Loneliness is something that you can suffer with at any age and at any stage in life. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, surrounded by family or living all by yourself in the big city; feelings of loneliness have a way of striking when you least expect them. Being alone and being lonely are not the same thing, and the difference can be staggering. Whether or not you are surrounded by other people, you can still feel alone. Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative, and there are different kinds of loneliness that people experience depending on their different situations. It is not uncommon to feel lonely in new situations, like moving to a new city, starting a new job or school.
You can feel lonely when you feel ostracized among your peers, for example if you practice a particular religion but others don’t share it or understand it. If you’re surrounded by people with children and you don’t (or maybe even can’t have kids), so you can’t join in with conversations about babies and parenting. It could be triggered by literally anything – loneliness can just hit you out of the blue, with no reason and no explanation.
You could be surrounded by lovely people but they might be too busy with their own lives. Or perhaps they have loads of friends already and aren’t interested in making a more profound connection. Maybe your existing friends have entered a new phase of their lives, and that means they no longer have time for the things you used to do. Perhaps everyone has started working very long hours, has started a family, or moved away, so your social scene has changed.
Then, of course there is the loneliness that we probably think of most, the feeling that you have when you miss someone. That aching void of someone important being missing from your life can feel like an anchor pressing on your chest, making it hard to go about your daily life. As people pass in and out of our lives, their absence can leave a hole that seems impossible to fill. It doesn’t matter if they’re missing because of a breakup, life changes, or even death – the feelings their lack of presence have on your life can be just as crippling.
If you are feeling lonely, it is essential to try and work out the root cause so you can try and work through this unhappiness. It may not always be possible to fix it entirely, but there are some steps you can take the alleviate the worst of it.
Loneliness Is A Feeling
Acknowledging how you feel is essential, but do remember that it is just a feeling and not necessarily an irrefutable fact. As you feel isolated and alone, your brain tries to make sense of the feeling, and so a spiraling sense of despair can take over. You find yourself asking questions like, “Why doesn’t anybody love me?” “Am I a loser?” This feeling of loneliness then becomes a bigger problem, and creates a cycle of unhealthy thinking. It’s important to take a step back and evaluate the situation, and acknowledge the difference between how you’re feeling verses what is cold facts.
Speak To People
It sounds easier said than done, and it is by no means a quick fix because as mentioned earlier, you can be surrounded by people but still feel lonely. Loneliness can confuse you into thinking that you not worthy of other’s attention, which can keep you from reaching out when you need it most. This can spiral into further levels of withdrawing into yourself and can only make these feelings worse. Reaching out and cultivating friendships is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. As hard as it can be, sometimes just making an effort to talk to your barista, that nice clerk at the bookstore, or the person in line with you at the shops can be the ice breaker you need.
Make A Plan
No one likes feeling lonely, and although you might not feel strong enough, it is something that you can work on. You can fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness, and make a plan to overcome it. Make plans for some healthy interaction with friends. If they don’t live nearby, schedule regular Skype dates, or make plans for a long-weekend visit. When you’re out and about make some effort to reach out to others to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness is telling you not to. It is something you have to work at everyday, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is worthwhile even when you are feeling tired or lazy.
Focus On Others
If you spend time focussing on the needs and feelings of others, the less attention you will pay to your unwanted thoughts and feelings. You could either walk down the street thinking about yourself, your loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, or you could walk down the road, taking in your surroundings, enjoying the blue skies and green trees and being grateful for the diversity of people you are sharing the pavement with. The second choice is far more fun, although sometimes you might just have to remind yourself to do it on purpose. If that’s a bit too sunshine and daisies for you, make an effort to actively help others – volunteer, help your neighbors, go visit an animal rescue, etc… Give back to others and meet some people in the process. It might just make you – and them – feel better.
Find Your People
Luckily today there are more tools than ever before to find more people like you. Whatever your interests, there is probably an app to find like-minded people who are looking for others to enjoy their hobbies with them. Check Meetup and Facebook groups and see who you can find.
There are loads of new mums out there who are feeling lonely and isolated, just like you may be. Find a forum for new mums and start chatting. Quite often it’s easier to be honest about your feelings when you’re sat behind a screen and talking to people you don’t know. You can then arrange to meet up with people once you feel more comfortable.
Apps like Bumble BFF are designed specifically to help you find friends. Just like the dating app Bumble, you swipe through a bunch of people who are looking to find friends and people to hang out with. Many of them have just moved to a new city, or their profile will say that they’re looking to meet new people because all their friends have got married and had babies or they just want someone to go to the gym with.
You can also do your part to help older generations suffering from loneliness like your folks and grandparents. There are loads of activities for the senior members of society. Check out the senior resource center as there are somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 senior activity centers, offering local services to senior citizens nearby. They can be excellent community resources, that can help your loved ones looking for support or to find things to do. Who knows, maybe you can help grandma meet her new best friend.
Always Show Up To Meet Others
It’s essential if you say you’re going to go to a group or to meet someone that you show up. Even if you’re feeling anxious beforehand, you will feel better once you have done it. The more you put yourself out there to meet people, the easier you will continue to find it.
If you are interested in people and curious about them, those people will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention; therefore you will get attention in return. Curiosity about other people can take your focus away from those feelings of loneliness.
Don’t Give Up
If you try a group and it doesn’t feel right, then try another. Maybe you have to try six or seven before you find one that suits you. If you are persistent, you challenge the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, and you show up being curious and kind to others and go to more and more groups, the chances of you meeting people and banishing those feelings of loneliness are high.
Once you’ve got yourself a couple of decent friends, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be worried about whether you are giving more to them than you are getting back at first. As your confidence increases and you continue to make more friends, if you learn that some of them are takers, then you can choose to spend more time with the friends who reward your friendship instead.
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