There is nothing more uncomfortable than the feeling of loneliness. It’s as if walls spring up around us shutting out the rest of the world, a world which appears to be a distant phenomenon; something completely other to who we are.
Loneliness is a modern-day epidemic. A recent study by the Co-op and the British Red Cross revealed that over 9 million people in the United Kingdom across all adult ages are either always or often lonely.
There are clearly demographic factors that influence whether someone is more likely to be lonely or not. In our society loneliness particularly affects elderly people, for example. Contrary to popular misconception, however, it is a feeling that does not just strike at the single and vulnerable. It affects all of us – even if we are surrounded by people on a daily basis or in a stable relationship. In fact, the insipid loneliness that affects the seemingly connected amongst us seems to be part and parcel of the modern condition.
Loneliness is a feeling which may be brought about by ill health or age but it is also a state of mind. It comes from the way in which we perceive ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. It has nothing much to do with whether we are physically in the presence of people necessarily. In fact, the more we see others yet don’t feel connected to them at the level we need, the more lonely we can feel. It can often be as though we are occupying some other dimension in space and time from everyone else.
Prevention of loneliness is a 24/7 phenomenon and a big money spinner. The world is constantly trying to stop itself from being lonely whether it’s by internet dating, joining meet up groups or taking part in online fora. There is even more of a need for people to make connections these days now that traditional communities have disappeared and new virtual ones have appeared in their stead. We no longer live in communal tribes sharing teepees (although some of us may do) but instead tend to discover tribes virtually through our phones and laptops. The irony is that although we might connect very well with strangers online, we often don’t open ourselves up to others in real life. A lot of people create invisible walls around themselves, hoping that some random weird stranger (usually me) will not strike up a conversation with them while they’re waiting for the bus or coming out of their yoga class (quick – no eye contact, look at phone).
People suffering from loneliness might feel that they don’t want to open up about it or talk about it. Despite the fact that it is so common, it is still stigmatised. There is no shame in wanting connection. No man is an island. You need regular inpourings so that you can pour out again. The world works on exchange and interaction; on transactions between two or more not on single pursuits.
Whilst hell might be other people, unfortunately we need each other and we need each other quite often on a more vulnerable level than we sometimes appreciate. That often goes unspoken but it’s true. We need people to understand our pain and how we are making sense of this topsy-turvy messed-up, amazing world and they need that from us too.
Interactions are qualitative not quantitative. You can spend a whole day with someone but be lonely in their company, particularly if they do not make you feel valued, seen or listened to or if there is no connection. Conversely, an exchange with the neighbour about the weather can make you feel connected in a split second. Smiling at everyone you pass in the park when you walk can make you feel really connected. Some people don’t smile back but usually the reason is fear of pre-occupation. It’s never something you should take personally. Smiling makes you light up and it’s even better when you can light up with someone else. A smile with someone for a split second can make you realise that you are not a one but a part of many.
Separation from other people can be created in the mind, particularly if you compare yourself to others. You can fear other interactions because you measure yourself in relation to others as being too inferior or too superior. The feeling of self-judgment or judgment of others compounds loneliness and makes it worse. If you look for commonality you will realise that at heart, we are all similar creatures and that we all need love, a laugh and to be seen and valued. It might be said that the way in which we have grown and developed as a society in terms of complexity, the more difficult it is to be seen and heard. Just notice how difficult and transient social media is: you might get recognition for a millisecond and then people move on. Whilst you are visible on a screen, you are not given the deeper and more soulful or enduring visibility you need. You are not truly appreciated for who you really are – only for the surface you; the profile you.
Here are five ways to manage feelings of loneliness and do something about it!
Be compassionate to yourself
Everyone feels lonely at some point or other. Whilst you may be married or have a tightknit family, your life is a solo journey and no-one makes that exact same trip apart from you. No-one escapes the feeling entirely. Be compassionate to yourself and befriend your loneliness. Do not necessarily view it with fear or negativity. Accept that it is often part of life.
Be open to meeting new people
Be open to meeting new people, not from a place of neediness but from a place of curiosity. Be interested in others and what makes them tick. Being open with the world in this way can cause one to be vulnerable but that is fine. Vulnerability is how you make connections. There is a risk but if you never take it, you will never reap the rewards. Trust that you can be both vulnerable and be in a position to assert boundaries and defences if and when you need to. We are all scared of rejection or of being judged on some level but we do it too. Some people will love you and others will not like you. That’s just the way it is.You will know who you resonate with and who you don’t.
Give to others unconditionally
A remedy for loneliness is to go out and be with the world, to love others within it whomever they are and not to expect anything back from them. I don’t mean that you should get taken for a ride of course: you can make your own judgments on who you choose to help. But it is good for you to be kind without expecting anything in return. It can be difficult to make connections with a closed heart or by always giving out with the expectation of receiving back. Charity work or helping a friend in need is a good means of opening your heart and doing something with no expectation of anything in return. In our individualistic times, we do not put enough sway on helping for helping’s sake as perhaps it is perceived as not bringing us any benefit. However helping others gives something back to us. Think about the feel-good factor you get from helping someone who benefits from your time or skills.
Anything that makes you feel like you are doing something constructive with your solo time and that puts you in the flow state is fantastic. Being creative also makes you feel as though there is something bigger than you that takes over. In fact if you love spending time painting or writing, disconnecting social media (which can only make you feel more lonely) and having some fun with your pen or making something can really make your solo time golden.
Be in nature
Connection to nature is connection. OK so it might not be quite the same as having a pinot grigio and belly laughs with your oldie besties but being in nature makes you feel part of a unique and beautiful connected universe. Watch the interactions, listen to the sounds and feel the sense of connectedness between living things. Feel that you’re a part of all that too – because you are.