I recently read the book “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. It is the story of a woman who is used to living life on her own, but begins to open to up a co-worker and others in her life.
One of the quotes in the book really stood out to me:
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”
In an age where we have so many ways of keeping in touch with others through social media, there is also a marked increase in people feeling alone. It has become such an issue that the UK recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness to be deliberate about finding ways for people of all ages to connect with each other.
And while loneliness is something that more of us are experiencing, it is so hard to say “I am lonely”…or “I feel alone”. Like the quote above says, we feel that it is shameful or embarrassing to admit that we don’t feel like we are connecting with enough people in a meaningful way.
Here are four ways that you can begin to fight loneliness in your life and begin to feel connected to yourself and others.
Be gentle with yourself. This sounds so simple in some ways, and so difficult in others. You may have been taught to always put others first, which leaves you at the last of the pack more often than not. This may also lead you to believe that to be kind to yourself means that you must be selfish and negate everyone else around you. This is not the case. Being kind to yourself means that 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. Identify the types of people you want to be friends with. Since it is possible to be in relationship and still feel lonely, it is important to know what types of people fill your emotional bucket and which don’t. And then pursue friendships with the people that leave you feeling refreshed, invigorated, and like you are important to them.
Reach out to others. It can be hard to admit that we are lonely or are looking for ways to make friends. There are pictures all over social media to show us that other people have no problem doing this, and have full and rich relationships. 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, boundaries, relationships. Or maybe the next time that someone you might be interested in building a deeper relationship with asks how you are doing, maybe you can change your response from “fine” to something deeper. What if you replied “Thanks for asking. I’m doing okay, and was wondering if you would be interested in going out for coffee? I would love to get to know you better.”
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 if they live far away. Talk. Ask people questions about themselves. People LOVE to talk about themselves. Be a little more vulnerable than you’re used to. If someone asks about your weekend, rather than saying it was okay, share a specific thing that you did that you found enjoyable. Have you been thinking that you would like to get out and hike more? Check out sites such as meetup.com and see if there are other groups of people doing the same thing, and try it out. Keeping to yourself might feel like the safe thing to do because there’s less rejection that way, but if you are purposeful in who you reach out to and how, you can find ways to lessen that feeling of loneliness in your life.
Log off. This may seem counter-intuitive, because social media may be the only way that you see yourself currently connecting with your friends. However, research has proven that spending time on Facebook and Instagram actually contributes to our loneliness as opposed to alleviating it. When was the last time you called someone rather than just texted? There’s something about hearing your friends’ voice that can help you to feel heard, understood and that they “get you” in ways that sending a text can’t.
Talk 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 begin to feel connected and content. If you would like to meet with me to find ways to decrease the loneliness you are feeling, you can reach me through email or the button below.