How to Conquer Loneliness and Feel Better Fast
The last year and a half has disrupted a lot of our social outlets. Between virtual schooling, remote work and lockdowns, there have been fewer ways of connecting with other people. If you’re unable to have meaningful interactions with others, it can lead to a crushing feeling of loneliness. Anyone can feel this uncomfortable emotion, even if you live with other people or interact with others regularly.
That’s because loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. If you try to fight the feeling simply by surrounding yourself with other humans, you won’t address the root cause of the issue. Here’s how to conquer loneliness and feel better fast.
Loneliness vs. aloneness: the difference matters
There’s a big difference between being lonely and being alone. Margaret Paul, PhD, writes that loneliness is the feeling of desperately wanting to connect with someone, while aloneness is the feeling you get when you’ve abandoned yourself.
That’s why plenty of people can live alone without feeling lonely or alone. If you have regular, meaningful social interactions, living by yourself doesn’t feel as lonely. Paul writes that loneliness is a trigger from infancy: when babies cry for help and receive none, it threatens their survival. When we try to reach out to others for connection and are denied, it can feel a little like dying.
How people cope with loneliness depends on their mental and emotional health. If you choose unhealthy coping mechanisms, like abusing substances, numbing out on TV or trying to control the way others give you love, you are abandoning yourself. That’s what creates a sense of aloneness.
If you abandon yourself when you’re lonely, it can compound the feeling. That leads to darker feelings, like despair. Finding healthy ways to fight loneliness is important to your overall well-being.
How loneliness can hurt
There have been many studies on the effects of loneliness. Often, the effects of loneliness are found in older patients. Nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable to its effects, especially if they feel abandoned by their loved ones.
According to the National Institute on Aging, “Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.”
You don’t have to be a housebound octogenarian to feel the physical and mental effects of loneliness. It’s an emotion that happens to everyone at some time or another. Prolonged loneliness is unhealthy. Going within, naming the feeling and addressing its root cause can start you down the path to healing.
Ways to conquer that lonely feeling
Since loneliness stems from a lack of connection, you can help fight it off by creating meaningful social interactions. Even if you’re suffering from depression and despair, you can follow these tips:
- Start small: Even a five-minute conversation can help you overcome your feelings of loneliness. A lot of people have trouble reaching out when they’re feeling lonely and depressed. Break the cycle and pick up the phone. Sit down with your partner, get rid of distractions and talk. Ask your long-distance bestie for a Zoom call.
- Make your conversations meaningful: The reason we can feel lonely in a room full of people is because their mere presence isn’t sufficient. Loneliness stems from a lack of connection. Therefore, it’s important to ensure your conversations are meaningful. Talk about your passions, your fears, your emotions—and don’t forget to listen to others, too.
- Pay attention: Similarly, paying attention to people can fight loneliness. Tell your favorite barista that you like their new haircut. Ask your neighbor what they do to grow such lush hydrangeas. Those small moments of connection will help ward off loneliness, but as a bonus, you’ll make others feel good.
- Keep a gratitude journal: It’s easy to get in your head when you’re feeling lonely and alone. Instead of spiraling, force yourself to think about the things you’re grateful for. Write them down in a journal. It might feel difficult when you’re down, but it will help reframe your perspective—and give you some positive conversational material when you do get to connect with others.
- Practice mindfulness: Finally, practice mindfulness. Recognizing, naming and sitting with your feelings of loneliness goes a long way toward fighting them off. You’ll soon find it easier to remember that this, too, shall pass.
Loneliness is a painful condition. With time and effort, you can find ways to experience that emotion without abandoning yourself in the process.