Over the past couple years most of us have struggled with loneliness. Right now, we are heading into the holiday season which often brings reminders of how alone we feel. If this holiday season also has other aspects of it like the first year without a loved one, then the feelings of being invisible, disconnected or lost could be higher than normal. How do we break away from this and find connection?
To really understand your own loneliness, it might be helpful to understand that we need three types of relationships to feel connected. According to the research by Dr. Vivek Murthy these three are:
Intimate/emotional. The need to have a close partner or confidant to share your private ideas or feelings with.
Relational/social. The need for quality friendships and support. Lastly, collective is the need for a network or group that shares your purpose.
Collective. The need for a network or group that shares your purpose.
This is why we could have a great spouse that fits the intimate/emotional need, but we continue to feel lonely because we don’t have someone just to hang out with. Or we might have a great community around us, but we do not feel that we have anyone to really confide in. We require a mixture of these types of relationship to feel connected.
The key to being able to have all three of these types of relationships is we have to be able to connect with ourselves. As one person stated it, “I was with people I loved but not people I was allowed to be myself with and I felt deep loneliness”. There can be a great pull of trying to be someone else to fit in. When we are lonely, we desire relationship so much that we will do a lot of destructive things to have it. Trying to be someone else so someone will love us is draining. When we understand our own worth, we act the same regardless of the situations we are in. This brings the ability to be centered and have peace in our chaotic world. Which changes how we approach others because instead of trying to get something from them including validation, we are willing to listen and accept.
Along with the focus of our own healing where we are not seeking validation from others but instead are able to believe in ourselves there are some practical ways to connect to others.
Have Meaningful Discussions. Make your conversations matter, whether you are speaking with your kids in the car to school, or grabbing coffee with a colleague, or at lunch with a friend. Choose to initiate and keep a discussion going, even if you have to search around for topics or you don’t always agree. Everyone loves to talk about themselves or get praise and encouragement, so that could be your icebreaker. Take the time to listen to people’s stories. Everyone has a unique story and something to share—something you can learn from. Be sure not to just hear but try to listen to people without judgement.
Volunteer. Serving others is a wonderful way to become part of a meaningful community, improving both your mental and physical health—studies show how helping others can increase your own chance of healing. Join a local church, or non-profit organization and see what you can do to help.
Switch off Your Phone. The average person spends up to eight hours a day using technology. Some of the worst effects of electronic devices seem to be mitigated when devices are used less than two hours a day. Find ways to limit your use of technology throughout the day and increase your face-to-face interaction with your loved ones. Maybe put your phone aside when you are eating. Or leave it at home when you go for a walk.
Get Out the House. Think about what you could do to get out of the house and foster community. Even if it means just sitting in your front lawn or building a snowman. I know someone who changed from sitting in their backyard to their front and all the sudden neighbors they have lived beside for years are now their friends. Perhaps start a book club, a hiking meet-up or arrange dinner parties and invite someone new each time. Get to know your neighbors and invite them for a walk or for coffee. The possibilities are endless. This may be a little uncomfortable at first but just remember everyone loves to be included, and you never know who may be really struggling with loneliness. The simple act of reaching out may be what helps someone heal.
Be Friendly. When you are in a small space with a stranger, such as an elevator, or in line at the store, smile and say hello instead of looking at the floor or your phone. Think of ways to start a conversation!
Reach Out. When you feel burdened with work, emotionally challenged, or are going through something, try stopping for a moment and help someone else, even if it is just to listen, hug, or encourage them. Send an email or text to someone, telling them you are thinking of them, or invite someone to dinner instead of eating alone. Develop a habit of reaching out to friends, family, and colleagues and see if they need anything, even if you just send them a little word of encouragement now and then. If you are struggling with loneliness, talk to someone. Finding life difficult at times is not something to be ashamed of, while suppressing emotions will only make matters worse. Talk to a friend, a family member, a local psychotherapist. The key to healing is not in pretending you are always okay; rather, healing comes from being proactive in seeking help and helping others.
Let’s all work together to combat loneliness and reach out to someone today.