The global pandemic of coronavirus that just hit the whole world had a dramatic impact on the way we work. Quarantines, physical distancing, and closed offices lead to an increased focus on work from home. People have less face to face interactions both during work hours and in their free time. And that can lead to loneliness.
Loneliness can be described as “the unpleasant experience that occurs when a person’s network of social relationships is deficient in some important way, either quantitatively or qualitatively.” It stems from the discrepancy between our desired relationships and the actual relationships we have.
Loneliness is not about being alone
As Colin Killeen writes, solitude is a more optimistic version of loneliness. It is a positive spin on being lonely. It can have a calming and healing effect. It can help you to replenish your energy and give you time to reflect and rest. When people mention solitude, what springs to mind is some remote spot in nature. Quietness. Relaxation. Similar to aloneness, it has an aspect of freedom and choice.
Killeen puts all these on an alienation-connectedness continuum. On the left side is the most negative perception and one where the person doesn’t choose it. On the right is a positive perception and the concepts where the person completely chose to be there: Alienation and estrangement – Loneliness – Social isolation – Aloneness – Solitude – Connectedness.
The degree of voluntary control you have about your situation makes all the difference between loneliness and solitude. It is the difference between positive and negative feelings.
Coping strategies for loneliness
To be more specific, let’s talk about 12 strategies for dealing with loneliness. Not every strategy works for everyone. You will have to test what works for you. The important thing is to recognize that you have a problem and want to do something about it.
Some of the strategies often include things like getting involved in some creative work or getting a pet. These strategies sort of help, at least they help with the boredom part of loneliness, though they often don’t address the underlying issues. They mask it. In any case, they are better than some self-defeating strategies to cope with boredom like sleeping or watching TV, which can even exacerbate the problem.
- Understand your feelings
The feeling of loneliness is our reaction to the world around us. It is all in our heads. You can be in the middle of the crowd and still feel lonely. Try to understand where this feeling is coming from. It might be you just lost your job, and suddenly you are not surrounded by people all day long. It might be your kids just left home after years of living together. It might be you can’t find a spouse. It might be your health that doesn’t allow you to do your hobbies.
Just by understanding where the loneliness is coming from, you take the first step in dealing with it. It may help write down the type of thoughts you have when lonely. If these thoughts are too fatalistic like “no one likes me,” or “I will always be lonely,” it can indicate that you are telling yourself a self-defeating story, and the first step would be to change that story to something more positive and more importantly realistic.
- Get out of social media
Social medial is a scourge that will make you feel worse. Browsing through vacation pictures of other people, seeing group selfies of smiling coworkers at a party you weren’t invited doesn’t help. Realize that social media doesn’t reflect reality. It is a made-up world with often only the best aspects of people’s lives being displayed there. Stop comparing yourself to others. They go through the same ups and downs as you do. You are not alone. You are not worse than others.
The conclusions of a study performed by Brian A. Primack were pretty clear. Young adults with high social media use seem to feel more socially isolated than their counterparts with lower use of social media. Unfortunately, the use of social media creates an impression of connectedness, but in reality, it leads to people having less real-life interactions that are critical in combatting loneliness.
In times like the current pandemic, when social media is full of fake news that spread around faster than the virus itself, it makes even more sense to stay out. Follow the information and guidance of reputable sources, follow the rules set up by the government, and behave like a mature adult. Reading unconfirmed information will make your anxieties worse, and spreading the disinformation will hurt others.
- Take a holistic view
It happens to people who focus on one aspect of their life. You are super busy during the whole week, spending tons of time in the office and working on your career. You are surrounded by people, you have a good laugh, you feel useful, and you change people’s lives for the better.
And then the weekend comes, and you sit at home exhausted and feeling lonely. You may feel even depressed. There is nothing wrong with you as part of your life is certainly not lonely at all. Again, consider why you have the feeling of loneliness in some parts of your life, and the solution will be obvious.
With the considerable restrictions put on us during lockdowns and quarantines, it is the right time to take inventory of our lives. Consider what is truly important and whether your regular routine before the restrictions reflected your values, beliefs, and whether you lived the life you wanted to. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate what is important and plan changes in your life when the restrictions are lifted.
- Change the narrative
The world around us is shaped by the stories we tell. Sometimes all you need to do to feel better is to change the story you tell yourself. Instead of seeing solitude in terms of depressing loneliness, you can look at it as an opportunity and feel an uplifting aloneness.
Being alone has many benefits if you chose to use them. It allows you to practice mindfulness, relax, and recharge, have time for some deep thoughts or plan better your next actions.
- Get a pet
Get a pet that will allow you to get more social. Just getting a dog is not enough. Pets, especially dogs that are loyal and will love you unconditionally, can make a difference. They will help with the feeling of loneliness, but may also mask the underlying issue. You may focus so much on your new furry friend that you will get even more isolated from society and feel even worse.
If you get the dog, take it for a walk. Many people are attracted to dogs, and chances are you, or rather your pet, will attract some attention of passers-by and other pet owners. Even these micro-interactions with other people will have a positive impact on your mental state.
Considering the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, this may not be the right strategy for this time. Don’t use it as an excuse to break the physical distancing rules.
- Have a routine
The dark thoughts of loneliness can build up and may lead to you becoming more and more passive, give up on life, and self-isolate yourself even more. By having a routine, you will force yourself to keep all the important things in your life. Learn to get up and go to bed at fixed times, schedule your hobbies, schedule some exercise, schedule even some basic social interactions. Don’t let apathy take over. A routine will give you something to keep you busy and something to look forward to.
This is especially important when you are not required to show up at work in person. If you have the privilege to work from home, be aware that without routine, it can turn into a nightmare and make your anxieties and the feeling of loneliness even worse.
- Be social and show up
Researchers Hatice Odaci and Melek Kalkan have shown that purely online relationships can’t replace human contact, and in fact, overuse of the internet can be linked to anxiety and loneliness. No wonder loneliness is becoming an epidemic in the Western society of the 21st century.
It may require you to get out of your comfort zone but learn to get out every now and then and join some social gathering. It is easy to promise to participate in a party that is several weeks away, but when the time comes, your energy is depleted, or you have too much work, or the weather is not right, so you won’t show up. If you decided to join the social event, you should do so. You will have a good time. And if you feel after an hour or two that enough is enough, then feel free to leave.
Have this one in your back pocket as a strategy that will work great once the pandemic is over. For now, reach out to your friends and family more often over the phone, or ideally over video calls. Keep in mind that you are fighting not only loneliness but also fears and anxieties caused by the unsettling news about the spread of the virus. Your parents, siblings, or children will appreciate hearing your voice and seeing your face. If you can reassure them that things will be good, you will also reap the benefit of feeling better yourself.
- Volunteer and give back
Volunteering and becoming part of some local community or interest group is a great way to combat loneliness. Not only will you have a reason to connect with others, but you will also have an opportunity to find some meaning. It is the lack of meaning or understanding of your place in the world that is often accompanying the feeling of loneliness. You are lonely and useless. When you volunteer, you feel valued and needed. And you work with other people. You have a tribe, build connections, and ultimately limit the chance of feeling lonely.
- Move your attention
One of the unfortunate features of our brains is the tendency to get more of what we focus on. The more you spend thinking about something, the more you will feel you are getting it. The more you focus your thoughts on some negative feelings, like loneliness, the more lonely you will feel.
By focusing your attention on something else, for example, on helping others, your brain won’t have enough time to focus on your loneliness. Because your focus is on others, it means more interaction and less loneliness, not just in your mind but in reality itself.
- Exercise regularly
Exercising has tons of positive effects. Not only it has a positive effect on your physical fitness, but more importantly, it will do miracles for your mental health. The hormones triggered by exercising will flood your system and give you a bunch of positive feelings. As you are getting in better condition, you will automatically feel better, be more self-confident.
If you chose the right sport, you would meet like-minded individuals so you won’t feel that lonely. Join the local gym, and in time, you get to know other patrons who show up regularly at the same time as you do. Take on jogging, and you may start meeting the same joggers in the park where you run and get to know them. Find a buddy, an exercise partner, who will not only keep you motivated to stick with the sport but also remote a bit of your loneliness.
Even during quarantine, when you can’t leave your home, you should stick with your exercise regime. Just change the nature of the exercises to those you can do in your living room. You can even do it with your exercise buddy over the video.
- Don’t give up
Not every strategy will work for you. That’s fine. Don’t give up and keep trying what approach will work for you to deal with loneliness. You may join as a volunteer to some non-profit organization only to realize you don’t care enough about their cause, or you don’t like working with the people there. Don’t quit on the first day. Give it a chance to grow on you. If you did your best and it still doesn’t work, then try another organization. Or maybe volunteering doesn’t help you that much, so try something else completely. Don’t give up easily. There are no quick fixes, and you need to be patient and to persevere.
- Get help
Western society values self-sufficiency, individuality, and independence so much that it often takes precedence before family or community values. As a consequence, people get more and more isolated, and the feeling of loneliness is more prevalent. Because of the values based on individualism, it is also more and more difficult, one could even say stigmatized, to talk about being lonely. So we don’t.
If things start getting out of hand and loneliness starts turning into anxiety and depression, it might be time to talk to a mental health professional. Some types of therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy will help you not only to change how you think and feel about life but may help you to get more activities to your life that will prevent the feeling of loneliness coming back.
Putting it all together
Loneliness is a serious threat to a happy and fulfilling life. It is also something that is not permanent, and it can be changed. It is a subjective feeling rather than objective reality. Therefore it is something you have at least partially under your control.
You can take proactive steps to prevent getting into the self-destructive loneliness. When you find yourself alone for increasingly long periods, consider whether you choose it and you enjoy it, or whether it somehow happened, and you would prefer to have more connectedness to others.
The strategies that work the best to limit your loneliness are those that force you to be active. Don’t spend your days in front of a television. Don’t consume, create. Have a hobby you can do from your home, be creative. Don’t spend your days on social networks scrolling through the feeds of others. Instead, reach out to your friends and family more often and, if possible, use video calls. Don’t overeat because you are bored. If you can’t leave your house or apartment, then exercise at home and adopt healthy eating habits. All these things take effort and time, they may require getting out of your comfort zone, but ultimately you have the means to escape the loneliness threat if you choose to do so.
What is your take on loneliness? Do you believe that introverts are more or less prone to feeling lonely? What are your coping strategies to deal with loneliness?
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