We've all felt lonely at one time or another in our lives, and unfortunately a lot of people don't realize that there are actually a lot of effective ways to beat loneliness out there — it often just comes down to being conscious of our patterns and behavior.
In an article for Best Health, Toronto-based counselor and psychotherapist Lesli Musicar said that even though people who feel lonely can think they're the only ones who feel that way, it's actually a common problem. "A lot of people who feel lonely, you’d never suspect in a million years. They might go out a lot, or be highly social, but their interactions stay mainly on the surface. So even though they may give the impression of being popular, those people may be feeling very lonely underneath it all because they aren’t letting people get close to them," Musicar said.
However, in a piece on loneliness for Psychology Today, Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center Heidi Grant, Ph.D, said that the most effective means to alleviating feelings of loneliness is changing our own behavioral patterns and making a concerted effort to change how we perceive social interactions. She stressed that loneliness is often less a reality as much as it is a perception of reality, and so it's very much in our power to change.
If you've been struggling with persistent feelings of loneliness, or perhaps are just in a new city or environment and are feeling alone, here are eight tips to ease those lonely feelings and help you start feeling connected again.
1. Don't Self-Isolate
Musicar noted that sometimes when we're lonely it's actually because we have a negative self-image and are afraid to really let people in to see our "real selves." The problem, according to Musicar, is that the more you don't let people in, the less you have people challenging your skewed self-image. "You have no reality checks—you only have your own view of yourself," Musicar said. This is why even though it can be tempting to stay in and dwell when you're feeling lonely, you should make a strong effort to get yourself out there and engage with other people.
2. Call, Don't Post
In an interview with Everyday Health, Louise Hawkley, Ph.D., a research associate in the psychology department at the University of Chicago, said that research shows people seem to feel best when their relationships happen face-to-face or over the phone as opposed to just through social media. So the next time you're feeling the urge to connect, trying making a call to a friend instead of posting a thought online.
3. Keep Busy
Hawkley also said that there is a theory in depression treatment called "activation therapy," which basically boils down to "just do it." So if you're thinking of joining that recreational sports team, or taking that class, don't overthink it — just sign up and go.
Similarly, Musicar recommended joining a book club, or a gardening club, or anything else that you genuinely find interesting. "If you join a group where the activity is meaningful for you, and you enjoy it, chances are it will bring out the best in you. And if you feel good while you’re engaged in that activity, it will help you feel more connected to the people around you because you have this one thing in common," she said.
4. Give Yourself A Reality Check
“Loneliness is a mismatch between your ideal and what you actually have,” said Hawkley. Sometimes, she explained, this can be because we expect too much from others or have unrealistic expectations in terms of what others can provide for us. Take stock of your expectations — do you assume you'll become best friends with a person you've only just started spending time with? Are you easily disappointed by other people? If so, try approaching new relationships with a lighter attitude — maybe you'll enjoy having fun, light conversations with someone, but that person won't necessarily become your most trusted confidant, and that's both normal and OK.
5. Focus On Similarities, Not Difference
On a piece by relationship coach Clay Andrews for lifestyle site Tiny Buddha on how to overcome loneliness, Andrews said, "Remember that feeling separate from others is the direct result of focusing on how others are different from us When you look for differences, you will find them. When you look for similarities, you will find them as well. There’s nothing wrong with doing either; however, each has their own set of consequences." Andrews stressed that putting others into categories that differentiate them from ourselves — like, "rich," or "one of those guys — is the first step into distancing and isolating ourselves from them altogether.
6. Get Curious About Others
According to Andrews, focusing less on ourselves in any given interaction and directing our lens towards someone else is an incredibly efficient way to make a connection. "Become curious about others and you will never be at a loss for words or feel unable to connect with them again," Andrews said.
7. Change Negative Thinking
In the piece for Psychology Today, Grant stressed that one of the most effective treatments for loneliness is changing the way you think about social interactions. She noted that often times lonely people will focus on all the ways a social encounter could go wrong, or stress about how they performed in a social situation, worried that they were "awkward" or unlikable. She recommended taking a step back and thinking if perhaps everything went more smoothly than you think, and perhaps everyone else thought you were completely likable and enjoyable (and they probably did!). Once lonely people begin approaching new relationships with optimism and less self-criticism, they are better able to make meaningful connections.
8. Reach Out To Someone
Musicar also said to never forget that you can always reach out to others when your feelings of loneliness are overwhelming, also noting that this can sometimes feel like the biggest challenge since there is so often still a stigma about admitting we are lonely. “When you feel bad about yourself,” says Musicar, “that’s when you need to hear a different message about yourself. You need to hear from someone else that you matter and that you are worthy.”
The irony about loneliness is that it makes us feel as if no one else feels like we do, when in reality, almost everyone has felt lonely at one time or another, or even struggle with it on an ongoing basis. Just remember it's a universal experience, and there are definitely ways to cope. And if you ever feel overwhelmed, there are many resources to reach out to that can help you find support in your area, like Mental Health America or HealthFinder.gov.
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