-judgmental self-reflection.
Through personal experience, I’ve also found that journaling helps create new ideas and connections. Solutions, which had seemed evasive prior to writing, became obvious after journaling from a detached viewpoint.
This exercise isn’t just good for combatting loneliness. You might also find it unblocks other areas of your life.
Perhaps your loneliness stems from a lack of confidence in engaging with those around you.
Simple getting a sweat on can provide a sense of accomplishment and encourage you to interact with others, especially when performed in a group context.
Exercise is a cornerstone habit that not only helps with general health and well-being but also cross-pollinates other areas of our lives from a psychological perspective.
Joining a class at your local gym, trying a running club or taking up an activity like cycling can be a useful antidote to feelings of loneliness.
Do you remember what it was like to be childlike? To look up at the stars with awe, or simply down at a worm, mesmerised?
There’s still some of that child within us all, whatever our age. We just need to reawaken the feeling.
As Steve Jobs said in his famous interview,
“The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”
We just need to rediscover our playful side.
Want to know how to deal with loneliness? Play WIG, the “What If Game”.
What if I just called one person in my phone book today for a chat? What if I tried that new coffee shop and talked to the staff?
It doesn’t have to be much, but it has to be something.
In this world of information, it’s tempting to try to discover all the answers before we’ve even begun. Want to know how to deal with loneliness? Read an article like this!
We’ve become obsessed with shortcuts and results. But this approach is no substitute for experimentation. Sometimes, it’s enough to think that by researching, you’re partly solving your issue.
However, if you simply read this article and fail to act, nothing will change. Take heart in the fact that you cannot fail. Instead, you either win or you learn.
You could find this list doesn’t work for you and that you need professional help after all. That’s fine, but explore the options first and use experiential data to inform your next move.
I should really title this article,
“Quick hacks on how to deal with loneliness and live a life of plenty.”
That would have got you to click a bit faster eh? Unfortunately, however, clickbaity headlines won’t work for this one. When you’re in the grips of loneliness it can feel like you’re travelling through a never-ending tunnel.
If you feel that way now, it’s going to take time to find your feet and get back out into the world. And that’s ok. We’re so often sold on shortcuts that we’ve become incredibly impatient for results.
However, it takes time to form more deep and meaningful connections in life. Therefore, be patient with yourself and focus on the process instead of the result.
Seek Professional Help
There’s nothing wrong with taking things up a notch and engaging the services of a trained professional. Just speaking to your doctor can point you in the right direction.
They might refer you to a counsellor or for some CBT therapy.
And if that sounds too formal and you need an impartial ear to open up, a helpline may be a good first step.
What to Do When You Feel Lonely
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” Mother Theresa.
When we feel lonely or that we have no one to talk to, it can be easy to fall into the victim mindset, seeing evidence all around us for our current situation.
However, it’s imperative to recognise such disempowering feelings for what they are, and rather than succumb to the poverty of loneliness, invest in the relationships that will ultimately nourish us.
Only then can we learn how to deal with loneliness.