A client once described loneliness to me as being like a caged bird that lies buried in a grave of dreams.
My own personal experience of loneliness can best be described by the time I first came to the UK in 1986, searching for work.
I found myself in a tiny single bedsit in Cricklewood, London, where many young Irish people would go. I never thought it possible to feel the kind of loneliness that makes the heart physically ache.
The feeling of loneliness can be all-consuming and can turn you into your own worst enemy, especially when you are alone with your thoughts. Every feeling becomes amplified, you become more and more introspective resulting in an emotional rollercoaster that keeps replaying the same loud song of aching Loneliness.
My research and many surveys show that when loneliness becomes chronic it can have a serious impact on both physical health and mental well-being.
There is no doubt loneliness is becoming more and more of a mental health concern even amongst young people.
Many experts and I believe the potential negative health effects of loneliness are comparable to the effects of health issues like obesity and smoking.
The pain caused by loneliness is real, but happily, it is an emotion that one can learn to overcome.
For those who are lonely or may know someone that might be lonely remember the most basic yet powerful way to connect with other people is to listen.
The most important gift we have and can give someone is our time and attention. However, so many of us, when lonely, become very self-absorbed and self-obsessed. We feed off our own problems and preoccupations making it most challenging to connect with others. This creates a vicious cycle of introspection which then feeds into the feelings of loneliness and so the cycle goes on.
So, I have nine tips that I believe can help in dealing with feelings of loneliness.
1. Share the feeling.
Telling other people, you are lonely may feel intimidating or scary but expressing those feelings can be the beginning of releasing them. Sometimes we create our own heartache by not sharing with others how we feel.
2. Evaluate your Behaviours and Habits.
You may have cultivated habits that are contributing to your loneliness.
- Do you tend to draw inward in times of stress instead of moving outward?
- Do you go home immediately after work or school and shut other people out?
- Do you try new things, or do you clamour to avoid them?
Finding the courage to put yourself forward is one of the simplest but best ways to combat loneliness.
3. Reconnect with self-love and appreciation.
Focusing on what you are grateful for rather than what you do not have shifts the negative thinking. Practising gratitude may feel strange but it allows you to appreciate the small things in life. It is perfectly okay to enjoy your own company at times and be that friend to yourself.
Simply getting out of the house and doing something selfless is one of the best ways to battle feelings of isolation. The key is to switch the focus onto other people rather than just yourself. This will help you connect with others and your community.
5. Walk with Nature.
Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”.
So, embrace the world around you. There is much evidence that nature has an uplifting effect on the spirit; that walking in green spaces is incredibly good for your mental health.
Remember you did not just come into this world. You came from it; we are part of it, connected. You are not a stranger here, so do not be a stranger.
6. Adopt a pet.
If you are feeling a hole in your social life, why not fill it with a playful force. Our furry friends can always offer unconditional love and companionship, day, and night. They also encourage those much-needed walks in nature.
7. Check your social media usage.
One of my major concerns is social media. While the jury is still out on whether the rise of social media is driving loneliness and depression, it does not hurt to re-evaluate the influence it has on your life.
If Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook are swallowing you up or dragging down, it might be time for a temporary screen detox.
8. Re-evaluate that nightcap.
Avoid using alcohol to manage your feelings this can exacerbate the condition. Having a drink is a lovely social activity but not a great companion.
9. Work with a mental health professional.
It is important to differentiate between situational loneliness and chronic loneliness. Sometimes we need professional help to escape the dark thoughts keeping us in isolation. Although no single action will immediately and permanently cure feelings of loneliness you can develop habits and practices that offer a healthier understanding of yourself.
Loneliness does not have to be a curse. You are not defined by what you feel. We sometimes think we want to disappear when what we really need is to be found. Remember strength does not come from what you can do, but rather from overcoming things you thought you could not do. Become your best friend and you will never be alone. I guarantee you will be a person people will want to be friends with.
I can take you to success. I coach ordinary people every day to do extra-ordinary things. I coach extra-ordinary people to do extra-ordinary things. The difference is those who have a dream, and are prepared to follow said dream, are extraordinary, and just need a structure and support system to kick off that journey, which will finish with them sliding in fast sideways to the grave, totally worn out from the relentless living of their dreams, screaming out loudly “Wow holy sh*t, what a ride!”
If that is you – start today! If you are looking for coaching on change for yourself or your organisation, or would like more information on the work we do on Personal, Professional, or Organisational Change, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
About Dr Maurice Duffy
Irish. Author, Professor, Coach and Business strategist. The person Australian Captain Steve Smith credited with helping him back from his cricket ban. Coach to two Ashes wins. Coach to CEOs, Politicians and some of the best know international sports starts including Olympians. BBC ‘Thought for the Week’. Coached business leaders and organizations in 80 countries. Works with charities to do with Mental Health. Lives in North East England with his wife and 11-year-old son.