Loneliness is a tricky emotion to understand. Maybe you feel like you’re lacking the attachments you once had or you’re facing something new like an unfamiliar school, town, job or other life change.
Perhaps you feel like you don’t have anyone to share your feelings and experiences with. Or maybe you feel unlovable — even if others have told you that’s not so — and you aren’t sure why.
However loneliness presents itself, it creates powerful feelings of emptiness and isolation, but it’s more common than you think.
Nearly half of Americans often feel alone or left out, according to the U.S. Loneliness Index. Research suggests that people who think of loneliness as a defect tend to have difficulties taking social risks or initiating social contact, and are likely to approach social encounters with cynicism and mistrust. Loneliness can be made more intense by what you tell yourself it means.
It’s important to keep in mind that loneliness is not necessarily the same as being alone. We may be alone for long periods without feeling at all lonely. On the other hand, we may feel lonely in a familiar setting without really understanding why. See why coping with loneliness can be so tricky?
However, loneliness is neither a permanent state nor “bad” in itself. Instead, look at it as a signal that some important needs are going unmet. This could be a variety of things — all worth exploring and addressing. But, in the meantime, here are some ways you can help kick that uncomfortable feeling:
- Get involved with a club, church, a part-time job or volunteer work that you’re genuinely interested in. That way, you’re likely to meet people you have something in common with and be less lonely as a result.
- Don’t judge new people based on your past relationships. Instead, be open to seeing new people from a fresh perspective.
- Value all your friendships and their unique characteristics. Don’t get caught up in the myth that that only a romantic relationship can relieve loneliness.
- Use your alone time to get to know yourself. Think of alone time as an opportunity to develop independence and learn to take care of your own emotional needs. This can help you grow in important ways.
- Explore the possibility of doing things alone. Many of the things that you usually do with other people, such as going to the movies or taking a vacation to somewhere new, can sometimes be more rewarding when you do them alone.
- Don’t decide ahead of time how you’re going to feel about an activity. Always try to keep an open mind.
No matter how bad you feel, loneliness will diminish or even disappear when you focus attention and energy on your needs and learning new ways to meet them. Don’t wait for feelings of loneliness to go away before you get going — get going and the good feelings are likely to follow.
This blog post was adapted from an article provided by New Directions, an independent company that provides behavioral health services for many Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members. Sources of information include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the 2018 CIGNA U.S. Loneliness Index.
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