Norman Cousins, an American journalist, once said, “The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness.” This statement creates a visceral response if you have suffered from loneliness.
Loneliness is a complex emotion because it is specific to the individual and doesn’t have a single root cause. There is also not a universal cure-all for loneliness, which makes it difficult to treat.
So what can you do when you feel lonely? This article will help give you some tips, but first, it is important to understand what loneliness is (and what it is not).
According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., “loneliness is not the same thing as being a private person, or a ‘loner,’ because some of us actually both need and enjoy a lot of time to ourselves. Loneliness, instead, refers to the difference between the amount of social contact and intimacy you have and the amount you want. It’s about feeling isolated, like an outcast.”
That distance between the social contact and intimacy you currently have, and how much you crave can do so much more than make you feel lonely. It can also have damaging effects on your mental and physical health.
Oliver Hämmig lists some negative effects that can happen to people when they are lonely in his article, “Health Risks Associated With Social Isolation in General and in Young, Middle, and Old Age.” A person suffering from loneliness might have decreased memory and learning ability, increased stress levels, poor decision-making tendencies, and depression and suicidal thoughts. Physically, they suffer from altered brain functions, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and even faster Alzheimer’s disease progression.
These five tips can give you a way to combat loneliness and live your life to the fullest.
1. Get Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy from a professional
Since there is no one cause for loneliness, there is no one size fits all therapeutic technique either. However, if your loneliness stems from social anxiety, then a therapist will help you work on breathing techniques and calming tactics you can use that will help you navigate social settings more easily.
If your reasons for being lonely stem from fear caused by trauma, then your therapist will help you deal with the pre-cognitive effects of pattern matching and trauma resolution. Fear can cause us to be in flight or fight mode, and these heightened states of emotions can make managing other emotions more difficult.
It is the opposite of calm, which removes us from an all-or-nothing state, and lets us use logic. A statement like, “No one wants to spend time with me,” which is my personal go-to thought caused by trauma, is absolute and can really create a web of maladaptive thoughts that a therapist can help you unravel.
“If you go deeper and deeper into your own heart, you’ll be living in a world with less fear, isolation, and loneliness.” — Sharon Salzberg
2. Nurture the relationships with people who are already in your life
You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely. It is about the quality of the relationships and increasing the level of intimacy with the surrounding people that reduce the feeling of loneliness. You can also feel lonely within a committed romantic relationship if intimacy is lacking. So instead of worrying about meeting new people, spend that energy in the relationships you currently have and build more intimacy.
Here are a few excellent ways to build intimacy within your friendships:
- Talk and listen more
- Do things together that build trust
- Tackle a project together
- Be a consistent friend
All of those are also brilliant suggestions for your romantic relationships, but you will also want to grow your level of physical and emotional intimacy. This can be done by:
- Sharing your thoughts and secrets
- Practice empathy
- Engage in sex regularly (experts recommend at least once a week)
- Spice up your love life by trying new things in the bedroom
Feeling lonely in our friendships and relationships can be a disheartening feeling, but you can use those feelings to motivate yourself to invest more (or communicate what you need the other person to do). Conversations like that are going to be challenging, but the improvement is worthwhile.
Kristen Roman, Psy.D., reminds us that loneliness is an emotional state that serves a function for us, just like all other emotions. The function of loneliness can be to increase awareness of the absence of others and to motivate us to change this. While the emotion can be painful, it ultimately helps motivate us to socialize with others and benefit from connection and shared resources.
“Friendship needs no words – it is solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness.” — Dag Hammarskjold
3. Practice positive self-talk and use positive affirmations
We can also feel lonely in our own skin, even with healthy relationships with others. Low self-esteem can cause this, and a simple way to combat that is to practice positive self-talk and use positive affirmations. My therapist always tells me that our brains can only believe what we tell them.
Ask yourself what you are telling yours? Do you say things like “no one likes me,” or “I can’t do that,” or worse? If you tell yourself you are ugly or stupid, your brain will believe it. Tell yourself that you are capable, that you are beautiful, that you are worthy of love, or that you are a good person. Whenever a negative self-thought worms its way inside, replace it with a positive one.
Kimberly Holland claims (in an article Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP), that, “research suggests people with positive self-talk may have mental skills that allow them to solve problems, think differently, and be more efficient at coping with hardships or challenges.” Those skills will also help you overcome loneliness as you reconnect with you are and become the best version of yourself.
There are many ways you can practice affirmations, like sticking post-it notes on your mirror every morning! You can put one up every morning, and leave it there, rereading the old ones as you add new ones. At the end of the month, the mirror will be full of messages that you have been reading repeatedly. You could try writing affirmations in a journal! Whatever method you choose, just start telling your brain some new things.
“At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self.” — Brendan Behan
4. Eliminate boredom and find a new hobby
You might also be feeling lonely because you are bored. One of the best ways to combat loneliness is to start a new hobby. It can be anything! Bird watching, music, writing, or a subscription box where you solve a mystery. You could play a sport or join a pool league. Find something that awakens a piece of you, whether or not it involves other people, and you can push back on the feelings of loneliness.
“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” — Maya Angelou
5. Live a life driven by purpose
Boredom isn’t the only thing that can manifest in feelings of loneliness. Being on the wrong life path is another thing that chips away at your happiness and makes you feel lonely. That disconnected feeling, or the feeling like everything is always going wrong, could be an indicator that you are going down the wrong road.
What brings you the most joy? What part of your job do you enjoy the most? Are you doing what you dreamed you would do? Asking yourself these questions can be hard, but really look at your life. I spent years working in the corporate and non-profit world, got a Master’s in leadership, and the only part of any job I had that I liked was helping people. The rest of it drove me mad.
Two years ago, I began a journey of self-discovery, which included walking around a lake near my house. I would go every day regardless of what time I could go, the weather, or being tired. It didn’t take more than a few months to realize I had let go of my dream of being a writer decades ago.
I started by joining a monthly writer’s group, publishing on Medium, and then worked my way to clients. I quit my job eight months ago to write full time. When I started walking around that lake, I would cry the whole time. I felt so lonely and lost, but I found myself along the way and added purpose to my life. So, what should you do today? Anything that gives you a sense of purpose!
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” — Kurt Vonnegut
Loneliness is something that we can relate to, and we have all felt at one point or another. I hope these tips help you combat your loneliness and turn it into motivation. If you have any tips to add, please share them in the comment section below. If you need someone to talk to, don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist or a trusted friend.