What Can I Do?
John Cacioppo author and researcher on loneliness, offers a few tips on how to overcome being lonely:
Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. Notice your self-deflating thoughts. We often create self-centered stories to explain our feelings when we are young, it is not unusual for children to assume that there is something wrong with them if they are not happy. If they are lonely and sad, children may assume other people don’t like them. You are not five any more, you can address loneliness as an adult.
Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. Habitual assumptions about negative social status continue into adulthood and if you are looking for evidence that the world sucks, you can always find it.When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone. The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes triggering painful scary feelings. Many times these triggering scary memories create lonely feelings.
But then the brain tries to make sense of the feeling. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because everyone else is mean? Theories about why you are feeling lonely can become confused with facts. Then it becomes a bigger problem, so just realize that you are having this feeling as temporary and not to overreact.
Make a plan. If you realize you are dealing with an emotional habit, you can make a plan to deal with loneliness. Since healthy interaction with friends is good, make some effort to reach out to others, to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness and depression are telling you not to. Yes, it is work, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is good. Reach out because loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are a loser, an outcast or less than. You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings, and this is not helpful. At its best, anticipation of loneliness might motivate us to reach out and cultivate friendships, which is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. When you are a child, and your sadness causes you to cry, you may evoke a comforting response from others. If you’re an adult, crying about your isolating life style rarely receives a positive response.
Understand the effects that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally. Morbidity among lonely people is increased by 45%. Loneliness is associated with depression and anxiety. Loneliness effects your heart, your immune system and increases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease. What to do? Embrace a healthy lifestyle, eat right, exercise every day, develop an awareness of wellness, visit your dentist, get that mammogram, start taking care of yourself and at the same time you will be combating loneliness.
Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy. Volunteer for a good cause. You don’t have to worry about interacting with people, you all have something in common, because you are all doing something good.You have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to all with whom you come into contact. These situations present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.Focus on the needs and feelings of others, and less attention on your own lonely thoughts and feelings. You can walk down the street thinking about your loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, staring at the sidewalk or your cell phone. Or you can walk down that same street grateful for the diversity of people you get to share the sidewalk with, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person you pass. The latter is more fun. Be persistent even if a particular group seems to be not a good fit for you. Just try another group! AA, NA and Al Anon recommend that you try six different meetings to find one that suits you best. If you are persistent, challenging the not good enough assumptions, quelling the feelings that tell you to give up and shutting off the old tapes that tell you to resign yourself to a life of a troll, you can emerge from isolation by just showing up! By being curious, adventurous and kind to others in groups, you can squash your loneliness.
Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and values with you. Find others like you. Nowadays there are more tools than ever before for finding out where the knitters, hikers or computer code writers are congregating through meet-up sites advertised on the Internet. This makes it much easier to identify groups with ideas similar to yours. At the activities, you don’t have to tell jokes like a stand up comic or run for president of the knitter’s society at your first meeting. But you do have to show up. Remember, always show up when meeting with others. No shows make people doubt your reliability, and then they do not invite you to participate again because of your past record of not showing up. Therefore as a result of having no invitations to go places, you feel more isolated. This is the vicious circle of loneliness. So, show up!
Be curious, but don’t expect perfection or applause. Each time you show up, it is an experiment, a micro adventure in social bonding. If you are curious about and interested in others, they will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention. So you will get attention in return. Curiosity about others also takes your focus away from those painful feelings that tend to make you hide and sulk. Kindness and curiosity goes a long way.
Develop one good intimate friend. And once you have a friend or two, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be too analytical about whether you are giving more than you are getting. If you make more friends and some of them are takers, you can choose to spend more time with the other friends who give and reward your friendship.
Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.
Research gathered for this post came from:
Daniel Askt, (2008, Sept. 21). A talk with John Cacioppo: A Chicago scientist suggests that loneliness is a threat to your health. The Boston Globe Found online at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/09/21/a_talk_with_john_cacioppo/
Cacioppo, J. T., Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (in press). Alone in the crowd: The structure and spread of loneliness in a large social network. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Cacioppo, J. (2008, Nov. 3). John Cacioppo on How to Cope with Loneliness. Big Think. Found online at http://bigthink.com/johncacioppo/john-cacioppo-on-how-to-cope-with-loneliness
Cacioppo, et al. (2009). What Are the Brain Mechanisms on Which Psychological Processes Are Based? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4 (1): 10 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01094.x
Loneliness affects how the brain operates. (2009, Feb. 19). Science Daily Found online at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090215151800.htm
Shute, N. (2008, Nov. 12). Why loneliness is bad for your health. U.S. News and World Report. Found online at http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/2008/11/12/why-loneliness-is-bad-for-your-health.html
You Tube TED talk with John Cacioppo, accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0hxl03JoA0.