During this time of lock-down and isolation, it is easy to fall into a feeling of loneliness. Don’t. Don’t do it. Here’s why: loneliness can have negative consequences for your mind and body. Research has shown that loneliness and a lack of social ties have been linked to inflammation, gene expression, and even higher mortality rates.
Wait a minute? Are you actually saying that I have a choice in feeling lonely?
The short answer is: yes, you do have a choice. Loneliness is a feeling, which means it is possible to replace it with another, more positive, feeling.
Let’s take a look at how to do just that. First, we’ll dive into what loneliness is and then offer some options to help replace loneliness with other feelings.
Loneliness is a state of mind. That’s good news, because you can address your state of mind.
Loneliness is how connected you feel on the inside. You can have a bunch of friends in the room with you right now and still feel lonely. Or, you can be in a room full of strangers and feel a great sense of belonging (say, at a place of worship or at an inspirational conference). So, loneliness does not depend on the number of friends you do or do not have. If you feel uncared for, like your needs are unimportant, or have family and friends that cannot be relied upon for emotional support, that can lead you to feeling lonely. Loneliness is perceiving a gap in your desire for social connection and your actual experiences of it.
We are a tribal people. Our ancestors lived together, hunted together, fought off predators together, and relied on each other to survive. Each on did their part and they were connected with each other. Today, we are taught to be much more “self-sufficient” and move away from connectedness, especially to things like religion and service, which are community oriented. Plus, we can be in Destin today, Sacramento tomorrow, and end up moving to Minnesota, far away from the like-mindedness of our tribe. Is it any wonder a feeling of loneliness sets in?
And let’s stop to take a moment and look at solitude. It is important not to confuse loneliness with solitude. Loneliness is spending time alone for negative reasons, while solitude is the exact opposite. Solitude is time spent alone that is restorative or advantageous in other ways. There are, in history, monks who chose to live alone in the desert for many years, enjoying a life of solitude by connecting not to those around them but to a higher power. These monks provided great insight to many mysteries of life, among other scholarly contributions. Being alone in solitude helped them to grow and prosper. Many young people today choose solitude at times to relax, create, or reflect rather than just to simply avoid being with people.
Things You Can Do to Give Loneliness the Boot
Research shows that emotions like depression and anxiety are linked to a tendency to focus on ourselves. When you are stressed, you are less likely to engage in conversation with someone new. On the other hand, when you feel more upbeat and positive, you are more likely to notice others and connect.
In order to become more upbeat and positive, you first need to change the conversation happening inside you and then focus outward. Here are some steps to help you give loneliness the boot:
- Practice Self-Care – If you are not being a friend to yourself, you will find it hard to be a friend to others. Take the time, energy, and interest to be important enough to yourself. Engage in a few acts of self-care, however that may look to you: take a long bath, read a good book, go on a long walk. Do something for yourself that does you good physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Also, be sure to get enough sleep (especially since sleep deprivation with only add to your negative mood). You will be surprised how this will make you feel more loved and connected.
- Form Your Own Tribe – It is easy to feel lonely when you are surrounded by people who do not share your same values or lifestyle. Go out and find people who have similar views and preferences as yours. It might be friends you make, a spiritual community you join, or a family you build. Singing is a great way to relieve stress, improve your health, and find a choir community. Even the Internet has made it easier to find groups that hold values and likes similar to yours. Get out more and socialize. Don’t stop believing – just keep looking. They are out there.
- Show Some Compassion – as they say, to make friends, you must first be a friend. All humans have a deep need for social connection and love. Instead of waiting for others to reach out to you, start reaching out to them, even if they may not think like you. Having compassion for others (when balanced with self-care) is one of the greatest sources of happiness. Research has shown that not only does compassion improve our physical and emotional well-being, but it improves our chances of living longer and living more fulfilled lives. Want to change those feelings in your head? Start helping others.
Remember, loneliness is a state of mind. You can, with a little effort on your part, give loneliness the boot and start enjoying a more positive and fulfilled life.