Have you found yourself reacting in a big way to situations that normally would not hit you the way they have been? Have you felt more fear of the unknown and of rejection in relationships than you usually do? These could all be side effects of loneliness.
Dr. Marisa Franco, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist and friendship expert shares in an interview, “A state of loneliness actually alters how we perceive the world. As a result, it can be harder to push yourself out of feeling lonely. We perceive threats and slights where they may not be,” Franco explains. “And we perceive that we’re more likely to be rejected than we are.”
According to Dr. Stephanie Cacippo, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, who specializes in the study of loneliness and social cognition, “it’s the discrepancy between what you have and what you want from your relationships.” This is a tricky part of loneliness. We want to connect and be seen but because we are feeling the effects, consciously or unconsciously, we are looking at the world through a bit of a foggy lens. We can almost get a little stuck in a cycle if we are not conscious of what we are experiencing.
If you find that you’re more critical or negative than usual, and you can’t pinpoint why, Franco says this might be a sign that you’re at the very beginning stages of loneliness.
It’s a Lonely Time for the World
The American Psychological Association ( APA) did a meta- analysis of twenty clinical trials that were created with the intention to address and combat loneliness. The researchers discovered that the most impactful interventions were the ones that addressed false perceptions and negative thoughts. Christopher Masi, MD from the University of Chicago stated that this intervention worked best because “it empowered patients to recognize and deal with their negative thoughts about self-worth and how others perceive them.”
Because we are in a time when, for many, there are a lot less distractions, we are kind of forced to come face to face with some parts of ourselves, maybe even some shadows if you will, that we have been able to bury and/or ignore because there were so many other things to focus on. Because loneliness has a side effect of skewing how we are viewing the world around us, it’s a really, really great time to befriend ourselves (I am not just talking about our shiny parts that we whip out as our A-game performance at social gatherings). I am talking about pouring a cup of tea (maybe a hint of whiskey if that feels good too), and being kind to ourselves right here and right now as we navigate being a human during a very isolated and lonely time in history.
“Feeling lonely isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Cacioppo notes. It’s a reminder that something’s off about your social environment and that you need to prioritize your happiness.” There is no one size fits all ‘fix’ for loneliness and different things bring more connectedness to some than others. Whether you are in the throes of loneliness or you feel it coming on, here are a few things you can do to move through it in love for yourself rather than from it.
Loving Ways of Dealing with Loneliness
1. Admit + accept
It’s okay to admit and accept the feeling of loneliness, as well as all the other not-so-fun-to-feel emotions that are arising in you during this time. Once we accept our feelings, we gain autonomy over them. Acceptance places the power back in our hands because we are making the conscious choice to be with it rather than run away- i.e numbing out, losing yourself in Netflix, eating comfort food.
I usually need time before I can get to this point of admittance and acceptance, and that’s okay. Sometimes I need to get lost in a show or a book, or eat a comforting meal. I am growing this muscle of acceptance but now when I am numbing out, I am aware of it more quickly than before. And the more I am present of myself, without judgement, the easier it gets to sit with the discomfort. No one enjoys feeling lonely or admitting it to themselves, especially if you’re an optimist like myself. But like anything, we can’t truly move through something until we face it.
2. Don’t recluse
Sometimes we want to run and hide when we aren’t feeling 100%. Maybe we even feel shame for our loneliness and the ways it can paralyze us. As much as it may feel intuitive to recluse, find at least one person who can see you and care for you in all of your forms. Whether this is a best friend, a family member, a colleague, or outside support like a therapist or coach.
Colbertson Kreger, an LPC Candidate at Northwestern beautifully shares, “Taking the step toward an authentic experience with others, and most importantly, yourself, is to take a step into the unknown. We have performed since our birth, and now is a time to learn who we really are. Your uniqueness may be overshadowed by anxiety and internal critique, but that shadow can only be cast if you stand behind your angst instead of finally taking that fabled step toward the light of self-authenticity.”
3. Find a form of movement that feels really good to you
Moving the energy through our bodies is really helpful for our outlook, energy, and overall wellbeing. This does not mean running ten miles, unless that’s your thing. This can be random dance breaks in your day, a yoga class, kickboxing, a walk, or heading to the gym for your favorite spin class. Pick something that actually feels good and something you can look forward to.
4. Create a routine
As a person who craves freedom, schedules can sometimes seem daunting. However, Stephanie Cacioppo, PhD,shares, “[creating a routine] will instill you with a sense of control… once you’ve come up with a schedule, stick to it as much as you can. It’ll be tough sometimes, but as long as you take it one day at a time, the structured routine will feel more and more natural,” she adds.
This can mean scheduling things that actually feel fun to you. You get to connect to your agency and make time for writing that book or song, breaking out the water colors, or getting on that bike that has been in your garage for a year. For example, a friend of mine had been wanting to learn tarot, and now she’s really honed her craft and started doing it for others. It has brought her a great deal of joy in difficult times.
5. Let go of anything that does not bring you inspiration, an orgasm, or an income
This is a cheeky way of saying “let go of things and people in your life that are not adding to it.” This creates space and capacity to make room for stronger and more inspiring connections and relationships. You deserve to have people in your life who you do not have to water yourself down for, and to be seen and loved for who you are. Relationships take work and they are not always inspiring, but we know when a relationship is adding to our lives more than it is taking from us.
The truth is, when we take an honest inventory of what activities and people are filling our days, we will find out rather quickly the kind of energy people and activities are adding, not adding, or taking away.
I was walking with a friend and she was in turmoil about quitting a book club that she was at one point excited to be a part of. The book club had dwindled and the more she talked about it, the more she tensed up. It seemed to be taking from her life rather than adding to it. So what was once a source of inspiration and connection no longer added to her life. She decided to let it go and was relieved. Now she has space to welcome something that will bring her inspiration and create space for more connection.
6. Find things to look forward to while enjoying your own company
Dr. Marisa Franco shares, “When we feel like we’re in control of our alone time, or using it productively, we can access solitude instead of loneliness,” Franco explains. “So seeing your time alone as an opportunity to make art, or music, or repairs around the house, or to learn something new—all those things can make alone time enjoyable rather than distressing.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am so bogged down that I find it hard to enjoy my own company. But when I’m alone and allow myself to feel my feelings rather than avoid them, I am met with more peace and creativity. This is why I made this the last step. If you are having a hard time switching from loneliness to solitude in your alone time, which I definitely have found difficult at times, it may be time to sit with some hard feelings. These feelings may be trying to tell you that they need to be tended to. Remember, you deserve to enjoy your own company.
In all that you do or don’t do on this list, know that you are not alone and that a huge percentage of the population is feeling this exact same loneliness. It just manifests in all of us in different ways. Don’t let their Instagram feeds fool you. We are all in this together and this is a time to be gentle and kind and really lean into self-compassion.
Take it slow, lean in, do activities that make you feel like yourself, and reach out to your support system who loves you.