Ouch. You’re feeling the burn of loneliness.
Maybe it’s been triggered by a romantic occasion, like Valentine’s Day or a friend’s wedding? Maybe you’re struggling with grief or loss?
Maybe you’re in a relationship but it feels like someone pulled the plug on the connection? Or you’re surrounded by others but you just don’t feel The Fit?
Loneliness hurts, and while it doesn’t make the official manuals of psychological disorder, therapists are always scouting for it because of its potential to harm mental health.
Most loneliness, and its symptoms, are temporary. But, when it digs in over time, it can develop into depression and anxiety, lurk behind addictions, erode self-esteem and trigger a raft of physical health problems.
What To Do: 8 Strategies For When Loneliness Bites
Studies indicate up to 75% of us will feel lonely at some point in our lives.
It is often tied to circumstances, such as the end of a relationship, the loss of someone close to you or a move to a new city. But or it can also strike in unexpected ways — even when you’re in a good space.
It can roar up on the back of a significant date, an invitation that reminds you you’re on your own (or an exclusion from an event), a reminder from the past or a sadness that your friendships lack meaning.
So it’s helpful to have some go-to strategies that help you through the times when it stings most.
1. Don’t feel guilty.
To feel lonely is common and to feel guilty about your feelings is normal. To know you’re not alone in your feelings of isolation may not feel helpful in the moment, but it’s helpful to acknowledge it.
2. Play some sad-ass songs.
I know, the self-help brigade commonly advise playing upbeat music to push through your feelings. That’s fine if you want to, but sad-ass songs can strike an empathetic chord in a way pop or rock can’t. You’re allowed to cry. Just keep a boundary around how long you do it for.
3. Don’t globalise your feelings.
Yes, you feel lonely but you don’t have to attach any more meaning to it than that. It doesn’t mean or say anything else (negative) about you. It’s common for negative or sad feelings to take on greater meaning in your mind and for it to feel like a permanent state.
Remind yourself that it’s not helpful to go there and that ALL feelings are temporary. Just because you feel lonely today doesn’t mean you will feel this way all day, every day. This moment will pass.
4. Find someone to download with.
Being alone when grappling with a problem can be seriously tough because you spin it around and around in your head, never getting any respite. So find one person you can trust with your vulnerability: a friend, a family member or church buddy, a close colleague, a neighbour, a mentor, a therapist if your budget allows.
Ask them for an hour of their time. Most people won’t mind providing a supportive ear when you’re in a tough space, especially if you’re there for them too. (Just be mindful of how much support you need — unless you’re paying them.)
5. Turn outwards to others, not in to yourself.
Don’t let yourself go up into your head, pull out the cerebral couch and stay up there. Overthinking about your situation makes everything worse.
Instead, use your active mind to think of one thing you could do for someone else. Then do it. It will create good feelings — for you both.
6. Create: make something.
Diving fully into a project keeps your hands busy and focuses your thinking on what you’re doing, rather than thinking about your loneliness. So get busy.
7. Measure yourself backwards.
The great temptation when we’re feeling low is to rate yourself against what you haven’t got and/or what you’ve lost (opportunities or people). Instead think about what you’ve already Done in your life and what you Do Have. You’ll find you’ve done many things and led a full life; dwell on that for a while.
8. Do what makes you feel good.
Treat time. Pamper yourself. Read. Walk. Hike. Swim. Stretch. Listen to music. Go outside. To take in nature is particularly helpful because it gives some perspective over our (tiny) places in the world.
You may feel lonely right now but being on your own also means you’re in Great Company. Do your best to remember that.