What is loneliness?
Feeling lonely is not the same as being physically alone; we all know it’s possible to be alone and feel content, and it’s also possible to feel lonely in a crowd. In fact, the feeling of loneliness is created when there is a gap in the amount of social contact and intimacy that is desired compared to what is actually experienced.
This feeling can come and go fairly quickly, but for some, it can become chronic. Chronic loneliness is not only emotionally unpleasant for those suffering, but it can also be linked with mental and physical health issues such as depression and anxiety, sleep problems, and reduced immune functioning.
Those who feel lonely often report there are few people, if any, who know them well, and they perceive a lack of meaningful relationships. Thus, the antidote to loneliness is not simply knowing more people or having more followers on Instagram; we feel less lonely when we feel truly seen, accepted for who we are, and like we belong.
Reports of loneliness have been increasing dramatically in recent years. Direct causes of the loneliness epidemic are still unknown, but some experts are pointing their fingers, in part, at the boom in the popularity of social media. Because we are generally seeing only the good parts of other’s lives, we are left with the impression that we are less connected and fulfilled than everyone else. Be careful not to compare your everyday reality to the curated highlights you see on social media.
Here’s how you can take steps toward a more connected life:
1. Get to know yourself
In the effort of overcoming loneliness, it is important to remember that loneliness is a state of mind, not an absolute truth. As mentioned, we feel lonely when we desire to feel more socially connected than we perceive ourselves to be currently. If you often feel lonely, it’s important to understand what beliefs you have about yourself and others that may be perpetuating a state of loneliness.
For example, maybe you are harboring shame over some aspect of yourself that you believe makes you undesirable to others, and this holds you back from showing others your authentic self. Without letting yourself be seen, it is not possible to feel truly connected. In this case, overcoming loneliness starts with processing your shame and healing your traumas in order to get to a place where you feel safer to be vulnerable. Try incorporating a journaling practice into your routine. Even five minutes of journaling every day can make a meaningful impact on your journey toward a better understanding of yourself.
2. Find your people
Loneliness cannot survive when we feel connected, and shame cannot survive when we feel understood. With a better understanding of yourself, your values, your interests, and your insecurities, you will be better equipped to seek out connections with those whom you feel you belong.
This might mean figuring out your interests and joining a club based on that. It could also mean starting with the relationships you already have and taking steps toward cultivating a deeper connection with those people. Either way, authenticity is at the core, and this starts with truly knowing yourself.
3. Practice gratitude
Again, loneliness is born in that gap between what we want and what we think we have. By focusing on what we don’t have, we are watering the loneliness plant and giving it the light it needs to thrive. Incorporating a gratitude practice into your routine shifts the light to focus on what we do have and what we are grateful for. This is a skill that takes practice: try writing down at least three things you are grateful for every day. Over time your brain will be trained to naturally focus more on the positive.
4. Keep learning
Feelings of loneliness do not exist in a vacuum; self-examination is required in order to understand the sources of our suffering. Read. Listen to podcasts. Watch documentaries. Talk to people you trust. Go to therapy. The more you know about yourself, others, and society, the less room there is in that gap between expectations and reality for loneliness to take hold. Talking with a therapist can be an especially effective way to better understand factors which are contributing to feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction.
Ready to prioritize your mental health?
Great Lakes Psychology Group is here to help. With an extensive network of caring therapists available to meet online or in-person, we make it easy to find the right fit for your unique needs.