By Sakuni Weerasinghe
We all have an innate desire to connect. We are social beings, after all. Despite how much we want to connect with others, every now and then we experience what is termed “loneliness”. Loneliness is a state that stems from a perceived gap between our desire for connection and the actual experiences of our social relationships. It concerns the feeling of being alone and isolated. Situational factors such as curfews/lockdowns, maintaining physical distancing, and lessening the number of hangouts with others as a precautionary step in the face of Covid-19 can contribute to the feeling of being isolated. Hence, it is time to take a moment to reflect on our emotions, particularly those that may be associated with our social life.
Loneliness is a state of solitude. It also leads people to experience feeling empty and unwanted. Besides the situational factors listed above, moving to a new city, breakups and divorce, and losing someone significant in your life can lead to the experience of loneliness. Researchers, delving deeper into the topic, have found those with lowered self-esteem and lowered self-confidence often have a deep-seated belief of being unworthy of the connections with others and hence may engage in distancing, which can then result in feelings of loneliness. This creates a vicious cycle: The more they distance, the more they feel lonely and the more others seem farther away from them, which in turn affirms their beliefs of unworthiness.
Loneliness has to do more with feeling alone rather than being alone. Many people have a tendency to believe that the more you are surrounded by people, the less likely you will feel lonely. This is not necessarily true. You might spend your entire day hanging out with your colleagues and friends and still feel lonely. This is not to undermine the positive effects of being surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family. It is evident that when it comes to relationships, their quality tends to have tremendous effects on our wellbeing than their quantity.
It’s important that we manage the experience of loneliness as it can contribute to negative effects particularly on our physical and mental health. Loneliness can be both a sign of an underlying mental health condition such as depression and anxiety as well as a contributing factor towards their development. Chronic loneliness has been linked to increased stress levels, lower quality of sleep, and increases the risk of self-harm behaviours such as suicide. In terms of illnesses, loneliness can increase the risk for high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
There are a few ways in which you can manage loneliness.
- Ask yourself what the experience of loneliness is telling you
It usually serves as an indicator that a change is required. It can signify a need that has been overlooked, such as wanting to connect on a deeper level or more intimate level, or your need for empathetic acceptance has not been met. Maybe you have been trying to suppress your need to connect. Maybe it is telling you to stop for a moment and re-evaluate the quality of your relationships. Maybe it’s telling you to reach out for help.
- Notice when you’re withdrawing from others as a response to loneliness
It’s important that you break this vicious cycle. If you notice yourself distancing, give as much effort as possible to take the first step yourself in reaching out to a friend and/or initiating a conversation.
- Engage in self-care and practise self-love
Make sure you spend time addressing your needs and empowering yourself. A part of practising self-love is to be mindful of your self-talk. Challenge your thoughts like those that tell you that you’re not liked, you’re not deserving to be loved, or that you’re not worthy of deep and loving connections. Speak to yourself more compassionately. You will see your self-confidence bloom and you might notice yourself to be more open and accepting of connections.
- Volunteer for a cause close to your heart
There’s nothing quite like an act of altruism that makes you feel like you are part of something big. Donating your time and energy to a worthy cause can help you make newer connections while also adding meaning to your life.
- Enrol for a course, attend a workshop or a lecture
This is a great way to expand your knowledge and skills and also a great way to meet those who share similar interests. It is a relatively easier pathway to connect. If attending a lecture offline seems daunting, you may join an online community of learners.
- Talk to a mental health professional
If you’re experiencing loneliness, feeling distressed, and/or finding it difficult to cope with your emotional experiences, please know that help is available. A mental health professional can give you the space needed to explore your needs to connect, give you more information, help you determine newer ways of connecting, and expand your set of coping skills.