Loneliness is one of the most uncomfortable feelings anyone can have.
I remember one of the first times I experienced loneliness. I was 26-years old and had just moved to a new city for graduate school. It was the first time I lived on my own.
It was Spring Break, and while most students take the opportunity to go on vacation or spend their time with friends and family, because I was new to the school and city, I had no one to spend time with and nowhere to go . So, I just sat in my bedroom all alone. (insert sappy violin sound here….)
After a few minutes, I had this strange sensation overtake my body. I tried to figure out what it was that I was feeling. After a few moments of introspection, I realized that for the first time in my life I felt lonely. It was by far one of the most uncomfortable emotions I have experienced.
Loneliness can be biologically toxic
Research into the feeling of loneliness has uncovered that aspects of the emotion can be biologically toxic. It can wear down on your immune system and even contribute to an early death.
Dr. John Cacioppo and his colleauges looked at data from 2,100 adults aged 50 and older. They found that those who had feelings of loneliness were more at-risk for an early death.
These findings inspired Cacioppo to write a book called, “Loneliness: Human nature and the need for social connection“
Strategies for beating loneliness
Although loneliness is a feeling we all experience at some time in our lives, there are a few things we can do to change it. Here are a few strategies that can help in conquering loneliness.
- Be a familiar face. Remember the TV show “Cheers”? There’s a line in the opening song that says, “You wanna go where everybody knows your name…” Well, if your routine is to frequent a familiar place (e.g., the local coffee shop, library, fitness centre, bar or lounge), over time you are more likely to develop friendships at those places. Getting out of your house and going to a familiar place actually increases your chances of developing friendships and overcome loneliness.
- Open up to people. I know it can be tough to share some of your personal information, even to a good friend. But the truth is that when you start opening up to someone, you actually strengthen the relationship. This is especially true for men. Research shows that this is especially true for men.
- Separate the feeling from the thought. Remind yourself that most of your emotions are a product of your thoughts. So, if you want to change the way you feel (such as lonely), you need to work on changing the way you think. For example, when you start to feel lonely, rather than saying, “I’m so lonely. No one is here to spend time with me,” challenge the thought and say, “I might feel lonely right now, but this is just one emotion. There are other emotions that I feel more regularly.”
- Use social media, with caution. Research has shown that people who use Facebook can feel both connected and isolated (Dr. K. Sheldon, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011). This research suggests that social media (like Facebook) can help those who are already socially connected to feel even more connected, but it can make people who are already isolated feel a little more isolated. The key is to use social media to help connect with people you already know. But, don’t rely solely on social media to build and sustain your friendships.
- Don’t force it. Whether you have 2 very close friends or 20 loose acquaintances, what matters is that you feel comfortable with the level of connectedness you have with those people. Some people believe that having a lot of friends can be stressful because they now have more responsibilities in trying to sustain those relationships. If you are looking to build more friendships, be patient. Take the time to get to know people and allow yourself to enjoy the process of relationship building. What matters is that you feel a part of something greater than yourself.
As I mentioned earlier, what matters is how you feel about the level of friendships and connectedness you have in your life in order to overcome loneliness. All you need is to feel some sort of connection with people in order to help you overcome feelings of loneliness. That can happen with 2 friends or 20 friends.
Hope this information helps with your own psychological health and growth.
Thanks to Anne Taylor from the American Psychological Association’s Monitor for the inspiration to write this article. You can read her entire article here.