Loneliness - How To Help Yourself Or Someone Else
Have you ever been lonely in spite of being in a crowd? Or even if you are with your family and friends? Well, me too. And probably more than half of the people around the world do too. In fact, the media termed this issue ‘the loneliness epidemic’.
If you have had such feelings, you are actually far from alone. Loneliness is pretty common, and probably one of the most experienced unpleasant emotions that millions of people find hard to deal with. For some, it may happen for a short time, like a passing emotion. For others, it can be a recurring sense of desperation or sadness that can even lead to hopelessness. But for all of us, it is, as a matter of fact, part of being human.
So, don’t be surprised because, all of us, have experienced at some point, felt alone and experienced the painful, miserable, and scary feeling that sometimes goes along with it. But, being alone doesn't always mean that you have to feel the pain of not being with someone or be miserable.
In this article, we will discuss some of the most effective strategies to cope up with the feelings of loneliness and free yourself up, or help someone you know who is suffering from the condition.
What are the many different causes of loneliness?
Loneliness can be due to many different causes. It can also vary from one person to another. For some, simply moving to a new city can make someone lonely, to others, it can be a loss or separation to something or someone important. The main point is, any unpleasant life event may cause someone to feel lonely. This includes:
- Being diagnosed with a chronic or progressive illness
- Changing jobs
- Experiencing a traumatizing event such as loss of someone
- Feeling isolated from your friends
- Going through an emotional relationship break-up
- Moving to a new country, province, town, or city
- Not being with someone at certain times of the year, during birthdays or around Christmas
- Retiring from your job
- Starting classes at a new university
Some studies also suggest that people who belong to particular groups or those who live under certain circumstances may be more vulnerable to loneliness. For instance, this individual:
- Belongs to a minority group and lives in an area without a similar background
- Caring for a sick family member or friend
- Experiences discrimination and stigma
- Finds it hard to form social relationships or be close with other people
- Is a single parent
- Is a victim of sexual abuse
- Is estranged from family or friends
- Is excluded from any social activities due to financial problems or a shortage of money
- Have experienced physical abuse
- Have mobility problems
- Have no links to biological family
Is loneliness a serious mental health problem?
Being lonely does not mean you automatically have a mental health problem. However, loneliness and mental health are strongly linked. Being lonely can be a symptom of a mental health problem and having a mental health problem can increase the chances of being lonely. How? Loneliness can negatively affect mental health and increase the risk of mental health problems like anxiety, depression, increased stress, low self-esteem, and sleep problems.
What are other symptoms related to loneliness
If you or someone you know is lonely, the following symptoms may also manifest:
- A tendency to feel and get sick frequently
- Body aches and pains
- Compulsive buying
- Decreased energy
- Feelings of anxiousness
- Feelings of hopelessness, self-doubt, or worthlessness
- Feeling foggy
- Inability to focus
- Increased cravings for physical warmth, such as consuming hot drinks, getting warm baths, or wearing cozy clothes and blankets
- Increased desire to watch shows or movies non-stop
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep issues such as inability to fall asleep, stay asleep
- Substance misuse or abuse
How To Help Yourself Or Someone Else
After reviewing the causes and symptoms of loneliness, let us now take a look at some ways you or your love ones can cope with it:
1. Identify what causes loneliness.
Assess what causes you or someone you know to be lonely. If you want, you can also write down some of the thoughts that make you feel lonely. These might include any of the following:
- I will always be alone.
- I will never have someone to understand me.
- Nothing can make me happy.
- I must be a loser, hence I am alone.
- It’s hard to stop feeling lonely.
By writing these, you will be able to explore and express your thoughts and feelings. It may allow you to make sense of yourself and what you feel, as well as the situations, events, and the world that you are experiencing. Think of it like this, writing can be your antidote to loneliness. How? When you write, you become aware of what you think and feel. This self-knowledge, in turn, will provide you with a chance of being self-aware — giving you access to optimism and helping you move past negative emotions.
2. Make a plan
Develop a plan to keep yourself from being lonely. First, you have to identify when you usually feel lonely and what causes this emotion. Then, have a plan to work for these times and causative factors. Let’s say you feel lonely after work and you don’t have someone to talk to at home. Instead of heading straight home, you can ask a coworker to go watch a movie or plan a walk in the park. Decide on something you can do to prevent or avoid being lonely. It doesn't necessarily need to be an activity that can make you laugh like going to a comedy bar. You can make a plan with family and friends to go to museums, have guided walks, or join a group for a particular hobby like knitting or book reading.
3. Take a moment outside and enjoy
Technology can offer you a lot of benefits. You might enjoy watching television series or movies through the use of the internet or have food and groceries delivered to your door but if you spend too much time indoors, it is easier to miss out on a lot of things that can make you really happy. So, if you can, take at least some time to enjoy the outdoors like trying an evening out with your neighbour or friend and or walking to the park. Instead of browsing various social media sites or using mobile phones to communicate, make a goal of talking to friends in person. You can even try to get to know a few new people from your block each time you go out, or greet someone as simple as giving a smile and saying “hello.”
4. Connect with other people.
As humans, we crave the feeling of connectedness. This is natural because we are born to be naturally social creatures and thrive in receiving and giving love. As a matter of fact, social connection is crucial to our overall health and well-being. Research even proves that humans need some sort of connection with other people. It has also been proven that people with social networks are happier and healthier since socializing with others and building relationships can help avoid thinking about negative and lonely thoughts. So, free yourself from living with loneliness. Do not forget to build relationships, deep connections can add meaning in life.
5. Engage in a new hobby.
If you have a lot of free time, consider doing the things that you’ve always wanted to try. Want to learn how to paint? Do it. Wanna dance? Do it. Guitar playing? Learn it. If you do not have an idea of where to start, go to the nearest local library or visit a local community college. They might have programs on learning new hobbies. For instance, there might be Wednesday woodworking or cross-stitch Saturdays. You can also check other community organizations in your area for local events and group activities. Social media pages can also help you find something to do in your community, which will also allow you to meet people in the area who have the same interests.
6. Adopt a pet
Having a pet cat or dog or any living animals to come home to can help you feel happy and increase your feelings of wellbeing in general. Several studies consistently say that pets can have a lot of benefits, including decreasing the risk of loneliness. So consider adopting or getting a cat or a dog.
7. Choose to do several rewarding and fulfilling activities.
Lying down on the bed or lounging on the couch can feel very comforting. Likewise, watching a tv show with humorous content, in particular, may help create a positive impact on mood. But, doing the same thing all over again may become boring at some point. So, if you have a lot of time indoors, make sure to do different activities. Besides relaxing on a sofa, you can also listen to music, read a good book, play the guitar, or have a warm bath. The key is to include a range of activities because varying types of activities could have a positive impact on loneliness.
8. Be comfortable when spending time alone.
There will always be a time when you will be alone. But, it is perfectly normal to have time for yourself. If you do, make sure that you are comfortable and that you feel positive about it even when being alone is not your first choice. Just make sure that you do not stay alone all the time. Make it a point that you have at least some contact and some time to spend with others.
9. Have some time for exercise.
Physical activity not only benefits the body but the mood and affect as well. Research has proven so many times that exercise positively impacts mental health.
While it may not directly relieve loneliness on its own, exercise can increase feelings of wellness and help improve mood by boosting happy hormones, consequently providing some protection against loneliness. Professionals say that continuous exercise and those of moderate-intensity are specifically linked to the release of endorphins, which can result in feelings of satisfaction and euphoria.
10. Eat leafy greens and berries
Consuming berries and leafy greens can help increase hormones that contribute to feelings of well-being. According to a research published in the journal of Pharmacological Research, these hormones, called serotonin, can rise up to twenty percent in three weeks if green leafy vegetables and berries are added in the diet.
Such foods that can boost mood and increase the levels of happy hormones, include:
You can also find a decent amount of mood-boosting effects from:
- Black beans
- Dark chocolate
- Lima beans
These foods will not only help lift your mood, but they can also strengthen your immune system, help you be fit, and remain focused.
11. Give dietary supplements a try
You may have heard someone say that being lonely is “all in the mind” but, it isn’t. Loneliness is more than just a thought, even more than a feeling, or a passing emotion. Researchers who study the human body and brain say that loneliness involves chemical changes in the body. It involves a series of reactions in our brains which cause an effect that is similar to hunger, thirst and pain.
The chemicals involved in all these processes are called hormones and neurotransmitters. When there is an imbalance of these chemicals, a person can be more predisposed to being sad or lonely. For instance, if you lack dopamine or serotonin (both of which are happy hormones), you’ll tend to feel more down and depressed.
Furthermore, these chemicals depend on other nutrients in the body. If you lack certain nutrients, or if some of your body processes go haywire (like fluctuating blood sugar levels or lack of gut digestive juice), the happy hormones can get affected.
To avoid problems with happy hormones secondary to inadequate nutrient intake, you can start taking supplements as appropriate. If you consider doing so, discuss options with your primary health care provider. You might need one or two specific dietary supplements to help you remain healthy and happy.
12. Drink herbal teas
One way to naturally lift up your mood is to consume herbal teas. Besides the fact that the benefits you can get from drinking herbal teas are countless, it is also very helpful in improving emotional and mental health.
By drinking any or a combination of these teas, you help your nerves relax and aid your brain in increasing the levels of happy hormones. Here are some of the most effective herbal teas that can boost your mood:
- Ginger tea
- Green tea
- Yerba mate
Accordingly, these types of herbal teas can help you experience mood improvements, which can further help you avoid the feelings of loneliness and possibly have a longer, and better quality of life.
13. Get a massage
Besides helping you to feel relaxed, getting a massage can help you boost your happy hormones. Research says that massage therapy can trigger not just one, but four happy hormones. To be specific the authors of the research mentioned that massage can increase the release of dopamine, and serotonin and boost endorphins and oxytocin. Plus, if you have certain physical health concerns such as chronic pain, a massage can also help reduce its signs and symptoms.
However, if you are considering a massage treatment, be sure that you are allowed to as there are certain types of massage therapy that may be contraindicated to some medical or surgical conditions. Some of the possible contraindications to massage include epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, edema, bell’s palsy, eczema, hypertension (high blood pressure), nervous or psychotic conditions, heart problems, chest pains, those with pacemakers, certain cardiovascular conditions (thrombosis, phlebitis, hypertension, heart conditions), osteoporosis, trapped or pinched nerves, and psoriasis. If you have any of these conditions, consult your primary care provider first, because you may or may not be allowed to get a massage.
14. Be careful when you compare yourself to others
Comparing ourselves to others—we all do it, even if at times we do not want to. But, it is not always bad as long as it can help you be better by being aware that some things are not what they seem. For instance, you see people posting happy photos on social media, and somehow it makes you feel lonely. But when some people’s social media feeds are turned off, or when they are alone, they might be feeling lonely too. So, don’t feel bad especially after comparing yourself to others. It is important to remind yourself that what you see on the outside might not be the same on the inside.
And, if you do not have the confidence in your life or the situation you are into right now when compared to others, talk to someone. Seek help so you can tell someone, especially a professional counsellor about these feelings that may be contributing to your feelings of loneliness.
15. Remember that you don't need to rush into anything
If loneliness is a battle that you have been fighting for a long time, despite being surrounded by many people, it will be terrifying to talk to someone. Opening up to other people, (even to your friends) may also be challenging. It is actually okay if you need to take time. Do not rush to changing how open you are to other people around you.
To gradually adjust to being open to others, you can try to go out first. Start by staying somewhere like a cafe, attend a sports event or go to the cinema where you can be around people. This step does not require you to talk to people around you yet while you are enjoying the outdoors. But you may find and realize that simply being around other people is good enough to help you cope with feelings of loneliness.
If you are going to a hobby group or neighbourhood gathering, you are not expected to be too friendly if you can’t or do not want to. Instead, you could ask whoever spearheads the group or class if you can participate by just going along and watching at first.
The point is, do not rush yourself into socializing if you need more time. Go somewhere it's not expected that you will interact with others straight away, like a hobby group or class where everyone is focused on the activity.
16. Once you are ready, make new connections
If you are feeling sad and lonely due to a lack of satisfying social connections in your life, you could try to meet new or more, different people. When we say different, we mean it in the sense that it could be a new hobby or class that you could be in. Find a group that might interest you. Visit your community center and find something based on your interests and hobbies.
If you are able to, you can also join clean up drives for the community or volunteer to help for a cause. Volunteering is an effective way of meeting people. Also, helping others can really help one improve mental health and outlook in life.
You can check your local community sites to see useful contacts for groups and organizations that can help you join volunteering opportunities.
Always look after yourself!
Feeling lonely and down can be very stressful not just mentally but physically as well. It can have a significant impact on general wellbeing and health, which might make it even harder to start doing positive steps to feeling better.
It is normal to feel a little low at certain times. However, working to improve the quality of your relationships may help lessen future loneliness and distress while also offering some protection against depression.
No matter what you’re dealing with, you don’t have to handle it alone. Talking to loved ones about how you feel can be a great start.