There are times in our lives when we all feel lonely. Sometimes, our loss is profound: the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, starting over in a new environment. Other times, we may simply feel “out of step” with the way everyone else appears to be behaving, or feeling, or with life milestones that others may be accomplishing but which we haven’t quite gotten to yet. Whatever the reason, though, know that loneliness (on occasion) is normal. As humans, we naturally crave togetherness and meaningful relationships. Loneliness may come and go – and come again during different periods of transition in our lives. While long lasting, persistent feelings of loneliness are not healthy, steps can be taken to alleviate this perception of alienation.
Here are 14 steps you can take on the path to reengaging with the world, the significant people in your life, and most importantly - yourself!
1. Recognize, acknowledge, and embrace your emotions/feelings of loneliness. When you are feeling lonely, the number one thing you need to do is to recognize your loneliness. Call it out. Give it a name. By naming what you are feeling, it becomes less frightening. It also becomes less powerful. When you know what you are dealing with, you will also know how to conquer it. But embrace it? Yes. Honor the feelings that you are having and accept them. Feeling lonely is a human experience; it is something everyone will encounter at some point in life. You, too, will not go an entire lifetime without feeling lonely at some point. So, embrace this feeling and understand that this is not a life sentence.
2. Focus on what you have – not what you have lost or what you think is missing. Stop for a moment. Pause and breathe through this step along with me. Most likely, the first thing that is going to come into your mind is emptiness, that place where you think something should be, but isn’t. That’s okay. I get that. Now allow that to pass, and let’s think instead of all the truly wonderful things that you DO have. There are so many tiny, simple things that we all take for granted every single day. Do you have clean water? That's a reason for gratitude! Approximately 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Beyond such minutiae, though, are the big things that we all have. Add them up. I bet you have many more than you initially thought.
3. Treat yourself to something special. Do you have a passion for painting? An inkling for ice cream? A desire to dance or sing? Then, by all means, treat yourself to something that makes you feel special, that makes you feel alive, that brings out the passion that is unique to you. Sign up through the local library for the watercolor classes you always wanted to try; head down to the local ice cream parlor and order a banana split; or crank up the radio and cut the rug right in your own living room.
4. Find a greater purpose beyond yourself. Now that you have treated yourself (see tip number 3), it is time to look outward beyond your own wants and feelings. How to do this? Volunteering is a great place to start. There are opportunities all around you, and in every community. Look to your local pet shelter, senior citizen home, or school for ideas.
5. Reach out, get out, speak out. No one is an island. The more you seclude yourself or the more you avoid people, the lonelier you will feel. If you are physically able, make it a point to leave your house on a regular basis. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store or walking the mall can connect you with other people. Once you are out, smile, make small talk, and give compliments as appropriate. Make it your goal to say, “Hello,” to at least three people. Not only will you begin to feel better, just imagine the joy you can bring to another person! If you are homebound, then use your phone or computer to reach out. The point is, don’t wait for others to come to you. Make it your job to make an effort!
6. Be true to YOU – don’t try to be anyone else. We all do it: we log onto Facebook, or Twitter, or we see the neighbors pull into the drive with a new car. We compare ourselves and value our self-worth based upon a perception of what others are accomplishing or feeling. You may see that your cousin went on a trip to an exotic locale, and all you see are happy, smiling people. Well, of course you do! No one ever posts the pictures of the kids having a meltdown in the airport, or the afternoon they were stuck inside the hotel room watching TV because the weather turned sour. People like to present their best selves – not necessarily their true selves. You are unique, with a unique and valuable story. Don’t judge it against anyone else’s.
7. Work to strengthen relationships. Relationships take time, encouragement, and investment. Relationships are not built overnight; nor are they maintained through inattention. When was the last time you heard from a special person? Do you miss them? Get in touch with them, let them know you are thinking of them. More than likely, that person you are thinking of is missing you, too! You wouldn’t work two days out of five and expect to be successful in your job. The same is true of people. You get out what you put in.
8. Do not keep toxic relationships in your life. There are times, unfortunately, when tip number 7 is no longer viable. You must recognize the people and habits that are not healthy to your personal identity, your mental health, or sometimes even your physical being. There cannot be any place for such people in your life. This toxicity will not only impact your self-worth, but it also negatively affects your ability to go out and meet new people who will lift you up with their encouragement, empowering you to be your best self.
9. Give hugs – to close friends or even to pets. It has been shown that newborns who are not cuddled and held can develop a syndrome called Failure to Thrive. Touch is extremely beneficial in making us feel connected, helping to release pain (both physical and emotional), and alleviating loneliness. Did you know that even petting an animal has many of these same health benefits?
10. Laugh! Watch a funny movie, television show, YouTube or Vimeo video. A good belly laugh releases feel good chemicals, and can even increase immunity and your body’s ability to fight infections. Hormones known as endorphins can generate an overall feeling of well-being.
11. Get out – exercise. I bet you have heard this one over and over. There’s a good reason for that! Time and again, exercise has been shown to be great for your body – and for your mind, too! Not only will exercise make you feel better in the moment, it is also shown to improve your ability to age healthfully. And we’re not talking running marathons, but rather, easy walking, or a bike ride after dinner. If you are new to exercising, start slowly with five minutes at a time. Try to work up to 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Even if you need to break it up into two fifteen-minute walks, you will reap the benefits. Take in your surroundings, fill your lungs with fresh air, listen for birdsong.
12. Let go of past hurts that might be holding you back or fear that is preventing you from forming new relationships. Remember, being human means that just like loneliness, we will be hurt – and also that we will hurt others. Forgiveness is critical to healing, and to moving forward. These things lead to growth and the development of empathy, an emotion that will also assist you in times of loneliness.
13. Re-engage with your faith. What are your core beliefs? What lead you to believe these things? If you are unsure, take this time to reexamine what you believe and why. In addition, proactively seeking out a place of worship that is in tune with your inner self can be immensely rewarding. Quite often, not only are regular worship times and services offered, but also a whole host of activities that will help you to reengage with your faith – and with other people. The more you get out, the less lonely you will feel.
14. Connect with your past. Where you come from, the life experiences that you have had, the people who have shaped you all have made you who you are today. At times it can be fun, and at times it can be cathartic, to revisit these memories. Sharing your story with others helps you to encourage people, and it can help you to frame it so that you are able to understand the events of your life – both the good and the bad. It is actually quite easy to write your story. Many online tools exist for this very purpose.
Hopefully, these tips will encourage you and remind you that no matter how you feel in the moment, you are not alone. Please feel free to reach out to us here at LifeBio, and leave your comments below.
Bethany Zellner is a staff writer and the Project Coordinator for LifeBio. Prior to joining the LifeBio Team, Bethany’s experience has included working as a Territory Supervisor and Trainer for Hallmark Mass Service Operations, and Project Manager for the Ohio Physical Therapy Association. She attended Miami University, where she earned degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing