I have recently felt lonely the past week. I no longer feel this way, but I thought this would be an interesting topic to write about.I haven’t done a post on this topic, so I thought this would be a good time to do so. We all have this feeling, some more than others. This pandemic may also cultivate these feelings, since we have to practice social distancing. I rarely feel this type of emotion, since I am an introvert and love my solitude, but there are times when I do get lonely. It happens to the best of us. We are social creatures. We need to connect with others from time to time. So it is only natural for us to get lonely at times.
So what is loneliness?
I compiled a bunch of different definitions from different sources to get a variety of ideas of what constitutes loneliness.
A common definition is “A state of solitude or being alone”. The other definition is “Loneliness is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, “it is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most” and is “a state of mind”. “A subjective, negative feeling related to the deficient social relations” “A feeling of disconnectedness or isolation.” etc., are the other ways to define loneliness.(IndianJournalofPsychiatry).
I am happy they changed the definition from the first one stated. Being alone and lonely are two different things. Wanting solitude and alone time does not mean someone is lonely. Me as an introvert enjoys my alone time. I can find peace being alone.
“Loneliness is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual. Because it has no single common cause, the prevention and treatment of this potentially damaging state of mind can vary dramatically.Loneliness is defined by researchers as feeling lonely more than once a week. Loneliness causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people. Loneliness, according to many experts, is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, if you feel alone and isolated, then that is how loneliness plays into your state of mind.”(verywellmind).
“Susan Pinker, a psychologist and author of “The Village Effect,” said that loneliness is a subjective feeling of being alone against your will. She said that you can be alone and not be lonely or you can be lonely even if you’re surrounded by people. It’s “a feeling of being excluded and of existential angst,” she said.(nytimes).
Although, I was able to meet with my friend and connect earlier in the week. I still felt a sense of loneliness throughout the week. I became aware this was due to my lack of connections at work and on SNS. I have close coworkers, but wasn’t able to chat with them at all that week. I was making posts online, but no one was interacting with them, and I haven’t been able to talk to my online buddies. I saw others at work connecting and talking. I also saw it online, so that made me feel even more isolated.
Now I know I could reach out to people, but the definitions above explained very well that it can be hard to do so when feeling lonely. You would think we would want to seek out others when feeling lonely, but it is quite the opposite,which can perpetuate feelings of loneliness.I also had this distorted thought that others should reach out to me, instead of me doing so. I wanted to feel needed. But I and everyone else who feels this way when lonely must remember the world doesn’t revolve around us and people have their lives. We can’t wait for others to come to us, sometimes we gotta make the move. Take control.
There are plenty of people I could talk to at work. I chose not to. Sometimes we have to recognize that the feeling of loneliness is perception of the mind and not reality. There are plenty of people we can connect with, but sometimes choose not to for reasons listed above. Maybe it is the feeling of not fitting it, or maybe we think they don’t want to talk to us? We just don’t want to put ourselves out there to get hurt.
“Though our need to connect is innate, many of us frequently feel alone. Loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and actual experiences of it. Even some people who are surrounded by others throughout the day—or are in a long-lasting marriage—still experience a deep and pervasive loneliness. Research suggests that loneliness poses serious threats to well-being as well as long-term physical health.”(psychologytoday).
Loneliness can be described in different ways, including
- feel they lack companionship
- feel left out
- feel “in tune” with people around them
- feel outgoing and friendly
- feel there are people they can turn to
All in all, loneliness stems from a lack of connection. It gets lonely when you have no one to talk to, or communicate with. This is why you can be around others, but still feel lonely, because it is possible you are not connecting or communicating with the people you are surrounded with. You may feel you are not able to be your true self, or talk about your deepest thoughts or concerns.
I want to put this quote in, because I think it is a very true statement about why we can feel loneliness surrounded by others.”Experts believe that it is not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness, but it’s the quality.”(verywellmind). Quality over quantity is so important in building connections and relationships. This can be the difference in feeling like you belong vs. loneliness.
There are also situational factors that can contribute to loneliness, such as moving to a new area, a divorce, a loss of a loved one, or a psychological disorder, like depression. This is a natural emotion in those situations.
So how can loneliness effect a person?
“Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University who has studied loneliness extensively, says social connection is something we biologically crave. “We’re social beings and our bodies respond when we lack the proximity to others,” she said. (nytimes)
“Dr. Holt-Lunstad has found that loneliness can lead to serious consequences. One of her studies found that lacking any social connection may be comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day as a risk factor for mortality. “Another study found that loneliness increases the risk of an earlier death by 26 percent. She also found that social isolation, loneliness and living alone exceed the risks of death associated with obesity, physical activity and air pollution.”(nytimes).
According to an article The Health Consequences of Loneliness. They mention a couple of possible negative effects of loneliness.
- Alcoholism and drug use
- Altered brain function
- Alzheimer’s disease progression
- Antisocial behavior
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Decreased memory and learning
- Depression and suicide
- Increased stress levels
- Poor decision-making
Feelings of loneliness can have a very negative effect on the mind and body. This is why it is important to find ways to cope and manage these feelings, so the feeling don’t consume our lives. I found the fifteen cigarettes a day comment very eye opening.
So how do we cope?
There are a couple of things I have done and some others I found online that may be helpful when coping with this feeling. I will list then below.
Be Aware Noticing these feeling is important. Once you notice. You can learn to understand and manage it.
Acknowledge it. Accept it.Name it and accept it. I am lonely and that is okay. Sit with it, let it flow through you. Accept the feeling of emotion is part of being human. When I was able to label it and accept the feeling I was able to move on from these feelings. It is all part of life. The feeling will pass.
Make small talk to make new deeper connections you got to start small. There may be some coworkers you are not familiar with, or maybe talking to a cashier at a shop you go to a lot, or maybe talk to someone at a place you go to a lot. This may be a hard step, but sometimes it may good for you to take the plunge.
Connect with family/friends I had plenty of family and friends I could have reached out to when I was feeling lonely. We should not forget that we have loved ones we can talk. It is okay to reach out to them.
Acknowledge you are not alone-Everyone feel loneliness. The feeling of loneliness can come from feeling like an outsider, that no one understand you, but being aware that everyone has these feeling from time to time can be helpful. Knowing we are not alone can be helpful. Humans love the feeling of belonging.
Reflect-why are you feeling this way,what is the cause,what can be done? These questions can be asked and answered when one is able to be mindful and reflect. Reflecting was really helpful for me to cope with my loneliness. I was able to recognize the cause and analyze what I can do to manage these feelings. I felt much better after doing this.
Connect with self-Now this may be counter intuitive. But taking time to yourself can cultivate clarity and peace of mind, so practicing this may be helpful. You can journal,meditate,do some yoga. This may reduce the feelings of loneliness, or it can give one the clarity to manage their feelings of loneliness and figure out ways to find the connections one needs.
Connect with nature-Go for a walk in nature. So much peace and energy can be found doing this. I always feel a sense of connection when I am immersed in nature. Maybe this type of connection is all one needs to get through these feelings. Trees, plants and flowers are all living things. Lets not forget to connect with them as well.
Reach out-Loneliness tends to keep us from reaching out, but we might learn to try to push that desire to keep our distance and reach out to someone. Connection is all we need,so we need to learn to take control of the situation at this point. It is harder to do, than say, but it being hard isn’t an excuse not to do it if it helps bring peace of mind to yourself.
Join a club/forum A good way to meet like-minded people and connect.
Volunteer Another way to meet like-minded people. You are also doing something rewarding that can make you feel good.
Be creative- Negative emotions can always be used in a positive way. It can be inspirational.Use those feelings as fuel for creativity. Write, draw, paint, compose using the ideas from these feelings of loneliness.
Avoid SNS-can drive the feelings of loneliness and isolation. Sometimes a break can be helpful.
Be kind to yourself Show compassion for yourself. Try not to blame yourself for feeling this way. Try not to see yourself as the enemy or someone who can’t connect with someone. Believe there is nothing wrong with you. We all have these type of feelings. You are not wrong. You are not unlovable. You are not a freak. You are human.
We will all feel lonely from time to time. That is normal. It is a part of being human. It is totally okay to have these feelings, as long as it is short-term and not persistent. There will be extreme cases where loneliness is a reality, but in most cases it is a perceived threat. We must remember we aren’t as alone as we think we are.