As I turned the page over on our calendar a couple of weeks ago, I noticed something. All of the days were blank! I flipped back to December, and saw all of the activities that had filled up our month. We had our traditional venture out to the Stanley Park train with friends, our Christmas Eve with family, and then the obligatory office parties, so that most of the squares had something in them! Now it’s blank.
For some of us this is exciting! A whole month of introvert time to recover from being with people so much in December. There’s Netflix watching to catch up on, that good book that is calling to you along with your blanket, and a way of recharging after a full month of activity.
However, those blank squares can also be a reminder of a familiar feeling. That feeling that while you may have been with people, you were still alone. If you are single, you may feel that everyone else has a significant other, and you are the only one alone. If you are in a struggling relationship, you may feel like you haven’t felt connected to each other for a long time.
In an age where we have so many ways of connecting with others through social media, there is also a marked increase in people feeling alone. It has become such an issue that the UK has appointed a Minister of Loneliness. What are some ways to combat loneliness in your life, and get connected with others?
Be kind to yourself. This sounds so simple in some ways, and so difficult in others. Many of us are taught that it is important to put others needs first, which leaves us at the last of the pack more often than not. This translates into us feeling that to be kind to ourselves means that we must become selfish and negate everyone else around us. This is not the case. Being kind to yourself means you start changing the way you talk to yourself. It means that you give yourself permission to admit that you need help. It also means that you go easy on yourself if you are not able to connect with people as quickly as you would like.
Reach out to others. It can be hard to admit that we are lonely or are looking for ways to connect with others. There are pictures all over social media to show us that other people have no problem making and keeping friends. But you can admit it without shouting it from the roof tops! One way would be to find a class through the YMCA or a local rec centre with a topic that you have been interested in pursuing. You might find someone to connect with there. You could also see if there is a group therapy through a counselling office close to you that you can join in on. This would provide you with ways to improve your mental health and meet others that struggle with the same things you do – anxiety, social anxiety, relationships.
Don’t isolate yourself. Quite often when we start to feel lonely, the voice in our head tells us lies, and we start to cocoon or insulate ourselves, withdrawing from other people in our lives. This is the time to push past that and stretch yourself a little bit. Reach out to family or friends, whether that’s in person, or even through Skype. Talk. Ask about them, and open up as much as you’re able to. And then next time, try opening up a little bit more.
Log off. This may seem counter-intuitive, because social media may be the only way that you see yourself connecting with others. However, research has proven that spending time on Facebook and Instagram actually contributes to our loneliness as opposed to alleviating it. And think back to the last time you were with someone in person as opposed to texting them. Remember how much better it felt to walk away from that interaction?
Connect with a counsellor. There are times the loneliness begins to feel so overwhelming that we start to slip into depression. This would be a time to try all of the above, but also get some professional help. In BC, there are Registered Clinical Counsellors and Canadian Certified Counsellors, and psychologists that are professionally trained to help you work through that loneliness. They can help you to explore what is contributing to your loneliness, but also to find hope and tools for how to connect with other people.
Be kind, reach out, don’t isolate yourself, and log off. Some simple ways to fight that loneliness and feeling connected and content.