By Wendy Wisner, Contributor
All of us get lonely at one time or another. In fact, loneliness is a normal reaction to feeling disconnected from others either physically, emotionally, or both. But that doesn’t mean that it is an easy emotion to live with. And loneliness can sometimes be a trigger for other mental health issues like depression. Learning how to deal with loneliness as an occasional feature is an important skill that can greatly improve the quality of one’s life.
But what can we do if we experience an intense bout of loneliness, one that doesn’t just pass as loneliness sometimes does? The good news is that the feeling of loneliness doesn’t have to be your reality forever, and there are actionable steps you can take to mitigate your feelings of loneliness — and hopefully, begin to feel a deeper sense of wholeness and connection.
Remember that loneliness is a state of mind, more than a fact or reality. Yes, being alone for long periods of time naturally can evoke feelings of loneliness, but it’s easy to get bogged down by those feelings and begin to feel certain that you are destined to be lonely for what feels like an eternity.
Try to notice your thoughts about loneliness as they pass, and remind yourself that you don’t necessarily have to buy into the idea of loneliness. You are bigger than your thoughts, and you don’t have to let them define you. Learning how to practice mindfulness meditation is a great way to become more aware of your thoughts, and learn to let them go when needed.
It almost feels like a paradox, but the fact is that feeling lonely is actually a shared experience. People all over the world and throughout human history have felt lonely at different times in their lives. It’s even possible to feel lonely while surrounded by people, or at times in your life when your social life appears to be thriving.
But there can be some solace in knowing that you are not alone in your feelings, and that loneliness is actually more common than many of us realize. In fact, people that you think of as the least lonely experience their fair share of loneliness — it’s just that many of us don’t share this reality with others.
One of the biggest hurdles when dealing with loneliness is the belief that you are the only one experiencing it, which can lead to guilt and shame. But that is why it is always a good idea to reach out and try to find points of connections with others, even when you are feeling lonely.
Doing this can feel like the hardest thing in the world when you are in a lonely state. But you might be surprised how receptive your family and friends are if you tell them honestly, “I’m feeling lonely. Want to go out for coffee?” Expressing your truth is one of the best ways to reignite old connections, or connect deeper with the people already in your life.
Sometimes loneliness is just loneliness, and sometimes it can lead to depression, or is a symptom of depression. How can you tell the difference? According to experts, loneliness is a specific reaction to feeling isolated or alone, whereas depression is a broader feeling that permeates all aspects of your life.
“Loneliness is a perfectly natural reaction a person would have if his/her need to belong is not being met,” explains Sean Seepersad, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. “Depression, on the other hand, is a much more general feeling of sadness, hopeless, or dejection.”
Dr. Seepersad explains that it is actually possible to feel lonely, but not depressed; lonely and depressed; or even depressed but not lonely. We are all different and these symptoms and feelings play out for us in their own ways.
It goes without saying that if you are dealing with loneliness that is part of general depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, you should seek treatment from a licensed psychologist.
But loneliness itself is a good enough reason to seek help. Loneliness is a feeling that can bring you down, and make life difficult to navigate. Talking through your loneliness, and having someone help you come up with an action plan for dealing with it, are great steps toward your overall happiness and a greater sense of well-being.
We all feel lonely at times, and there is no shame in that. But we all deserve to feel better — to feel connected, cared for, purposeful, and loved.
Originally published on Talkspace.
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