Today’s topic is pretty personal. As a somewhat private person, I don’t like using myself as a case study until I’ve figured out a solution to whatever problem I’m having.
I’m not so keen to wave my “dirty laundry” to the world in real time.
But, what I’m feeling is something that you might be familiar with too, so I thought to bring it to the table.
In this post, we’re talking about loneliness, why you shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling lonely, and what you can do to combat being alone.
In case you don’t already know, I am introverted by nature. My at-home joker confidence rarely makes it past these four walls, which is why large social gatherings often fill me with dread. I primarily work from our kitchen table in the vast, sometimes soulless city of L.A. My husband frequently travels during the week, and I live 7,497 mi (12,066 km) from my family.
It’s safe to say that I spend a lot of time by myself. But that’s not what makes me lonely.
The thing about loneliness is that you don’t have to be alone to feel it. In fact, it’s entirely possible to be surrounded by people and still feel isolated and forgotten.
Loneliness doesn’t come from lacking social-media “friends” or not having enough numbers in our contact list. It comes from missing the genuine human interaction that we are designed to have. It’s craving the acknowledgment that OTHER. PEOPLE. SEE. YOU.
(An experience that I find increasingly hard to come by in day-to-day life.)
It’s hard to feel lonely at a raucous family dinner, when laughing with friends, or after you receive a warm smile from an acquaintance who remembers your face.
Unfortunately, the virtualization of our lives and workdays has made it more-and-more “unnecessary” to have these real-world interactions.
But we absolutely must.
In the last decade, researchers and doctors have documented the impact of social isolation on health, well-being, and mortality.
The findings weren’t great.
- They compared chronic loneliness with chronic disease (1)
- Research in Britain found that it could be more devastating than obesity, and as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (2)
- And overall, the data strongly linked chronic loneliness with early death (3)
Now, I want to make it very clear that I am not chronically lonely, and I’m not suggesting that you are. We all feel the tug of isolation from time-to-time, and that is different from experiencing the extreme social isolation on which this research focused.
In fact, I would argue that, in the right doses, loneliness can be quite a good thing, as it forces us to connect with ourselves on a deeper level.
However, if it becomes chronic, it becomes a problem.
(Fine print: if you do currently find yourself at that end of the spectrum, it will require your immediate attention.)
What this tells me is that no matter your situation at the moment, we should all be more vigilant about strengthening our social skills, creating more opportunities for genuine interaction, and using our self-love practice to avoid spiraling into loneliness when we are merely alone.
Below I’m sharing six tips for mitigating (non-chronic) loneliness, but I’d love for you to add to this list. Please, leave a comment below telling me your number one strategy for feeling full seen, heard, and valued.
Feel Your Feelings
Step one is to acknowledge WHAT you’re feeling and healthily process those emotions. You might need to have a cry, a whinge, write in your journal, or let out a frustrated GRRR! You might think it’s got something to do with who you are (it doesn’t), or that other people don’t feel the same way (they do). Whatever you do, don’t block your feelings with food or unhealthy lifestyle habits; these will only make you feel worse.
Move Your Body
Next, you might like to move your body. You’ve felt the emotions, and you’ve processed them, now you have to let them out. Go for a walk or a run, dance in the living room, throw a few Kung Fu kicks, or circle your arms like a determined Pelican. Whatever you do, your nervous system will appreciate you taking those bottled-up emotions and tossing them out into the world.
Make First Contact
Nope, I’m not talking about an alien invasion. I sometimes think that if I reach out to other people, they’ll only hang out with me as a sense of obligation (silly, I know). But the truth is that everyone feels busy, everyone feels a bit lonely, and perhaps they’re just as nervous as you are about being rejected. The next time you feel a little too alone, pick up the phone and call a friend.
Do Something Private In A Public Place
This one is all about surrounding yourself with other people, but not relying on them for your entertainment. For example, take a book to a local cafe, eat your lunch in a public park, or watch a movie at the cinema. Sometimes it’s nice just to have others around.
Plan An Outing Every Week
As an introvert, I enjoy spending time on my own…just not too much of it. Every week I make sure that I have one or two things on my calendar that get me out of the house and having fun. An outing gives me something to look forward to and makes me appreciate the opportunity to retreat-and-recharge at home later on.
Appreciate The Social Connections You Do Have
Are you making an effort to interact with others throughout the day? Do you engage in conversation with your co-workers? Are you asking the guy bagging your groceries about his day? Will you bend down to pet your neighbor’s dog? Or do you just keep yourself to yourself? Remember, to receive connection you will also need to initiate it.
I’d love to hear what you think about this topic. What’s your opinion on the state of loneliness in society today? And what are you doing to combat it in your own life? Please leave a comment below!
Until next week,