"The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon peculiar to myself and to a few solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence."
From time to time we all feel lonely. Loneliness can creep up when you least expect it and it's not always when you're physically alone. You can be in a room full of people and feel alone. Likewise, you can be by yourself and feel less alone than you ever have. Some people, I believe, are more prone to loneliness. As much as I like spending time alone, I hate to be lonely. For the most part I'm not, but every once and awhile loneliness sneaks up on me and there I am -- perhaps alone in my apartment, perhaps surrounded by others -- feeling isolated and, well, alone. The other day I came across an article on Psychology Today titled "Easing Your Way Out of Loneliness, by Dr. John T. Cacioppo. In the article, four steps were provided for how you can deal with loneliness and I found these steps really helpful so I thought I'd share them with you. I'm going to be paraphrasing what's in the arti cle and the article is taking these tips from Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection so keep that in mind when you're reading these insights. Also keep in mind that loneliness can happen to anyone, at any time, for any reason. You might be the most un-lonely person in the world right now, but keep these tips in mind because you never know when you might need them.
How To E.A.S.E. Out of Loneliness
E is for Extend Yourself. One of the first things you should do (and the last thing I ever want to do) when you're feeling lonely is extend yourself by interacting with others in social environments. I recommend, as does the article, that you start out small and try to find ideas of interacting socially that will almost guarantee that you have a positive experience. One suggestion in the article is charitable outreach and I think this is a great idea. Last year, a year that I was feeling particularly down, I began volunteering and now it's one of the most fulfilling things I do. Sure, it's a lot of work, but it really feels good to know that, even in a small way, I'm helping other people. Another suggestion (not mentioned in the article) is spending some time with family and close friends. Think about the people you have had the most fun with in the past. Think about people who encourage and uplift you. When you're feeling lonely, seek them out. Call them up. Send them an email. Even a simple phone call can be a really positive experience if you're feeling alone.
A is for Action Plan. Often when we're trying to fill a void of loneliness we open ourselves up to new experiences. This is great -- except when we over do it. It's important to have a plan of action. Just because you're feeling lonely doesn't mean you have to accept every single offer that comes along. You don't have to join a million different groups or agree to assist friends with a thousand different projects. Pick something that's meaningful to you and focus on that. Choose people who really make your world a more positive place and spend time with them. According to the article, one of the best ways to overcome loneliness is to have "an openness to engagement combined with realistic expectations, accurate perception of social cues...and realism about the type and number of commitments to take on." This is a great point. Be realistic. It might seem like you have tons of free time on your hands, but you won't be any less lonely if you have a million tasks to get done.
S is for Selection. When choosing new activities and/or companions, we need to be selective. When you're feeling lonely, it might seem like a good idea to spend time with anyone who's willing, but that's not the best plan of attack. A better idea is to devote your time and energy to those who are willing to put in as much to the relationship that you are. As mentioned in the article, it's important to have balanced relationships, to have relationships of quality not quantity. When you're lonely you might be willing to let just about anyone into your personal space, but take a step back and consider the following: "Is this person a good influence on my life? Will this person put in as much to the relationship as I will? Will this relationship be mutual?" Loneliness is not an excuse to befriend everyone and jump into new relationships at the first sign of interest. Take your time making good, honest choices. No matter how lonely you are, you have a right to be choosy when it comes to who you allow into your life.
E is for Expect the Best. This is the hardest one for me to deal with because it is as if this advice is directed right at me. I was just telling my therapist last week that I make decisions not to attend certain events because I know what they're going to be like and I know I won't have a good time. Yes, I'm sure this is the case in some situations, but in the ones I was referencing this was not necessarily the case. In fact, I'd probably had a bad time in the past because I'd been anticipating having a bad time. When you go into a situation with a closed mind, you limit yourself from having a good time. When I've been lonely or grumpy and I don't want to do something, I usually end up having a bad time. But, I'll be honest, I bet this is mostly due to my attitude. If I went into a social situation saying, "This is going to be fun!" I bet I would have a lot better time than if I went in saying, "Oh, man, this is gonna suck." Expecting the best in new situations and with new people can only help you to spread your wings a bit more, have new encounters, and (hopefully!) conquer your loneliness.
If you're not feeling lonely right now, loneliness probably isn't at the forefront of your mind. However, at some point you'll probably feel lonely. No matter how many people you have in your life or how many activities take up your time, loneliness (at least, a small dose of it) is something almost everyone must face. Next time you're feeling alone, try using this E.A.S.E. method and see if it doesn't help you out of your woe-is-me slump. Being lonely doesn't have to be a permanent state. Just give these tips a try and you'll be feeling less alone in no time!
What actions do you like to take to combat loneliness?
How do you help those who are feeling lonely?