12 Ways to Beat Loneliness
Whether you are a social butterfly or a shy wallflower, you are human and therefore wired to connect with others. After going through a year of social distancing recently, many people have felt more lonely than ever. And that’s not good – a lack of personal connection can lead to emotional and physical issues such as:
- Sleep problems
- Feel stressed
- Impaired brain function
- Increased heart problems
- Higher risk of stroke
- Poor decision making
- Memory problems
- Higher risk of substance abuse
It doesn’t take a pandemic to make you feel isolated. Personal events can also make you feel disconnected.
Sarah Hightower, a licensed professional counselor in Atlanta, recalls a moment of deep loneliness after a miscarriage several years ago. “I knew I wasn’t the only one who went through this, but in the moment you can feel like the only one. I was in deep sorrow and loneliness.
As a therapist, Hightower tries to help clients realize that talking about loneliness is a good thing. “It can be a call to action,” she says. “These feelings are a wake-up call to look at the things in our lives that we can change.”
If you’re feeling lonely these days – maybe more than usual – here are some ways to get you to the other side.
Be kind to yourself
Your inner critic can fuel feelings of loneliness. If you think that you are different from others or that you don’t fit in, it may be more difficult to bond with others. You might get stuck in a rut of loneliness. Acknowledge your thoughts and see them as a chance to make changes.
“Loneliness is like pain,” says David Cates, PhD, director of behavioral health at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, NE. “It can be hard to measure, but you know when you feel it.” Recognizing that you are not in good shape may be a sign that you might need more time with friends and family.
Be kind to others
Taking time outside of your schedule to help others can be a big help. Lending a helping hand can unleash your inner joy and help you feel like part of a larger community. Check out an older relative or neighbor. Volunteer for a soup kitchen or a virtual community event.
“We know people are suffering nationwide because of the pandemic,” Cates says. “The truth is, we faced loneliness and a lack of social ties long before a global pandemic.” Experts like Cates note the decline in social media that can result from factors such as shrinking family sizes, an increase in social media, more distant families, and fewer connections to voluntary and religious groups.
There are days on the calendar that can make you sad. Plan ahead for tough days or seasons and put something fun on the calendar. Try to meet safely with your friends or family. When a day (or a time of the year) that you dread has something that you are looking forward to, it can help.
“I call it proactive personal care,” says Hightower. “Recognize that you expect to be lonely for a while and be kinder to yourself.” Plan a car trip or to meet friends. Looking forward to something joyful can bring joy.
Adopt a pet
If you already have a furry baby, you can probably share the benefits of having a pet around the house. Otherwise, consider welcoming one into your family. Research suggests that having a pet can lower blood pressure, improve your mood, and relieve stress. The very cuddly company can also help if you are feeling lonely. Make sure, however, that you can handle the costs and additional tasks required.
Use social media wisely
Jumping on social media can help you feel connected. But too much time online can lead to loneliness.
“Social media can sometimes trick your mind into thinking you’re making real connections when you’re not,” says Hightower. “Social media isn’t bad, but it shouldn’t replace real connections.”
Take a look at how much time you spend online. “We’re so focused on likes, but those don’t translate into feelings of connection,” says Adam Brown, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Instead, use social media to help you build connections that go beyond likes and comments. Play online games with your family and friends. Try apps that let you watch a show or movie with another person.
Rediscover a hobby
A hobby – even one you do alone – can help. That magical moment where you get lost doing something you enjoy can push you beyond loneliness. You might hear it called “flow” or “be in the zone”.
You could adopt an old hobby like reading, cooking, photography, or yoga. Things that involve your hands (like knitting and painting) can also help you lose track of time – in a good way. Or sign up to learn a new hobby. Try an online course at your own pace or watch some videos online. You will meet people with common interests along the way.
Reconnect with others
You don’t need a cast of thousands to stop feeling lonely. Experts say having a few close friends can make a big difference. Start with a phone call, then consider scheduling an online chat or a coffee or tea to enjoy in person or virtually together.
Check in with others, knowing that they may also find it difficult to leave their comfort zone. Start a family game night or plan a monthly online party with friends across the miles.
Find your why
Finding a goal may seem like a solo mission, but it isn’t. The purpose is rooted in working with others. When you find the call of your life, you will often also find those who are on the same path as you. Part of it may come from reconnecting to your faith or spending time thinking.
Digging into your roots can also help you define your goal. Hearing stories about your family history can ease depression and boost self-esteem, says Brown. “Learning how our family members went through difficult times can help us put our challenges into context.”
Brown says research suggests nostalgic activities like flipping through old family photos can help you feel more connected.
Whether you’re with a friend or on your own, spending time in nature can lift your spirits. “There’s a fair amount of research showing that being in nature can help people who live in solitude,” says Brown.
Take a scenic drive. Walk in the park alone or with a friend. Take a day off from work or family chores and enjoy a day at the beach, lake, or trail. If you work from home, set up your office outside in good weather.
Move your body
There are many benefits to moving, including helping you beat the loneliness blues. Try dancing, yoga, or taking a walk, or find an exercise class online. Staying active can help fight depression, anxiety, stress, and a host of other things that can come from loneliness.
Don’t have the time or the energy for a long workout? No problem. Start with 5-10 minutes each day and build from there. Studies show that moderate exercise – when you breathe harder than normal and warm up a bit – can have great benefits.
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. But experts say there is a problem if you experience:
- Solitaire more than once a week
- As you do not belong
If you can’t shake these feelings, you may need to talk to a counselor. The loss of a loved one, divorce, retirement, or moving to a new city can trigger feelings of loneliness. A therapist can help you get through these times and give you tools to improve them.
Learn to cherish time alone
It might sound strange, but spending time alone can help if you are feeling lonely. “It’s important to distinguish between loneliness and social isolation,” Cates says. Loneliness is subjective. There are quite isolated people who are not alone and others who are around a lot of people with a deep sense of loneliness.
Spending time with yourself can help you feel recharged; bring more clarity and focus, and stimulate creativity. It can also help you in your relationships, as spending quality time with yourself can help you appreciate the time you spend with others. As with everything, balance is the key. If you spend too much time alone, your gut will tell you. You may feel like something is wrong. It can be a good sign to reconnect with others.
Loneliness doesn’t have to be a constant in your life. Making a few changes can bring back the joy, connection, and friendships that await you around the corner.
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