It is very likely that over the course of your life you may have felt lonely at some point. Or maybe there were a few feelings and sensations mixed together that you later realized were loneliness. Truth be told, this feeling is one of the scariest that we can go through. There are two reasons for this. First, studies have found that loneliness can cause both mental and physical distress such as chronic illnesses, diabetes, depression, poor sleep quality and more. Loneliness is also associated with symptoms of trauma and is known to both impact as well as result from trauma. Second, just the feeling of being lonely, the sensations and thought patterns that come with it, can be massively crippling. Loneliness is a vicious cycle. Tell me if this sounds familiar: you feel sad and pick up your phone but feel like you have no one to talk to because no one will understand you. Due to this reason, you do not reach out to anybody and now a sinking sensation also accompanies your sorrow. Loneliness does not always have to result from isolating events, but it can rather make us isolate from people even more. Of course there might be people who do not understand us and our trauma, but it is important to remember that there will be someone somewhere who does understand us, and just because a few people didn’t, we shouldn’t stop trying to find that support.
One important distinction to make in this context is the difference between being lonely and being alone. Being alone is never a problem. You can be alone and not lonely. If you enjoy your own company, if you have a lot to think about and reflect on, if being alone is like down time for you to recharge your batteries, then being by yourself most of the time is not a sign of loneliness. It is when being alone exhausts you, makes you feel like you are the only person in this world, makes you overthink and not reflect, that you might be lonely (there may be other scenarios as well). Additionally, being alone is not necessarily only for introverts. Even outgoing people can enjoy the pleasures of solitude. Being constantly surrounded by people and always having someone to talk to does not protect us from being lonely. Sometimes it is our own company that makes us feel supported.
On the same note, it is curious that even though we are the most connected generation in the history of time, we are also the loneliest. I personally believe this is because of a lot of overcompensation. The overflowing notifications may be too tempting, make us feel too wanted. The desire to be up to date with the latest trends, have the best Instagram captions, connect with random people on all sorts of platforms may be misconstrued as a means of being supported. But in all honesty, it is only overstimulation with no substance. It is a social connection with emotional distance. Loneliness has never been about the number of people you have to talk to, but rather the quality of your relationship with people. Of course, these people can be anywhere. They can be your family, friends, or even digital forums full of people who understand you better than your own blood. But in this digital world, it is important to look for the right people, even if that is just 2 people and not 200.
There are various articles and resources which might tell you how to overcome loneliness. Some may work for you and some may not. The only way to find out is to try. However, what I would like to share here with you is an approach. The activities can vary based on your needs, but an approach can be applied by anyone anywhere.
1. Reflect! Reflect! Reflect!
Reflection is going to be the first and probably most important step to deal with loneliness. There are various levels on which you might want to reflect. First could be narrowing down your feelings and emotions. Are you really feeling lonely or is it something else? How does loneliness look for you? What ways does it manifest in? What are the sensations in your body? How do you react to situations when you are feeling lonely? These are just a few examples but you can delve deeper if it suits you. Knowing your loneliness is half the battle fought, but remember, simply knowing is not going to take away your loneliness.
2. Identify your triggers
Was there any instance that made you feel lonely? Is it only some people who make you feel this way? Is it a specific time of the day/month/year when you feel lonely? Try and think as much as you can to identify exactly what makes you feel lonely. Also note the intensity of these triggers; some might evoke persistent or chronic loneliness in you whereas others might only make you feel isolated for a couple of days. It may also happen that you won’t find a trigger no matter how hard you think. Don’t worry, not finding triggers is also indicative of something. Maybe the root cause for your loneliness is another issue which has over time taken this form. Maybe there is no obvious trigger but a culmination of lots of factors over time. Give yourself the time and space to figure it out for yourself.
3. Create your safety net
Loneliness is as much about isolation from self as it is about isolation from others. Therefore, it is important to have activities or rituals that connect from yourself as well as others. These activities need to be things that recharge you. They do not need to be directly related to social connectedness, nor do they need to be things that make you feel less lonely. These things are simply actions that you take only for yourself and your betterment. It could be as simple as feeding the street dogs near your house to as difficult as an hour of intense weight training. ONLY you can decide what actions make you feel better (but you can take inspiration from elsewhere). The point of creating such a safety net is to contribute to your overall well-being. Sooner or later, it will contribute to other areas of your life as well.
4. Assign roles
Do you think that you are feeling lonely because that one person (parent / sibling / partner / friend) that you expected to be there for you or to understand you was not available? Or maybe they simply couldn’t empathize? A lot of times we have expectations from someone to be our one stop solution. The truth is that it is very rare to find a person like that. It might be more helpful to form different types of bonds to meet the different needs that you have instead of relying on just one person for everything.
5. Build a relationship with yourself
This might be the most important point of all. I have often felt that loneliness comes with a feeling of inadequacy. It could manifest either as “Nobody will like me because I am not good enough” or as “I cannot even take care of myself”. It is possible that we feel lonely because there is a lack in the most important relationship that we have, the one with ourselves. Therefore, it is important to understand ourselves. This also ties in with the point about reflection. It is absolutely essential to introspect and figure ourselves and our needs to understand which needs are not being met and how to change that. Charity truly begins at home, so let us start by giving ourselves support.
Remember that you may or may not figure a way out of your loneliness. It is important to remember that professional help exists for a reason. Never hesitate to reach out to a professional, as it may be just what you need to help you. Finally, keep reminding yourself that loneliness is like any other emotion. With the right steps and some help, it too shall pass.