In this new article you’ll learn how to deal with loneliness.
Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship.
Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or communality with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future.
As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental or emotional factors.
Research has shown that loneliness is widely prevalent throughout society among people in marriages, relationships, families and successful careers.
It has been a long explored theme in the literature of human beings since classical antiquity.
Loneliness has also been described asocial pain — a psychological mechanism meant to alert an individual of isolation and motivate him/her to seek social connections.
What are the common causes of loneliness?
People can experience loneliness for many reasons and many life events may cause it, like the lack of friendship relations during childhood and adolescence, or the physical absence of meaningful people around a person.
At the same time, loneliness may be a symptom of another social or psychological problem, such as chronic depression.
Many people experience loneliness for the first time when they are left alone as infants.
It is also a very common, though normally temporary, consequence of a breakup, divorce, or loss of any important long-term relationship.
In these cases, it may stem both from the loss of a specific person and from the withdrawal from social circles caused by the event or the associated sadness.
The loss of a significant person in one’s life will typically initiate a grief response; in this situation, one might feel lonely, even while in the company of others.
Loneliness may also occur after the birth of a child (often expressed in postpartum depression), after marriage, or following any other socially disruptive event, such as moving from one’s home town into an unfamiliar community leading to homesickness.
Loneliness can occur within unstable marriages or other close relationships in a similar nature, in which feelings present may include anger or resentment, or in which the feeling of love cannot be given or received.
Loneliness may represent a dysfunction of communication, and can also result from places with low population densities in which there are comparatively few people to interact with.
Loneliness can also be seen as a social phenomenon, capable of spreading like a disease.
When one person in a group begins to feel lonely, this feeling can spread to others, increasing everybody’s risk for feelings of loneliness.
People can feel lonely even when they’re surrounded by other people.
A twin study found evidence that genetics account for approximately half of the measurable differences in loneliness among adults, which was similar to the heritability estimates found previously in children.
These genes operate in a similar manner in males and females. The study found no common environmental contributions to adult loneliness.
Feeling Lonely vs. Being Socially Isolated
There is a clear distinction between feeling lonely and being socially isolated (1) (for example, a loner).
In particular, one way of thinking about loneliness is as a discrepancy between one’s desired and achieved levels of social interaction, while solitude is simply the lack of contact with people.
Loneliness is therefore a subjective experience; if a person thinks they are lonely, then they are lonely.
People can be lonely while in solitude, or in the middle of a crowd. What makes a person lonely is the fact that they want more social interaction than what is currently available.
A person can be in the middle of a party and feel lonely due to not talking to enough people.
Conversely, one can be alone and not feel lonely. Even though there is no one around, that person is not lonely because there is no desire for social interaction.
There have also been suggestions that each person has their own sweet spot of social interaction. If a person gets too little or too much social interaction, this could lead to feelings of loneliness or over-stimulation.
Solitude can have positive effects on individuals.
One study found that although time spent alone tended to depress a person’s mood and increase feelings of loneliness, it also helped to improve their cognitive state, such as improving concentration.
Furthermore, once the alone time was over, people’s moods tended to increase significantly.
Solitude is also associated with other positive growth experiences, religious experiences, and identity building such as solitary quests used in rites of passages for adolescents.
Loneliness can also play an important role in the creative process.
In some people, temporary or prolonged loneliness can lead to notable artistic and creative expression, for example, as was the case with poet Emily Dickinson, and numerous musicians.
This is not to imply that loneliness itself ensures this creativity, rather, it may have an influence on the subject matter of the artist and more likely to be present in individuals engaged in creative activities.
Psychological effects of loneliness
Loneliness has been linked with depression, and is thus a risk factor for suicide.
Émile Durkheim has described loneliness, specifically the inability or unwillingness to live for others, i.e. for friendships or altruistic ideas, as the main reason for what he called egoistic suicide.
In adults, loneliness is a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism. People who are socially isolated may report poor sleep quality, and thus have diminished restorative processes.
Loneliness has also been linked with a Schizoid character type in which one may see the world differently and experience social alienation, described as the self in exile.
In children, a lack of social connections is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior, most notably hostile and delinquent behavior.
In both children and adults, loneliness often has a negative impact on learning and memory. Its disruption of sleep patterns can have a significant impact on the ability to function in everyday life.
Chronic loneliness can be a serious, life-threatening health condition.
At least one study has empirically correlated it with an increased risk of cancer, especially for those who hide their loneliness from the outside world, and it is also associated with increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Loneliness shows an increased incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Loneliness is shown to increase the concentration of cortisol levels in the body. Prolonged, high cortisol levels can cause anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems and weight gain.
Loneliness has been associated with impaired cellular immunity as reflected in lower natural killer (NK) cell activity and higher antibody titers to the Epstein Barr Virus and human herpes viruses”.
Because of impaired cellular immunity, loneliness among young adults shows vaccines, like the flu vaccine, to be less effective.
Data from studies on loneliness and HIV positive men suggests loneliness increases disease progression.
How to deal with loneliness
There is no simple solution to overcoming loneliness. Just calm your mind and ask yourself- If I had five people with me right now, would I feel better than I do now?
If the answer is yes, the solution is much simpler. If the answer is no, you are not lonely, just sad.
So, if it is indeed lack of social contact that is bothering you, you can either overcome loneliness by mingling with other people, or you can even overcome it all by yourself.
I will list all possible ways you can overcome loneliness below:-
1. Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact.
When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone.
The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes painful scary feelings; therefore loneliness gets our attention.
But then the brain tries to make sense of the feeling. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because they are all mean?
Theories about why you are feeling lonely can become confused with facts. Then it becomes a bigger problem so just realize that you are having this feeling and accept it without over reacting.
2. Reach out because loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are a loser, an outcast.
You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings and this is not helpful.
At its best, anticipation of loneliness might motivate us to reach out and cultivate friendships, which is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. When you are a child and your sadness causes you to cry, you may evoke a comforting response from others.
If you’re an adult, not so much.
3. Notice your self-deflating thoughts.
We often create self centered stories to explain our feelings when we are young; it is not unusual for children to assume that there is something wrong with them if they are not happy.
If they are lonely and sad, children may assume other people don’t like them when this is rarely the case.
Victims of bullying may well have fans and friends, but they often aren’t aware of it because the shame and loneliness get more attention.
Habitual assumptions about social status continue into adulthood and if you are looking for evidence that the world sucks, you can always find it.
4. Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness.
If you realize you are dealing with an emotional habit, you can make a plan to deal with loneliness.
Since healthy interaction with friends is good, make some effort to reach out to others, to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness and depression are telling you not to.
Yes, it is work, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is worthwhile even when you are feeling tired or lazy (2).
5. Focus on the needs and feelings of others.
Pay less attention on your lonely thoughts and feelings. I can walk down the street thinking about myself, my loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, staring at the sidewalk and sighing to myself.
Or I can walk down the street grateful for the diversity of people I get to share the sidewalk with, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person I meet.
The latter is more fun, even though I sometimes have to remind myself to do it on purpose.
6. Find others like you.
Now days there are more tools than ever before to find out where the knitters, hikers or kiteboarders are congregating so that you can get together with those who share your interests.
This makes it much easier to identify groups with which you will have something in common, a natural basis for beginning a friendship.
7. Always show up when meeting up with others.
You don’t have to run for president of the knitters society at your first meeting. But you do have to show up.
I have been telling others to practice yoga for 20 years and promising I would do it myself for just as long, but except for the occasional coincidental yoga offering at a retreat, I didn’t take the trouble of finding a class I could attend regularly until a month ago.
Now I am enjoying it and it wasn’t that hard. I have put a reminder in my phone to resign from the procrastinator’s society.
8 . Be curious, but don’t expect anything.
Each time you show up is an experiment, a micro adventure in social bonding.
If you are curious about and interested in others, they will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention. So you will get attention in return.
Curiosity about others also takes your focus away from those painful feelings that tend to make you hide and sulk.
9. Kindness goes a long way.
You have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to all you come into contact with.
It isn’t instinctual to be kind to strangers or people who scare you. But it is a choice. And in the long run it is a winning choice.
The alternative, being mean or stingy with those you don’t know well, can get you a reputation as a Scrooge.
10. Be persistent even if a particular group does seem to be a dead end for you, try another.
If you are persistent, challenging the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, and showing up and being curious and kind to others and more and more groups, the odds are in your favor.
And once you have a friend or two, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be too cautious about whether you are giving more than you are getting at first.
If you make more friends and some of them are takers, you can choose to spend more time with the friends who reward your friendship.
11. Do social activities by yourself.
Many times it isn’t the partner or friend you are missing, but the activities and hobbies you shared.
Take yourself out for a date. For example, if you would have gone out to dinner or to a movie on a date, then take yourself out to a movie or to a nice restaurant.
Although, at first, it may seem awkward to be doing things by yourself that you used to do with someone else, don’t hold yourself back.
It is not strange to be by yourself and out doing things! Once you remember why you did these things before, you can enjoy the activity for itself again.
Take a book, magazine, or journal with you if you go out to eat or have coffee on your own, so you’ll be occupied when you would usually be conversing.
Bear in mind that people do go out on their own on purpose just to have “me” time by themselves; it is not as if people will look at you sitting alone and assume you have no friends.
12. Consider getting a pet.
If you’re truly struggling without companionship, consider adopting a dog or cat from your local animal shelter.
Pets have been domestic companions for centuries for a reason, and winning the trust and affection of an animal can be a deeply rewarding experience.
Be a responsible pet owner.
Make sure your pet is spayed or neutered, and only commit to bringing a pet into your life if you’re prepared to handle the daily tasks of caring for it.
13. Consider joining a gym.
Working out and taking care of our bodies is usually the first thing that gets tossed aside when we get busy.
If you’re spending less time with other people than normal, try using that time to exercise. If you exercise at a gym, you might even meet some new friends or a new special someone!
14. Learn a new skill.
If you want to make the most of this time and feel great while doing it, consider learning a new skill. You could learn to play an instrument, learn to draw, or learn to dance.
Going and learning these subjects with others may help you meet new people but it will also give you a creative outlet for your feelings.
Turn your loneliness into something beautiful!
Cook yourself a nice meal or make baked goods for friends or neighbors. Cooking up a meal is rewarding, you can channel your focus into something nourishing.
15. Find comfort and Happiness in Solitude.
Recognize the importance of being alone and enjoying solitude. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.
Peace, quiet, freedom, space and the opportunity to connect with your deeper self.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about how to deal with loneliness. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.