Loneliness is more than just being physically alone. It is often defined as the distress that follows when there is an incongruence between how you would like social relationships to be and how you perceive them. The social environment you have while growing up can determine your comfort with social relationships and expectations about how they should be.
It is possible to feel lonely or isolated even when surrounded by people when such connections are not seen as meaningful. Sometimes the opposite is also true; when you don’t feel lonely despite being alone, because you view solitude as a pleasant experience.
How can it affect you?
A sense of loneliness when your social needs are not met can contribute to physical and mental changes which tell us that something is wrong.
Chronic loneliness can raise blood pressure, and impact cardiovascular, circulatory and immune functions of the body. People who feel lonely also perceive greater stress than non-lonely individuals in the same situations. Loneliness can have a negative impact on learning, memory and decision-making, and has also been linked to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Being aware of your lack of social connections can affect your emotional well-being since you are likely to feel isolated, disconnected and empty, and long for someone to fill that emptiness. Chronic loneliness also affects the way in which you regulate these feelings. Depression and anxiety can intensify isolation because of perceived stigma and a lack of desire to meet people. It can also increase the risk of suicide, alcoholism and drug use.
How can you overcome it?
Accept and normalise loneliness
You might try to avoid this feeling by distracting yourself with TV, social media or chores. This might help you momentarily. However, it is important to accept how you’re feeling, and allow yourself to stay with and express these feelings regularly.
Try to become aware about the effects that loneliness has on you, both physically and mentally. You can do this by paying attention to the way your body reacts, and reflecting on how you feel and what you think in such situations. Remember that your brain is trying to make sense of these reactions, and your negative thoughts and feelings about the future are temporary and may not be true.
Be compassionate to others
Consider doing community service or volunteering at an NGO. Showing kindness or being generous to others would help you focus on their needs rather than your own thoughts and feelings, and can help you feel less lonely.
Be kind to yourself
Show yourself the same kindness that you show others, and treat yourself as your loved ones do. Avoid criticising yourself or focusing on your flaws. Taking care of yourself means that you will not have to rely on others for love and acceptance, and this would help to decrease negative thoughts about yourself.
Reflect on how it can help
Loneliness may not only be a negative experience; it could positively impact you too. It can be an indicator that relationships are not as intimate as you would like, and push you to take steps to solve the problem. You can also use this time to your advantage by doing what you like.
Reach out to loved ones
Loneliness makes you withdraw. So, make an effort to reach out to supportive people in your life, either virtually or in person. Spending time with loved ones can help you feel less alone, have less negative thoughts about yourself, and make existing relationships stronger. You can also consider getting a pet or spending time with animals at a shelter.
Do what you enjoy
Don’t let feelings of loneliness prevent you from engaging in activities that you enjoy. Look for groups that you can take part in or try to do these things by yourself. Reaching out to groups can also be a way for you to meet new people with similar interests, and help you form new relationships.
Try to identify particular situations or times that make you feel lonely. Plan in advance how you would deal with them, such as whom to contact, where to go and what to do. Try to follow through on these plans, and modify them as you need to.
Shift your focus
You might have learned to expect the worst in relationships because of your experiences with loneliness. Try to identify these thoughts and shift your focus from the expectation of rejection to the positive aspects of your relationships. Also remind yourself that the painful thoughts and emotions may not necessarily be true, and could be preventing you from acknowledging and enjoying the support that you do have.
If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. An InnerHour therapist can help you.
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