The dictionary definition of loneliness is “sadness because one has no friends or company.” But in truth, you can have a partner, family, and plenty of friends and still feel lonely.
Loneliness has been on the rise since the pandemic began. Social isolation has meant time cut-off from regular social networks, as well as the casual in-person interactions you used to have with your hairdresser, favourite barista, gym friends, and so on. Over the past few years, the pandemic — coupled with a rise in technology — has meant fewer hugs and chats over coffee, and more texting, video calls, and social media sharing.
And yet, the pandemic hasn’t been easy on romantic partners who live together either. Worldwide, breakups and divorces have been spiking since 2020. This shows that being physically close with someone doesn’t guarantee a healthy, happy relationship. You can spend every waking moment in the same home as someone else, and still feel alone in many ways.
The good news is that no matter your reason for feeling lonely, your situation isn’t hopeless. There are steps you can take to feel happier and more connected — even in these exceptionally difficult and isolating times.
Factors that contribute to feeling lonely
In order to feel happier and more connected, it helps to examine why you are feeling lonely to begin with. Sometimes our reasons for feeling lonely are obvious. Sudden changes like the Covid-19 pandemic, the death of a loved one, divorce, starting college, children leaving home, moving for work, etc., mean that you are left feeling the sudden void of important relationships. Other times, your loneliness may be a gradual shift that happens as you age, drift apart from old friends, stop working, or become complacent in your relationship.
The experience of loneliness depends on both external and internal factors. You can change the external causes of loneliness by taking steps to form new connections and improve the quality of your existing connections. Internally, you can shift your mindset: with a change in perspective, time spent alone can be a wonderful, happy, enriching experience. To make the shift from feeling sad and alone to content and connected, work through the following seven steps:
7 steps to reduce loneliness
1. Validate and sit with the feeling
Sitting with uncomfortable emotions is a difficult thing to do. This is why when people are struggling they often turn to their addictions to numb themselves from their feelings. Instead of distracting or numbing yourself, give yourself permission to feel. Sitting with loneliness can be especially hard. It can be depressing, frustrating or embarrassing. As unpleasant as these feelings may be, acknowledging them allows the feelings to pass.
2. Ask why?
When did your feelings of loneliness begin or intensify? Are you missing or grieving someone? Are you feeling lonely within your relationship because your emotional or physical intimacy is lacking? Are you overwhelmed and in need of support? Are you feeling left out? Are you comparing your real life to someone else’s social media highlights?
If you can pin down what exactly is making you feel lonely, it becomes easier to problem-solve a way out of loneliness. Do you need emotional support for grief? Do you just need a helping hand around the house? Does your communication with your partner need improvement? Do you need to re-evaluate your friendships or form new ones?
3. Don’t self-reject
When you’re feeling lonely, your self-esteem may not be at its highest. You may be hesitant to reach out to make new friends or to date because you fear rejection. Unfortunately, rejection is a very real possibility. You won’t always be everyone’s cup of tea. But you’ll never know whether you’re compatible if you don’t try. So, the next time someone captures your interest, why not strike up a conversation? Ask them about the book they’re reading or pay them a compliment. Give them the opportunity to know and see the good in you.
4. Nurture what you have
Sometimes we become so focused on what we don’t have, that we lose sight of what is right in front of us. Are there relationships in your life that you take for granted? Make an effort to strengthen and maintain connections with the people already in your life, whether or not they’re your most exciting friend or a new love interest. This might look like returning your sister’s phone calls, finally grabbing lunch with your coworkers, or being more engaged when your neighbour makes small talk with you.
Also, be mindful that these are difficult times for everyone. If you haven’t heard from some of your old friends in a while, remember that everyone is busy fighting their own battles. It could be that they are also feeling lonely, but have been too overwhelmed to connect or talk about their problems with others. Don’t be afraid to reach out first.
5. Find new ways of connecting
If you do things the same way you’ve always done them, you’ll end up with the same results. If you’re feeling lonely in your relationship, how can you and your partner do things differently to deepen your connection? What can you change? If your social life is failing, how can you vary your routine to meet new people? Consider joining a group or a class that interests you or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about. You may even find that spending time with your pets is enough to ease your loneliness.
6. Have a date with yourself
Learn to have quality alone time. Go out to a restaurant or see a movie by yourself, get cozy with a book and a cup of tea, journal, or build something — alone doesn’t have to mean lonely. Shared experiences are great, but you are worthy of enjoying life all on your own, too.
7. Talk to a professional
If your loneliness is making you feel depressed, a medical professional or a Hello Coach can help advise you and give support while you figure out your next steps. You can also click here for a list of emergency resources. No matter how alone you may feel, know that there are people out there who care about you and would love to help you.
Today’s action steps
Take five minutes to meditate or simply sit with your feeling of loneliness. Notice how it makes you feel emotionally and physically.
Take a few minutes to write down why you think your loneliness has started or intensified lately.
Think of two people who you will make an effort to connect with today. Decide if you will try to meet in person, talk on the phone, or something else.
Commit to one activity that makes your alone time more enjoyable. Spend 15 minutes today gardening, working on a project, playing an instrument, walking outside, or whatever it might be that brings you joy.
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