Dealing with lonliness

This will  most likely apply to people more now than ever (COVID-19) but it is also to remember that people will be going through this before and after the lockdowns, which is why it is so important to discuss the effects and how to help cope with the feeling of being lonely.

During this odd time, I am sure there may be many of you out there – or know someone who are on their own during this self-isolation. Or you may even be in a house full of other people but you still feel lonely, like there is no one around and no one to talk to, as you sink into a state of sadness or anxiety that you fear you will never get over? Does such a feeling overwhelm you at times? If you've had such feelings, you are far from alone.

Let’s look at some ways you can cope with feelings of loneliness:
1. Relate loneliness to your values of connection
It may sound undoing, but I want you to ask yourself, “What is loneliness good for?” I would say to try, and view loneliness reminds us of the value (we may take for granted) of connection, intimacy, or simply sharing experiences with others. A good example is what is happening right now of not being allowed to go outdoors when we want and can only be out for a certain amount of time and not allowed to see family and friends. Loneliness may also remind you of the fact that you value connecting with other people, and that this value is an important part of being human. Hopefully we are also realising the sheer beauty of social media and how it really can be used for the good as oppose to the negative it has been receiving. Don’t give up on connection when you are feeling lonely, it is literally at your fingertips. 
2. Have a plan,
The first part of developing a plan is to identify your “trouble times” for loneliness. It might be evenings, weekends, or holidays. Have a plan set for these certain times. On weekends you might make plans with friends or family; you might go to museums, guided walk or even just for a coffee. I like thinking of turning yourself into a tourist for a day or a night, which is why I like to go out and explore somewhere new when I have some time off and get out of my ‘bubble’. Remember it is also perfectly fine to do these things on your own, but also reach out to someone who you may not have heard from, a quick phone call or FaceTime for a catch up. What's your plan?
3. You don’t need someone else to do something rewarding.
So often people will say, “I have no one to do things with." The matter of the fact is you don’t need someone else to go to for a walk, work out, or take up a new hobby. I made this discovery when I moved to Australia on my own (bit of a drastic example) but I came back a completely different person and before I left would have NEVER thought of going somewhere on my own. 
Others may say, “I feel self-conscious doing these things by myself." Try to identify what those self-conscious thoughts are — they may be things like, “People will see me alone and think that I am pathetic or feel sorry for me." But how do you know what others really think? And even if they did think that, why should we care? They are most likely wandering what to order, or thinking about work. I want you to try to change your outlook and thoughts of going ‘solo’ in public and not to see the situation as a negative and worrying about others. But to see yourself doing things alone as being independent, feeling empowered, and free.
In fact, doing something by yourself can be a good way to meet new people. Imagine that you are at the gym or at a shop, and you start talking to someone next to you about a book or product. Even if you simply ask to borrow something or ask their opinion on something, take small steps in becoming more independent. Empower yourself by getting out and realizing that you don’t need someone else to do things with. You have yourself.
4. Identify your loneliness thoughts.
If this applies to you, I would like you to write down some of the thoughts that you have when you are lonely. These might include thoughts like those above, or the following:
1. I will always be alone.
2. If I am alone, I will only feel lonely and unhappy.
3. No one will want to be with me or be-friend me, because I am alone.
4. I can’t stand feeling lonely.
If you have these or other negative thoughts, then you are like millions of other people out there (who may not show obvious signs) who feel stopped in their tracks by loneliness. But give some of these rational and helpful responses as oppose to seeing the negative:
1. You are only alone for these moments (minutes, hours, even day), and you will be interacting with other people soon — at work, waiting in line, talking to a friend, or participating in an activity. You are not on a deserted island with no access to communication.
2. Just because you are alone doesn’t mean that you have to feel sad and lonely. You can look at it as an opportunity to do some things that you like. You might enjoy having the peace to read or listen to something you like, listen to your own music choice, cook your favourite food or try a new recipe, watch your favourite movie.
3. The idea that no one would want to be your friend because you are alone makes no sense: Everyone is alone at some time. Being alone is a situation — and situations change. You need to make that change in opening up to people, even making a conversation at a coffee shop asking how the waitress’ day has been – easy opener.
4. It may be true that you don’t like being alone, but it’s the way you relate to it that matters. If you relate to loneliness with protest, anger, desperation, or defeat, then it will be more stressful. It might be more helpful to relate to it with the idea that feeling lonely or being alone comes and goes and that it is something we all cope with. Accepting what is might be better than blowing something out of proportion that we all go through.
5. Direct compassion and tenderness toward yourself.
Rather than thinking that you need to rely on others for love, acceptance, and compassion, you might direct these thoughts and feelings toward yourself – this is a great example of self-love. This can include acts of kindness towards yourself such as making yourself a healthful treat or buying yourself a simple gift; directing loving thoughts toward yourself by giving yourself support (e.g. saying you are okay or your doing so well today, look at you!) for being who you are and by being your own best friend. Taking care of yourself and soothing yourself is a great remedy for loneliness.
6. Build a community of connections.
We all need some connection with other people, or even animals. So many people — friends, family, clients, have told me how much love and connect with their pets. So consider going to your local animal shelter or hospital / elderly care home and offer to volunteer. As mentioned previously we have the amazing tool that is social media, so try use that to make plans to see people or even join groups and discuss opinions and views. Or join organizations where people share your interests — political, cultural or social.
Being alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely. And feeling lonely doesn’t mean that you have to feel that way indefinitely. All emotions pass, depending on what you're thinking and what you're doing. It’s up to you.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE - Choose a time and a place to go somewhere new on your own. Take baby steps and you will soon see how empowering and independent you feel, take baby steps.  Make that call to a loved one or friend it will make the world of difference to you and to them, let them know you are thinking of them.

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