Loneliness means more than just being physically alone. It is often defined as the distress that follows when there is a difference in how you would like your social relationships to be and how you think they are. The social environment you have while growing up can determine your comfort with social relationships and expectations about how they should be.
It is possible to feel lonely or isolated even when surrounded by people, when such connections are not seen as meaningful. Sometimes the opposite is also true – when you don’t feel lonely despite being alone, because you view solitude as a pleasant experience.
With the current health crisis and resultant lockdown, even people who usually enjoy solitude may be feeling lonely due to a lack of in-person social interaction.
How can loneliness affect you?
A sense of loneliness when your social needs are not met can contribute to physical and mental changes which tell us that something is wrong.
Chronic loneliness can raise blood pressure, and impact cardiovascular, circulatory and immune functions of the body. People who feel lonely also perceive greater stress than non-lonely individuals in the same situations. Loneliness can have a negative impact on learning, memory and decision-making. It can also adversely affect your immune system and make you more susceptible to illnesses.
Being aware of your lack of social connections can affect your emotional well-being since you are likely to feel isolated, disconnected and empty, and long for someone to fill that emptiness. Chronic loneliness also affects the way in which you regulate these feelings. Depression and anxiety can intensify isolation because of perceived stigma and a lack of desire to meet people. It can also increase the risk of suicide, alcoholism and drug use.
Strategies to overcome loneliness
Accept and normalise loneliness
You might try to avoid this feeling by distracting yourself with TV, social media or chores. This might help you momentarily. However, it is important to accept how you’re feeling, and allow yourself to stay with and express these feelings regularly.
Try to become aware of the effects that loneliness has on you, both physically and mentally. You can do this by paying attention to the way your body reacts and reflecting on how you feel and what you think in such situations. Remember that your brain is trying to make sense of these reactions, and your negative thoughts and feelings about the future are temporary and may not be true.
Be compassionate to others
Consider volunteering digitally for an NGO. Showing kindness or being generous to others would help you focus on their needs rather than your own thoughts and feelings, and can help you feel less lonely. You could find different avenues online to support those who are most affected by the lockdown and the ongoing health crisis.
Be kind to yourself
Show yourself the same kindness that you show others, and treat yourself as your loved ones do. Avoid criticising yourself or focusing on your flaws. Taking care of yourself means that you will not have to rely on others for love and acceptance, and this would help to decrease negative thoughts about yourself.
Reflect on how it can help
Loneliness may not only be a negative experience; it could positively impact you too. It can be an indicator that relationships are not as intimate as you would like, and push you to take steps to solve the problem. You can also use this time to your advantage by distancing yourself from toxic relationships and friendships and doing what you like.
Do what you enjoy
Don’t let feelings of loneliness prevent you from engaging in activities that you enjoy. Look for online groups that you can join or try to develop a new hobby. Reaching out to groups can be a way for you to interact with new people with similar interests, and help you form new relationships.
Try to make plans about things you will do once the lockdown ends and you can meet the people you are close to. Plan things such as whom to contact, where to go and what to do. Try to follow through on these plans, and modify them as you need to. You can even make plans to spend time virtually – for example, you could plan to watch a movie with your friends online.
Shift your focus
Your feelings of loneliness may close you off from your existing relationships. Learn to appreciate and enjoy the support you have. Expressing gratitude and being optimistic can help you feel less lonely and more positive.
Reach out for support
Loneliness makes you withdraw from others. So, make an effort to virtually reach out to supportive people in your life. Spending time with loved ones, even through video calls or messages, can help you feel less alone, have less negative thoughts, and strengthen existing relationships. If you feel you are unable to cope on your own, you can even reach out to a therapist online. There are multiple platforms that offer the option of connecting to therapists through chat, video, or call. Therapy offers a safe space for you to discuss your concerns in depth and collaboratively think of solutions to your problems.
This is a difficult time for everyone. When the going gets tough, and you find yourself getting overwhelmed, pause for a minute. Remind yourself that you are not alone – even though you might feel otherwise! Everyone is locked down and many of us are dealing with loneliness. With the right strategies in place, you can enjoy spending time with yourself, work on being more connected to others, and ultimately overcome feelings of loneliness.