The Pandemic of Loneliness

Strategies to cope 

Everyone feels lonely at times. 

People who are working through the recovery from addictions feel more so. They have to avoid hanging out with their other drug users, drinking buddies, and their closest companion – the bottle or the drug of their choice.  

These days, it’s effortless to stay connected with people, so why do many of us feel isolated? 

When considering loneliness, one might envision a senior individual living without companionship or relatives. However, the reality is that loneliness can impact people of any age and circumstance.

The marriage of a particular individual might be going through a challenging phase. A young adult might be working remotely, a student might be in a new area, or a parent may be missing their family that lives away. Even if someone has 500 friends on social media, they may still feel lonely; this could be the case even when they are in a long-term relationship with multiple kids.

A pandemic of aloneness

People now agree that feeling lonely is an epidemic and affects an alarming number of people. This issue has been gaining attention as an escalating problem in modern society.

Experts have referred to loneliness as an epidemic due to its broad reach. Its effects on our health have been likened to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can also be more severe than the risks associated with being overweight.

It might be tricky to identify loneliness as an emotion and even more challenging to bring it up in conversation. We are more accustomed to discussing anger or sorrow, yet loneliness can be difficult to explain – and almost taboo.

No matter what age or life stage, loneliness can be experienced by all. From mothers who just had a baby and feel apart from their friends to elderly parents who have seen their children move away, feeling alone is universal.

image by Andre frueh from unsplash

Two kinds of loneliness

Dr Audrey Tang, a psychologist, has described two types of loneliness – one that is emotional, where a person’s emotional requirements are not being fulfilled, and another that is social, referring to a lack of a larger group of friends.

She explains that in this quick-paced world, where transformations happen with greater regularity, making and maintaining close friendships can be complicated due to people relocating, pursuing new job opportunities, and travelling more often.

Dr Tang further explains that the coronavirus pandemic has caused an adjustment in many people’s way of life, with a significant number of individuals now working from their residences and taking the opportunity to reappraise their priorities.

Loneliness vs isolation

While loneliness is an emotional state, isolation is a physical one. Loneliness is feeling alone and not having meaningful connections with others. Isolation is the physical separation from others.

A person doesn’t have to be physically alone to feel lonely. Someone could be alone and not feel lonely, or they could be with a group of people and still feel lonely. 

According to Cheryl Rickman, a Positive Psychology practitioner and the author of the book Navigating Loneliness: How to Connect with Yourself and Others, loneliness is not something that can be measured like isolation, as it is a very personal experience.

It is a misconception that one is the only person who feels lonely. It is essential to be aware that loneliness is a widespread phenomenon.

Arthur C Brooks, the author of the book From Strength to Strength, points out that loneliness has the strange feature of being everywhere, yet one can still feel isolated. 

So, it’s essential to talk about the problem, recognise the signs (in ourselves and others), and become familiar with how to deal with it. 

image by christian buehner from unsplash

Tips for overcoming loneliness

  1. Learn to appreciate solitude

Being alone can be a beneficial experience; it can help you discover yourself and boost your self-confidence. Even if it is not the most attractive option, spending time alone can be joyful.

Alone is not something to fear but rather a place of retreat and rejuvenation. Solitude can be a source of positive power – understanding that being solitary is not the same as being alone; it is with oneself.

Instead of thinking of solitude as a “lonely time,” why not see it as a chance to find peace in our busy lives?

When you have some personal time, you should find activities that will lift your spirits and help you stay connected with yourself or the environment so that you are comfortable with being alone without feeling isolated.

Take the opportunity to do something you appreciate but only sometimes find the time to do. It’s all about enjoying yourself and doing it at your speed—perhaps it’s painting with watercolours or boogying to your favourite tunes in the kitchen.

When alone, you are free to be who you truly are. There’s no need for pretence when no one else is present. This can be a great time to process anxieties, gain a new perspective, and plan for the future.

A strategy to help in this process is to jot down your ideas, either in the form of a journal using bullet points and queries or by free-writing, when you type without any organisation to transfer your thoughts to paper.

Using your imagination and inner thoughts, daydreaming is a great way to figure out what parts of your life are working and aren’t. 

If you appreciate yourself, you will be less accepting of individuals who don’t. As a result, when interacting with others, you will be attracted to those who treat you kindly.

When you are constantly occupied and surrounded by people yet feel disconnected, having some peaceful time alone could be the perfect remedy.

  1. Locate your peers

It is impossible to conjure up a group of close friends at the wave of a wand. However, finding ways to increase our contact with people is possible. Research has shown that these connections are vital to our well-being and joy.

Finding people who share the same interests as you and can help you along the way is important. Knowing where to look for such individuals is a great way to ensure your progress.

Although it might be challenging to do, especially if someone is already feeling disconnected, there are actions anyone can take to strengthen their social ties.

Ironically,  loneliness is a beneficial indicator, signifying that our need for companionship is not being met and that we should do something about it.

Even though we can’t just make a group of close friends, there are many ways to do so, and all the evidence shows that these relationships are essential to our happiness and well-being.

The bond between us and our significant other is commonly the most vital for our joy, yet it is the contentment of the relationship that is of the utmost importance.

Research indicates that married people are less likely to experience loneliness than those who are divorced, widowed, or single. However, the most isolated are those who are married yet have a partner who is not present.

  1. Cultivate relationships outside of your marital bond

According to Brooks, the most rewarding marriage is one where the partners are also close friends. However, relying solely on the marriage for companionship is not advisable, as this can lead to undue stress in times of difficulty.

Having solid relationships with those close to you, particularly friends, is a vital part of life. Even if you are not in a romantic relationship, you can be content and satisfied with your other meaningful connections with friends and family.

  1. Interact with your locality

We need to be able to make casual connections with others who have similar interests or just those we randomly come across in our day-to-day lives. A quick hello, a smile, and a brief conversation all help to satisfy our desire for social interaction.

Individuals should identify what is missing in their lives – such as a group of friends, involvement in a passion, or having visitors to their house – and then take the necessary steps to restore the network.

Enrolling in a class can be a great way to meet individuals with similar interests. Alternatively, inviting people to your home can also be an energising activity.

Take a break from everyday life by engaging in activities that you find enjoyable and surround yourself with people who make you feel comfortable being yourself.

  1. Uncover your authentic self 

Carrying out many distinct roles can be tiring and isolating, especially when you feel like you’re not being genuine.

You may need more freedom in your job, relationships, and life, preventing you from being your true self and doing what you’re passionate about.

Our lives are taken up with adjusting our roles to suit the situation, from professional to partner to child.

Re-establish a link with your true self by participating in activities that please you and in the company of people with whom you can be who you are.

These individuals are familiar with your true identity; they are the people you trust with your thoughts and make an effort to spend time with, and you know as much about them as they do about you. It is difficult to “substitute” them, and you will experience a sense of loneliness without them.

  1. Rekindle relationships with old mates

If you have yet to be in contact with an old friend and feel the absence of their company, reach out to them by calling or sending them a message. Chances are they’ll be glad to hear from you.

It is necessary to be genuine to oneself, which could involve confronting feelings of loneliness and other emotional issues. Refusing to discuss these matters with anyone and attempting to handle everything alone can be very lonely.

  1. Discover a good sense of purpose

It doesn’t have to be the case that all of your activities need to have a meaningful reason or be for a noble purpose (which can be draining and discouraging because it’s impossible!), but if you sense an overall deficiency of drive, it may harm your health and lead to loneliness and alienation.

Martin Seligman, the creator of Positive Psychology, included a sense of purpose as one of the three elements of joy. As we age, it’s common to observe a change in our purpose and possibly a decrease in it – our kids may not need us as much, and we may not be as content or fulfilled in our job.

Participating in activities within your local community is a great way to discover a strong sense of purpose. He further explains that you get to interact with similar individuals, acquire new skills, and observe the positive outcomes of your efforts.

Participating in a community does not necessarily entail participating in ongoing volunteer work – it can also entail lending a skill or connection for a single event, becoming a trustee, or participating in activism.

Dr Tang suggests that local charities could benefit from the skills and abilities that you can provide.  

Participating in your local community is a simple way to feel a greater sense of purpose. You can benefit from socialising with individuals who share similar values while sharpening your skills and seeing the positive effects of your contributions.

  1. Spend more time outdoors

Being outside first thing in the morning can provide an emotional boost from the greenery and intense natural light, leaving you energised and more sociable.

King’s College research shows that spending time outdoors makes people feel less lonely. The study revealed that glancing at trees and the sky could reduce a person’s feelings of isolation by as much as 28 per cent. This emotional comfort increased to nearly 40% if the individual felt accepted by their society.

Beginning the day by being out in the open and taking in the health benefits of the green scenery and the intense daytime light can elevate your spirits and make you feel more energetic, boosting your desire to communicate with others.

When you lift your chin, tuck away your cell phone and smile at those around you in public, you will experience an even greater sense of well-being.

Forming a habit of strolling in a nearby park or open space can provide a chance to become familiar with other people who do the same regularly. He adds that seeing the same individuals often can make us feel like we belong to a group.

Gathering with a group of people to work out will not only provide you with a rush of endorphins from the physical activity, but it can help you feel more connected and supported. You could check out a park run, join a walking or running group, or enrol in an outdoor fitness class.

Movement is an invitation to become the best version of ourselves and be kind to others. In a group setting, one would feel supported, inspired, and congratulated as if everyone was on the same team.

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