Finding Our Way Out of Loneliness
Loneliness is caused not by being alone, but by being without the types of relationships that bring affection and connection. Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. You can feel alone in a room full of people if the connection to those people is not significant enough. On the other hand, you can be alone and feel content. Each of us experiences loneliness differently.
Often feelings of loneliness are dismissed, but studies of brain scans have shown that being excluded, shunned, or feeling isolated activates the same area of our brain that responds to physical pain. This can activate the danger signal in our brain and cause us to misinterpret the intentions of others as threatening which increases our sense of isolation and disconnectedness.
Loneliness isn’t a mental health problem. But loneliness can affect our mental well-being and exacerbate existing mental health symptoms. Loneliness has been associated with poor mental health outcomes for those with mental health disorders. For example, social withdrawal is a common symptom of depression, substance misuse, and anxiety. For those with these types of mental health issues, it becomes a self-defeating cycle when symptoms limit connections and supports which then causes a loss of those needed connections and supports and may increase symptoms which further limit connections.
We all feel lonely at various points in our lives and Americans are not the only ones affected. Loneliness is a global phenomenon. “The Campaign to End Loneliness” is hosted by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in the UK. This project’s vision is that everyone can live a life free from chronic loneliness.
To that end, they conduct research, provide guidance on policy, collect data, and provide education and advice about how to tackle loneliness. And this isn’t the only organization working to end chronic loneliness.
Getting ourselves connected and feeling comfortable in solitude can be a real challenge. Some ways to connect with others include:
Foster a dog. Having a furry friend to snuggle and take for walks can really decrease that sense of aloneness. Not all of us have the time, energy, or finances to take care of a pet but there are ways to be a foster home for pets. Check out local organizations like Wishbone Canine Rescue or Pet Central. Depending on the organization your costs may be minimal if they supply the food, supplies, and veterinary care while you foster. Being a good pet parent means getting outside, going for walks, and potentially meeting new friends at a local dog park.
Join a small group. Many of our local churches offer small groups on various topics that meet on different days and times during the week. For most of these, you don’t have to be a member to join the small group.
Join “Meetup”. Meetup is an online service that connects people with like interests. Here in Bloomington, you can join activities from book clubs and bible studies to gaming and get-together groups. Joining is free and there is no cost to participate in activities.
Keep in contact online. Set aside specific time to talk with friends and family online using Zoom or Google Meet. I chat with my siblings from several states on a weekly basis to stay in touch and learn what is happening in their lives.
Join a wellness group like tai chi, yoga, pickleball, or running. It is especially easy to find these through local parks and recreation programs, senior centers, and running clubs.
Most importantly it is important to take the time to get comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone journaling your thoughts and feelings, drawing, painting, reading, or gardening. Being comfortable alone turns loneliness into solitude and solace.
If none of these work for you, please reach out and talk to someone. Participating in individual counseling can help decrease loneliness and help to explore ways to make life changes to feel connected and self-assured.