It's Loneliness Awareness Week, and during the lockdowns, even the most social butterfly has been forced to stay home, and those of us who have fewer friends and supportive networks might struggle a little more than most. Being mindful of what loneliness means and having some simple tools to cope can work wonders for our health and wellbeing.
Firstly, let's get one thing clear: In the words of the much-admired meditation expert, Sebene Selassie, you are not separate. You never were. You never will be.
Practising meditation and energy work over the years has proved to me that we are not separate from each other. But we don't always believe it, and we certainly don't always practice it.
Loneliness is not about simply being with people but about connecting with them. It's common to be in a relationship and/or have a family and still feel lonely when you don't feel a connection with those people. We feel connected when we find a group with whom we share the same values and when our vulnerability is acknowledged and accepted.
Loneliness is not an abstract condition that affects only certain kinds of people. The truth is that feelings of loneliness can affect anyone—young, old, and in-between—and at any point in your life.
It's not uncommon for the elderly, people going through a breakup, divorce, death of a loved one, and young people to struggle with loneliness.
Loneliness can be due to so many different factors and, long-term, can affect your emotional and physical health. If you want to know what to do when you feel lonely, consider these six tips:
1. Accept that loneliness is normal.
Just knowing that there are people around the world experiencing the same feelings of loneliness can be helpful. 40% of people will experience loneliness at some point in time. That number may seem high, especially as the internet and social media make it easier than ever to connect. But loneliness is subjective. It's possible to feel lonely even if you have a partner, children, or lots of friends.
So if you're looking for an answer on how to cure loneliness in your own life, just realise there are millions of others feeling the same way. This normal emotion is one that almost everyone experiences at some point, and it's something that you can overcome.
Talk to friends and family. Let them know you're struggling with loneliness. If you've suffered the loss of a relationship, a loved one, lost a job, moved to a new place, are facing other issues that have isolated you, let them know how they might be able to help you feel less lonely.
2. Nurture existing relationships.
Loneliness can make us pull away from our relationships, even when we desire them the most. By nurturing the relationships you already have, you can put yourself on a path to overcoming loneliness. When the people you once loved or connected with feel distant, it can be hard to take the first step towards fortifying those bonds. Here are some ideas for connecting again:
Plan some time each day (or week) to call or visit a friend.
Invite a friend or colleague out for lunch.
Start conversations with neighbours when you can, even it's just hello, to begin with.
Use social media to reconnect with those you've lost touch with due to time or distance.
Join a group or club with interests you share.
3. Find a hobby.
Sometimes being alone is a byproduct of feeling bored. If you're already struggling with feelings of loneliness or social isolation, the answer isn't watching Netflix by yourself every night. Instead, find something to occupy your time. Do things you have fun doing to pass the time or be productive.
Make sure that what you choose has some social element to it. Taking pictures in the park and joining a gardening group through Meetup are both good options. Doing a jigsaw puzzle alone in your apartment, not so much. Take some time to explore your ideal hobby options and then get out there. The "getting out there" part is usually the hardest. But keep yourself busy and do something you enjoy and can be proud of.
4. Find a volunteer opportunity as a way to feel less lonely
Volunteer opportunities are plentiful. Contributing your time and energy and working alongside others for a good cause can effectively help you fight loneliness. Volunteer activities are shown to ease stress, reduce feelings of depression, help you make friends, connect with others, and make you a happier person.
Try one of these ideas if volunteering appeals to you:
Hednesford is a Community Managed Library run by a team of volunteers
Shadow rangers in the Cannock Chase Voluntary Scheme
Volunteer at a children's hospital or local hospice
Read to kids at school
Work in a soup kitchen
Volunteer in an animal shelter
5. Practice positive self-talk.
You might be wondering what getting rid of negative self-talk has to do with loneliness, but the two go hand-in-hand. When you're feeling lonely, and you start to think something like, "I hate my life, no one wants to spend time with me," you're adding to your loneliness. Now you're not only missing social connections, but also your self-esteem is taking a beating.
Stay positive and remember time alone is not permanent.
Make a conscious effort to catch these thoughts and replace them with a positive message instead. A healthy positive self-talk habit takes practice, but it can be part of a simple cure for loneliness. It's a good way to combat negative feelings, and it could significantly improve your life.
6. Practice self-care
Just like everything, nothing is forever. If time alone makes you feel alone, then try to embrace it. Play your favourite music, write in a journal or move your body. Not only does it combat loneliness, but it's good for you too.
Besides working to connect with others, don't overlook the potential power of exercise, healthy food, proper sleep, sunshine, and even meditation for fighting loneliness.
Exercise has been shown to trigger endorphins in the brain. These are often called the "happy hormones" due to their power to lift your mood and make you feel better.
Sunshine can do much the same thing as exercise. It also triggers good hormones, including endorphins and serotonin, which have several positive long-term benefits. Just make sure you follow safety guidelines when getting out in the sunshine.
A healthy diet can affect your brain health, too. A daily diet of sugar, preservatives and highly processed food can negatively impact your physical and emotional health. Focus on eating whole foods for a while and see if this can help your strategy to overcome loneliness.
Sleep quality is closely tied to emotional health. Loss of sleep or poor sleep habits can aggravate feelings of loneliness and isolation, and vice versa. If you're fighting loneliness, try practising better sleep habits. If you need inspiration, then try my Sleep Well, Feel Well Series.
Book in for a massage. Because of the power of touch, massage therapy has become an additional treatment option for many mental health conditions. There are many other ways massage therapy has been found to help the mind-body connection. Combined with aromatherapy, blends of essential oils bring the mind to the present and help create feelings of peace and calm.
Whether you choose a professional massage or choose self-care massage techniques such as Gua Sha, it's important to recognise the need to balance both your mind and body when it comes to your mental health. During a time in our history where anxiety and loneliness are at their highest, it is essential to take care of your mind and body to live your best life.
So remember: Loneliness affects millions of people. There are many things you can do when trying to overcome it. The key is realising how you feel, finding the best strategy for you, and taking it from there.
"Loneliness allows your soul room to grow" - Janet Fitch.