Ways To Manage Loneliness

Dr Ottilia Brown

Ways To Manage Loneliness

Posted 04 Nov 2019

Mind & Body Health

Dr. Ottilia Brown

Ways To Manage Loneliness

‘Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you’ - Rumi

Loneliness has become the emotional pandemic of our time. A crushing emotion that can sometimes be hard to recognise and causes so much discomfort. It has been defined in many ways… a sense of isolation and disconnectedness; dissatisfaction with social relationships; a perception of being alone… The poignant features of these definitions are that there is an aloneness, and this aloneness can be real or perceived. This is why people in relationships or at social events can still feel lonely. Their relationships may not be emotionally satisfying and hence despite the fact that they are always around people, they may still experience loneliness.

The causes of loneliness are varied. Loss of a loved one or being in social relationships where there is a misalignment of values and a perpetual sense of emotional and social disconnection are common causes of loneliness. People may have many connections or many ‘friends’ or be married but the subjective quality of these relationships is not on par with the individual’s needs regarding connection. Low self-esteem and a negative relationship with self can also contribute to feelings of loneliness. With regard to the latter, there may be the presence of quality relationships, but the individual’s evaluation of themselves within the context of these relationships is poor. Loneliness may also be a feature of an existing mental health condition like depression, especially when the individual feels misunderstood and unsupported. The tech age brings us social media and these connections can create the illusion of connection; but as human beings we generally crave close, deep and meaningful connections with one another. People often spend hours on their social media without experiencing a real sense of connection, rendering them lonely.

Here’s the real problem with loneliness… it has adverse effects on mental and physical wellbeing. Research has shown that loneliness can contribute to the development of conditions like diabetes and heart disease, it can compromise immunity, and negatively affect longevity. It can also increase stress hormone production which will affect overall functioning like sleep and appetite. Research has shown that loneliness can lead to increased isolation which in turn increases the risk for mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Remedies for Loneliness

  • Accept the emotion of loneliness. This requires acknowledgement of the emotion, including naming it. We often try to deny and escape from uncomfortable emotions and these efforts are usually not successful in the long-term and may even be unhealthy. An acceptance of the experience of an emotion also includes accepting that the emotion will not last.
  • Acceptance and self-compassion go very well together. Self-compassion is often confused with self-pity. The two could not be more different. Self-compassion includes the experience of empathy as well as an attempt to relieve the suffering in a healthy manner. There is also a universal identification with suffering and an understanding that we are not alone in our struggles.
  • Learn to enjoy your own company… that means developing a good self-esteem and investing in your relationship with yourself. Remember you are the person that you will have the longest relationship with.
  • Watch your self-talk. When we are experiencing uncomfortable emotions, we may engage in self-talk that is not helpful but harmful. Identify your loneliness self-talk and recognise how this could be intensifying the feeling of loneliness. Thoughts like, ‘I am always going to be lonely’… ‘Only losers are lonely’… ‘This is unbearable / intolerable / I can’t stand it’ are examples of loneliness self-talk.
  • Engage in meaningful activities that bring personal satisfaction. Find things that really engage your senses and your spirit and that make you happy. This could include a range of activities such as volunteering your time and resources for a worthy course, learning a new skill such as playing an instrument or painting, learning a new language, traveling, walks on the beach, literally anything that brings a sense of meaning or satisfaction.
  • Seek out connections with people that share your values... join organisations where you are likely to meet these people. These could include political movements, social clubs, book clubs, sport teams, religious and cultural organisations and so on.
  • Start doing activities where you can increase the likelihood of making connections such as going to a meet up group via apps like meetup.com, going to bookshops, yoga classes, a running club and so forth.
  • Overcome the fear of doing things on your own. Go out for a coffee alone. Take a book or magazine along to help with the initial discomfort. Then work your way up to a meal alone and eventually try seeing a movie on your own. Often this fear is compounded by worrying about what other people will think. The truth is no-one actually cares… so neither should you.
  • Have a plan for the times you may feel particularly vulnerable. These times typically include evenings or weekends. Go to the gym, join an exercise or hobby class, catch up on some documentaries, prepare a healthy nutritious meal and plan a chilled evening of self-care.
  • Pets can be amazing companions and can really help with managing feelings of loneliness. Ensure that you are able to take care of and afford a pet. Do your homework before taking on the responsibility.
  • Seek therapy. It may be helpful to speak to a professional when you recognise that these feelings of loneliness originate from mental health issues or if you find yourself feeling stuck despite trying various strategies.

Enritschers, as always, I wish you well as we seek depth of connection with ourselves and others and grapple with the challenges that are inevitable when you are on a quest for self-development. Ottilia!

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