How to deal with feeling lonely
Whilst spending time alone can be an ideal opportunity for self-reflection, even the best of us can end up feeling lonely. So just how do we tackle loneliness?
Feeling lonely is a natural and normal part of the human condition. It’s also a bit of a political hot potato at present. Concerned by figures which suggest the UK is in the grips of a ‘loneliness crisis’, the government recently appointed a loneliness minster, Tracy Crouch, who has promised to leave ‘no stone unturned’ tackling the issue.
According to health chiefs, over time loneliness can severely compromise our well-being. One recent report says the health risks are comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and associated with a 50% increase in mortality.
An evolutionary outlook
But it’s important to remember that all these projections are based on the more extreme face of loneliness. The fact is we all feel lonely from time to time. This is because we are social creatures, and in an evolutionary sense we are designed to bond with other people to survive.
Human beings are psychologically wired to process their emotions by sharing them with others. We build confidence by having our feelings affirmed and mirrored back at us. And whilst there are lots of people who would argue they love spending time alone, for most of us it’s a balancing act.
So, what do you do if you frequently find yourself feeling lonely? Well, it’s important to remember that there is nothing shameful about the way you are feeling. Loneliness can induce a cruel inner-voice that suggests that somehow there’s something terribly wrong with us.
But that voice is part of the condition rather than a reality. So, if you find you’re beating yourself up, why not pause and challenge those thoughts? One way to do this is to write down the negative thoughts you’re experiencing on a piece of paper and then in a column opposite write a contrary fact for each one.
For example, if you think: ‘I’m always alone, and will always be alone,’ you could write opposite ‘I’m around people every day at work and catch up with close friends at least twice a week’.
The problem is that feeling lonely can take us by surprise and plunge us down the rabbit hole before we’ve even had time to fully acknowledge it. Therefore, it’s important to recognise its creeping advance.
Withdrawing from the world
Ironically, experiencing loneliness can also trigger us to withdraw even more from the world. We might avoid answering the phone and retreat to the bedroom. Therefore, be very kind to yourself. Muster all your courage and reach out to a friend or loved you can trust. Talk to them and if possible tell them how you’re feeling.
Of course, loneliness is typically associated with being single. But there’s no reason why the two should automatically go together. Plenty of single people have busy, active lives and only fleeting moments of loneliness. In fact, some people really love single life. You’ll usually find these are the people who have built structure into their free time, they work hard and play hard too.
If you find going solo a big challenge it might be time to reevaluate your life. What is it that might be missing? Dating to fill the void is often counterproductive. This is because we’re meeting potential partners for the wrong reasons, and expecting them to rescue us, when in fact we can only really rescue ourselves.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself struggling with chronic and recurrent loneliness, don’t battle alone. There are plenty of affordable counsellors qualified to help you change the way you’re feeling.
Tackling loneliness within a relationship
There are also plenty of people in relationships who end up feeling lonely. Sometimes the most painful form of loneliness is the realisation that you feel terribly alone even when you’re with your partner.
Having a good daily routine is another way to combat feeling lonely. It may be that there are certain times during the week or at the weekend when you’re more prone to loneliness. A study by eharmony suggests that for singles the toughest time is Sunday nights. This is because things have probably gone eerily quiet. To counter this, you could pick up the phone or decide to factor a new social activity into the mix.
The fact remains we cannot expect to get all our needs met by a partner (or friend). But we can at least have the courage to express how we’re feeling with a view to changing the way we feel.
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