Loneliness – [How to identify and deal with it]

Solitude is pleasant. Loneliness is not –  Anna Neagle

Loneliness is not just common among humans, but it is also among monkeys, rodents, and fish. Neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who has made a career out of studying loneliness says  – “The absence of social connection triggers the same primal alarm bells as hunger, thirst and physical pain.” Loneliness is when you feel sad or unhappy for a lack of social connection.

Stats show people are becoming more and lonelier. Loneliness can bring you closer to death than your drinking friends, obese friends or people living in air-polluted cities.

Let’s say a mad scientist left you in the middle of the desert just to make you feel more hungry. Your mind will be able to detect bitter tastes better than the sweet ones. In the hunter-gatherer era, when a person is sent out from a group. The brain would go into self-preservation mode for survival. Any human contact with the person makes the brain become suspicious of the other person thinking they may harm them. In survival mode hunger, your mind equates poison to bitterness. The extra bitterness your mind detects in this mode is for your survival safety. Same with loneliness. When it goes into survival mode, your mind keeps checking if the person you are meeting is your friend or foe. It becomes extra conscious and starts picking every small move the other person makes instead of making you go with the flow.

Loneliness can be contiguous. It may not affect you but also will make people around you to feel lonely. And Vice Versa.

Loneliness is so common and we can say, below are the major cause

Environment – When you move to a new city or a new place, you will tend to feel loneliness because everything is pretty new.

Circumstances – If you went through a breakup, someone’s death of a near person or if you are in a relationship where you feel you don’t know the other person. This can lead to loneliness. 

Thoughts and Attitude – This is internal loneliness and how we can think about our life can also lead to loneliness.

Here are a few ways to deal with loneliness:

Challenge your inner critic: 

When you are lonely, your brain tells you that you are not socially good, your word need not be significant in a group or no one cares, etc. It’s your inner critic talking

First, acknowledge that it is your inner critic talking. Once identified you can do something about it. Second, write it down on how you are feeling about it in a third person’s voice(eg: “You feel lonely when you are in a group and you feel worthless”). This will give you a 3rd person perspective. Third, now answer your inner critic. Like “ I feel lonely in a group and feel alienated but that doesn’t make me worthless, I just need to speak up more often or find the right group to feel belonged”. Fourth, don’t act on what your inner critic says. Do what you answered to it.

Question yourself:

Ask yourself, why you are feeling lonely? Is it because you don’t feel relevant to your friends anymore(or vice versa)? Is it because you needed a break from your routine? Is it because you haven’t been meeting your friends, family or close relations for a long time and felt not loved/belonged?.

Once you find your root cause, you can narrow down your solutions to implement. Make a plan for it. For example, if you find your root cause of loneliness is not been socializing with the right people where you feel belonged. Open your phone or WhatsApp contacts, scroll them and check who are those friends, relations or family you want to meet. Now plan for 2-3 meetings weekly, until your loneliness feeling goes away.

Self-compassion:

When your best friend comes to you and shares how he or she is feeling. How would you react? I believe – you will have a listening ear for them, feel their pain, care for them and support them.

Do the same thing for yourself. Be nice to yourself while dealing with loneliness. Be your own best friend(about self-treatment)

Find similar people:

If you lost the connection with the existing circles because you changed your lifestyle, moved to a new place or you no longer resonate with your friends or close relations. Find new people who resonate with you at your current point in life while not so much spoiling the old ones. 

If you are an adventure lover, try facebook or meetup groups in your city to find interesting groups to join. If you are a health freak, sign up for the gym. If you like to dance, sign up for a dance class. Try finding new connections within your office. As long as you are putting the efforts, sooner or later you will find similar people you can hang out and be comfortable with.

Seek meaningful relationships:

Even when you are surrounded by people or in a relationship, you might feel alone because you feel you are not heard or you still do not understand the other people. 

Robert J. Waldinger is the director for one of the longest studies in history. A 75-year study on a selected group of people and their lives right from their childhood to their old age. They picked people from the streets and people from the high class. Few people went on to go up the social ladder while few others came down. He says, from year on year surveys with them and their families, documenting hundreds of pages of reports. One thing that is common to have a good life is having meaningful relationships. People who had meaningful relationships were happier than the ones who had weaker relationships. Everything else didn’t matter as far as happiness is concerned.

Seek to find meaningful relationships. Quality over quantity should be focused here. It’s better to have three best buddies than to know a lot of people but no one to share yourself deeply with.

You are not alone:

Know that the lonely feeling and all the negative thoughts around it is pretty common. Everyone you know and can think of would have gone through loneliness at one point or the other in their life. These emotions are what make us human. You are not alone on this.

EASE:

John Cacioppo has put in a small abbreviation that anyone can remember and covers up most points. Here is how it goes – ‘EASE’

E – Extend Yourself (start connecting with people again)

A – Action Plan (make a plan to meet people/do volunteer work, etc, Know that you don’t need to hit off with everyone and that’s okay. It’s not a judgment of you)

S – Seek Collectives ( Try meeting people with similar interests/lifestyles/values, that you can connect with)

E – Expect (expect the best in the process and this will help you with acting against the threat  assumption your brain has made up while it’s lonely)

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Igor
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Igor

That’s a good piece of advice. Thanks!

NotIgor
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In the most toughest moment in my live when all of my friends disappeared (because I kept isolating myself from everyone for years) I started to be honest with others in my feelings and started to be really kind to others (without any purpose and goals in being kind, I just feel like I shouldn’t be mean to others anymore, no one deserves it) , and with months I found new people who really love me and damn it man, it feels so strange to have good people in my life (also I never liked any types of aggression, it… Read more »