By Dr. Neeta Pant
“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.”
– Martha Beck
Do you know the biggest fear for humans is of being alone? We all feel lonely from time to time and it’s not easy as loneliness becomes overwhelming. The great irony is that as we become increasingly “connected” on social media & digital world, we ironically feel increasingly lonely.
The tricky thing about feelings is that they impact differently for everyone. Some people are content having fewer friends and enjoy spending a great deal of time alone. Same scenarios may create a deep sense of loneliness and isolation for others. Being lonely is a feeling whereas being alone is tangible and concrete. When we feel alone, we may feel disconnected from others despite having people around us. Feeling lonely is our body’s response to not getting our needs met. Figuring out why we feel lonely even when we are not alone can help us feel more in tune with the feeling.
Why Do People Feel Lonely?
The answer basically lies in how well a person can connect on a deep emotional level with others in an intimate and vulnerable way. Figuring out how to feel less lonely depends partly on why we feel lonely to begin with.
1. Closeness Craving
Loneliness is complicated. It might actually mean we’re longing for connection. If we do not find that element of closeness in our relationship, it will tend to make us feel more isolated than just being alone. We might wind up feeling more empty if our relationship is not clicking like we want it to. The desire to be significant is what connects us to others and lessens our feelings of loneliness.
2. Quality Not Quantity Relationships
To feel connected, we need to invest time and energy into our relationships. In order to truly feel connected to someone in a relationship, we should be able to be our most natural self. We probably can’t give our natural self to a dozen people in the same way as we can to our two or three closest people, hence focus should be on this squad to ensure those bonds are strong.
3. Being On Guard
Ever felt like people don’t really know us? Is it possible that we have ourguards up, and aren’t sending out clear messages that we’re open for new bonds or connections? When we have our guards up, we not only have challenges with authenticity, but have challenges relating to what others may share with us. Sharing ourself can be scary for some, but if we want to form a bond with others, we need to let our guards down and open up.
4. Too Much Time on Social Media
Studies suggests that the lonelier a person is, the more time they’re likely to spend on social media that gives them a sense that we’re with tons of other people. Since one is not gaining anything from a face-to-face interaction, or actively experiencing their lives with them, it can further contribute to the sense of isolation even if that group is only virtual and perceived.
- Not fitting in
We may have different interests to the people in our circle or maybe we just dress or think differently. Feeling that we don’t fit can make the symptoms of loneliness even worse, and makes it more difficult to meet friends and feel connected. Connecting with like-minded people is the key here.
- Trap of Vulnerability
Past filled with trauma, pain and rejection can lead to a distorted and painful narrative about oneself which then shapes one’s life. Society forces high levels of conformity and docility and people learn from a young age that parts of their selves are unacceptable & shameful. It then becomes nearly impossible to connect and feel an emotional closeness with others. Meaningful discussions, intimacy and authenticity are avoided at all costs which leads to loneliness.
- Losing Sense Of Community
Modern society has become increasingly individualistic. People have become less empathetic, self-centred and more concerned about their image projection. Today’s society lacks compassion, is more controlled, regimented, standardized, and less tolerant and impatient. Camaraderie, exploration, fun, bonding has disappeared and relationships are more for conformity and convenience.
- Convenience Over Bond
Bonds today are built on ‘what is in it there for me’ than genuine love and concern. Modern society values ‘things’ and ‘success’ over relations. Emotions have become commodities like one acquires a latest gadget or expensive car. Seeing people as objects does not gel well for emotional closeness and thus one never feels fulfilled and accomplished in relationship and feels lonely.
- Too Many Experts
Interesting time we live in where there is an expert for everything, literally right from – How one should eat, how much to eat, what to eat, what our bodies should look like to even how to handle our relationships. We’ve come so far from our natural instincts and ability to listen to our body and mind that we do not even feel connected to our own selves! Roots of emotional connection is being in touch with our own emotions first and being able to trust those emotions. In absence of that one is bound to feel isolated and lonely.
How can we manage loneliness?
Loneliness is not impossible to beat but there is no one single way to fight loneliness. We may start feeling more at peace with our life and feel less lonely with following pointers :
1. Acknowledgement And Validation
Telling other people we’re lonely can feel daunting, appalling and dissuading, but expressing that feeling can be the beginning of releasing it. Feeling lonely doesn’t mean we’re a loser or weak, it just means we’re human. Studies suggest that labelling our feelings can reduce the intensity of them. Denying our loneliness only perpetuates it, so we have to be honest, at least with ourselves, about what we are experiencing.
2. Understand Your Loneliness
Recognize that loneliness looks different for people at different times of their lives. It’s important to differentiate between situational loneliness and chronic loneliness. Most people feel lonely from time to time and not always. However, if we’re feeling lonely more frequently than usual, we need to ask few questions. Has something changed in our relationships leading us to feel more disconnected? Have we been nurturing wrong connections? Are we creating ample opportunities for new relations that make us feel connected? Are we intentionally or accidentally isolating ourselves? Questions like these can help us put on the right path to cope situational and chronic loneliness.
3. Take The Time To Slow Down
Its might be time to hit the brakes, if we have been busy frequently and often. When people’s schedules are back-to-back for too long, they start disconnecting from themselves and other people. They get overwhelmed from overworking and start feeling lonely.
4. Reconnect With Self
We can use alone time to reconnect with ourselves. Creative arts have an extraordinary capacity to elevate and transcend our negative emotional experiences through self-expression. It also helps us to connect more deeply and authentically with each other. Paint, meditate, listen to music, knit, dance, yoga…. anything that one like doing to reconnect with SELF; anything to get one’s creative juices flowing. Stroll through nature is meditative. Gardening can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression which can be associated with loneliness.
5. Move Your Body
It’s not so much about exercise as it is about getting in touch with our sensory system, which can encourage a state of connection and flow. The idea is to engage body and mind together out of the loneliness. Walking barefoot on sand or grass, dancing, yoga — can help us pay attention to the sensations in our body.
6. Perform Anonymous Acts Of Kindness
Doing something nice for other people can help us feel better. It may also help us feel more connected to the community. There are many things we can do to perform acts of kindness e.g. fundraising, spending time with underprivileged, teaching them to learn some skills. Community organizations, religious and social groups provide wonderful ways to connect with others. The key is to focus on others rather than us.
7. Digital Detox
Is the rise of social media driving loneliness and depression? Are we using it to make meaningful connections, spending too much time on it? Are we withdrawing ourselves from others in unhelpful ways? Re-evaluation of the influence social media has on our life is necessary. We often take resort in social media when we feel dissatisfied with our face-to-face relationships which only exacerbates the problem. If social media is disconnecting us, it might be time for a temporary digital detox. It is very essential to fuel our motivation and find our balance.
8. Seek Professional Help
Sometimes we need professional help to escape the dark thoughts keeping us in isolation. It can help us make more meaningful connections with people and we may discover strategies for coping with loneliness in a healthy way. Professional help also helps if we’ve been dealing with loneliness in an unhealthy way. Substance abuse or engaging in other unhealthy behaviors can increase our loneliness in the long-term.
- Pandemic Impact
We may be experiencing loneliness more frequently now due to increased remote working and decreased face-to-face time. Reduction in frequency of social contact has led to lack of solidarity, affection and connectedness. People have experienced bereavement, loss of belonging & lack of well-being which added on to the feeling of lonliness.
Struggle can be occasional bout of loneliness or a chronic sense of isolation, bottom-line is we are not alone in this battle. The most destructive impact of long-term loneliness is that it distorts our cognition. It makes us believe that if we are lonely, we deserve to be lonely and we will never find contentment and love in our relations. Such thoughts guide our actions in ways that end up feeling more lonely than ever.
Often people isolate themselves when they need some time to cope with the change in lives. Sometimes being lonely can be beneficial, it gives us time to know and love ourselves. It provides time to reflect better thoughts and boost our state of mind and mental peace so that we could achieve what we desire. Loneliness is the hardest walk, and only we can make ourselves stronger and make our life better by handling it differently.
“A season of loneliness and isolation is
when the caterpillar gets its wings.
Remember that next time you feel alone.”– Mandy Hale