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Feeling lonely? Six steps to free yourself from loneliness

Dr. Elizma van der Smit December 2017

· Life Skills,Relationships

Loneliness hurts, but it is also linked to heart disease, insomnia, and depression. Loneliness afflicts everyone: the popular, the not-so-popular, the supremely confident, the totally insecure.

There are two types of loneliness: emotional, which can be described as a lack or loss of companionship; or social, when we lack a wider social network or group of friends.

Sometimes the most difficult kind of loneliness is the loneliness you feel when you're surrounded by people who don't quite seem to get you.

If you've had such feelings of loneliness, you are far from alone. Loneliness is one of the most common, if unpleasant emotions that millions of people experience. For some, it may be a passing emotion. For others, it’s a recurring sense of desperation and sadness. But for all of us, it is part of being human.

Robert L. Leahy suggests the following steps to free yourself from loneliness:

1. Loneliness is normal

You are not alone in feeling lonely. Perhaps the recent breakdown of connectedness can be related to the decline of family connections, higher divorce rates, people moving more frequently, the decline of church attendance, or declining participation in organizations. As widespread and increasingly frequent loneliness is, we must recognize that we need to have strategies for coping with it.

2. Have a plan.

The first part of developing a plan is to identify your “trouble times” for loneliness. It might be evenings, weekends, or holidays. Have a plan in advance for these times. On weekends, you might make plans with friends or family, you might go to museums, concerts, bike rides, guided walks, church events, or connect with people on Meetup.com or other sites. I like thinking of turning yourself into a tourist for a day or a night. Or if your worrisome time is at night, have a plan for a couple of nights each week when you might connect with someone; it could simply be on Skype. Plan some videos to watch, music to listen to, attend a yoga class, join a health club, take up a hobby

3. You don’t need someone else to do something rewarding.

So often people will say, “I have no one to do things with." You don’t need someone else to go to the movies, go for a walk, work out, go to a concert, or take up a new hobby. Some people say, “I feel self-conscious doing these things by myself." Try to identify what those self-conscious thoughts are — they may be things like, “People will see me alone and think that I am pathetic." But how do you know what others think? And even if they did think that, why should you care? Maybe doing things alone means you are independent, empowered, and free.

4. Take a look at your loneliness thoughts.

  • Just because you are alone doesn’t mean that you have to feel sad and lonely. You can look at it as an opportunity to do some things that you like. You might enjoy having the peace to read something you like, listen to your own music, cook your favorite food, watch your favorite movie, or visit a museum at your own pace
  • The idea that you are a "loser" because you are alone makes no sense: Everyone is alone at some time. And as recent research shows, about 45 percent of people experience loneliness. Being alone is a situation — and situations change
  • The idea that you cannot stand being alone also doesn’t make sense. It may be true that you don’t like being alone, but it’s the way you relate to it that matters. If you relate to loneliness with protest, anger, desperation, or defeat, then it will be unpleasant. It might be more helpful to relate to it with the idea that feeling lonely or being alone comes and goes and that it is something we all cope with. Accepting what is might be better than catastrophizing something we all experience.

5. Be good to yourself.

Rather than thinking that you need to rely on others for love, acceptance, and compassion, you might direct these thoughts and feelings toward yourself. This can include acts of lovingkindness toward yourself such as making yourself a healthful treat or buying yourself a simple gift; directing loving thoughts toward yourself by giving yourself support for being who you are and by being your own best friend

In truth, being alone can be really, really great. Yes, being genuinely lonely is painful. But spending quality time by yourself, basking in total and complete you time? That's called solitude, and it's wonderful. In a world that can feel overstimulating at the very least, there's value in being alone and shutting out all the noise. Solitude is restorative for everyone, though there are some people who naturally benefit more from being alone.

6. Build your own community of connectedness.

We all need some connection with other people — or even animals. Consider getting a cat or a dog or connect by means of doing volunteer work, because we all need to be needed. You can search online in your community for volunteer organizations that correspond to your interests. And make plans to see people. (This includes using social media.) Just because you haven’t been in contact much lately doesn’t mean you can’t take the initiative. Or join organizations where people share your interests — political, cultural, religious, or social. It may seem vulnerable to put yourself out there, and it is! It can be difficult at times to share parts of yourself with others, but that’s how others will really get to know you.

Being alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely. And feeling lonely doesn’t mean that you have to feel that way indefinitely. All emotions pass, depending on what you're thinking and what you're doing.

It’s up to you

This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.

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This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.