Handling Loneliness

Have you learned how to handle loneliness?

Most of us, no matter how socially active, fight bouts of loneliness. Feeling lonely is not shameful nor is it a sign of failure.  It is a normal feeling that happens to everyone.

The presence of other people doesn’t insulate you from loneliness. Even when you are in the middle of a crowded room, at a meeting, or at a dinner party, you can still feel the ache of loneliness in your heart.

Together but alone — photo courtesy of Nadya Peek
Together but alone — photo courtesy of Nadya Peek

Many  people who are married or in long-term relationships find themselves feeling alone even when they are with their partner. Strained relations and a lack of closeness can leave you feeling lonely.   Years of poor communication may have caused emotional distance that is difficult to overcome.

Loneliness often comes after a major life change such as retirement, after a move to a new community, or after the loss of a loved one.  Such major life changes cause a disruption in the social activities that previously shaped patterns of life.  It may be difficult to build new connections.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is an emotional reaction that occurs in response to life changes and events. Typically, it involves feeling sad and empty. In extreme cases it can lead to chronic anxiety and clinical depression.

Wikipedia defines loneliness as a complex response to isolation or lack of companionship.

Loneliness is subjective. If someone feels lonely and describes themselves as lonely — then, they are lonely.

Poor self-esteem,  feelings of being unwanted, and feelings of being unloved are sometimes associated with loneliness.

Loneliness and Isolation 

Loneliness is usually considered something that happens when spending time alone.  Faced with harsh Canadian winters, many older people hibernate in their homes and rather than going out in cold weather.  They find themselves feeling lonely and out of touch.

Others are socially isolated because they spend hours on the internet interacting with virtual friends.  Spending time in chat rooms and on social media is satisfying to a degree but online friends don’t substitute for real, live people.

Loneliness may cause isolation but isolation doesn’t mean you are lonely. Many people are loners, by choice.  They may choose solitude.  They are alone but not lonely.

If you are facing a bout of loneliness, there are ways to handle it.

Admitting you are lonely is the first challenge.  Feelings of failure and fear are sometimes associated with loneliness. By recognizing that everyone feels lonely at times, we acknowledge and normalize the feeling, thus allowing ourselves to move on.

Once you recognize feelings of loneliness, the next step is to decide to change.  This is difficult because the feelings associated with loneliness lead to immobilization and inactivity. It’s tempting just to withdraw from the world instead of pushing yourself to connect with others.

By making the effort to get involved with other people or in some activity, we begin to take charge again instead of letting feelings take charge.

Sometimes the simple act of going outdoors for a walk in the sunshine leads to a friendly ‘hello’ from a neighbour. Sometimes a trip to the library, to a coffee shop, or to attend a social event helps.  Perhaps it’s re-involvement with an activity you have always enjoyed.  Perhaps it means taking a bold step to try something new.

Moving your body and getting physical exercise often brings both a surge of energy and a more positive frame of mind. The endorphins and serotonin released from physical excretion increase happiness and help to change your emotional state.

Spiritual connections are helpful when combating loneliness.  Faith in a higher power helps many to accept what happens to them. Attending a church  or other religious institution offers opportunities to take part in a community of faith which influences perspective and offers social engagement.

Spending time with children, especially grand children is a powerful antidote for feelings of loneliness.  Children need attention and lots of interaction.  They laugh easily, love unconditionally, and bring a smile.

For people with chronic bouts of loneliness, owning a pet can help to handle loneliness. Pet ownership brings increased responsibility and leads to feelings of purpose.  A pet will offer companionship and affection which is an added benefit. http://postworksavvy.com/pets-increase-retirement-happiness/

Changing how you think has a powerful impact. Self-pity and other negative thought patterns reinforce feelings of loneliness.  Use positive thinking as an additional method of handling loneliness. Techniques such as re-framing, taking a long view, and practicing gratefulness are methods that can change thinking.

Extended bouts of loneliness can leave you feeling sad, even depressed.  If loneliness persists for extended periods of time, professional clinical intervention should be considered.

Handling loneliness takes energy. The steps I’ve recommended may not result in immediate change but will begin a process of change that gets you back to feeling like yourself.

 

 

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