Have you ever felt lonely? It doesn’t feel so good does it? You feel separated from others both physically and mentally. Because you do not have to be alone to feel lonely. You can be surrounded by others, yet anything they say or do does not matter. It’s like they’ve ceased to exist. If your loneliness continues for just a little while you can end up feeling helpless, isolated and despairing. It is easy to start to believe that you will always feel this way, believing you have no control of the situation or how you are feeling. From here a person can go on to develop depression. Taken to the extreme, loneliness can even result in suicide, since all hope of improvement is lost.
Loneliness can happen to anyone in any circumstance. You can live in a highly populated area or a sparsely populated one. You can live alone or with an extended family. Working alone from home or a busy office. Having said this there are certain situations that have been shown to exacerbate loneliness. Sudden, dramatic changes including unemployment, the loss of a partner, illness and entering motherhood can all bring on loneliness. A person is faced with a new way of living that is deemed different to the majority. Being a minority can be particularly difficult, as it can make a person feel different. In fact some research has shown that unemployed people in a high area of unemployment were happier than those who lived where there was very little unemployment. Experiencing ongoing stress can cause loneliness. Imagine working for a boss who is not understanding of your pressures, then going home to a partner who doesn’t want to hear about it. Work issues can be a problem and in particular, workplace bullying can leave a person feeling isolated and lonely.
Why being alone should not be a lonely thing
If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company. Jean-Paul Sartre
It is easy to assume that when a person is alone they are lonely. It’s as though the two go hand in hand. They don’t. Being alone brings its benefits and therefore you will want to ensure you love your own company. Spending time alone can be a great way to recharge your batteries and it can also be good for your self-esteem and confidence. Self-acceptance is an important component of self-confidence. Let’s face it, if you are going to spend time just with you, you really want to accept who you are.
The extent to which you enjoy being alone will be influenced by your personality. Extraverts may struggle being with themselves more than introverts. However, you should not fear this time. It is an opportunity to listen to yourself and discover your likes and dislikes. Furthermore, quiet time alone may help you appreciate that any harsh criticisms that arise are coming from within you. You cannot blame another as they aren’t there.
Of course being alone does not just have to be in the physical sense. Sometimes we are alone in opinion. The same rule applies however. Going it alone will do wonders for your self-belief.
Working through loneliness
What follows are tips and suggestions to help you get through times of loneliness. If you take the steps to try just a few of these ideas, with time you will no longer feel so lonely.
- How you think has a massive impact on how you subsequently feel. Take the time to get to know some of your thought patterns. For example, do you ever say the following to yourself?
Everybody hates me.
I’m always alone.
I must always be in a relationship, else I am a failure.
Everybody else is out with friends right now.
Your aim is to challenge these thought patterns. Are they really true? Be honest and look at the facts objectively. Your thoughts and feelings can easily become removed from reality, which adds to your loneliness.
[ I talk more about faulty thinking in my book Promoting Happiness. If you can get your head around the impact your thoughts have on your life, it can change things for the better. In fact, the book is an opportunity to appreciate who you are and to encourage you to get the most out of your life. ]
- Discover optimism. Two points about optimists. First they expect good things to continue and are not due to chance or lucky circumstances. The second, most important point here is that they expect bad things to be temporary. Yes bad things happen to optimists too, but they don’t let them de-rail them and know they will bounce back. Apply this idea to loneliness and you will soon realise that you may feel lonely today, but you will feel better tomorrow.
- Boost your energy levels. Exercise especially is a fantastic mood and energy booster. If you want to be surrounded by like minded people, do join a class. Make sure to choose something you enjoy.
- Send an email or phone a friend. When you feel lonely it is easy to expect people to come to you. However, if we all felt like that, how would people ever connect up with each other? If you use facebook take a moment to drop by a few friends profiles and say hi. If they don’t respond, don’t take it personally.
- Know your strengths. Take the time to get to know the things you are good at, then take the steps to use them in your life. Focusing on your virtues will help put a halt to your dark thoughts. Visit the Authentic Happiness website and take the VIA strengths questionnaire. Then see my articles for ways to implement them into your life.
- Know your personality. Introverts enjoy spending time alone, but may not feel it is okay, due to the pressure of an extrovert dominated world. Extraverts can use their natural sociability to connect with others.
- Volunteer. If you find you have time on your hands and are often home alone, consider volunteering. It doesn’t have to be much time each week but this act can rid you of your loneliness and give your wellbeing a massive boost. Research suggests volunteers are a happy bunch of people.
- Get involved with something that interests you. You could go to a class, or just participate in an online forum.
- Set yourself achievable goals. Personal achievements can help you feel great about yourself. You end up so focused on your projects, you haven’t got time to think about whether you feel lonely.
- Get yourself a pet and enjoy spending time with it. You can also use your pet to enhance social activities. A dog is an obvious example, as you need to take them on daily walks and will probably meet others doing the same thing. You could also get involved with shows or specialist clubs for your particular animal.
- Do something warming. Have a hot drink, run a hot bath or turn up the heating. University of Toronto research shows this small step reduced feelings of isolation and social exclusion.
- Get support when you need it. Never be afraid to reach out to others. Whether it is from a friend, family member or a professional support agency. It is always a good step to take and could prevent a lot of misery.
Being okay being alone
Feelings of loneliness when you are alone can easily be tied up with boredom. Imagine Sunday afternoon, your partner is away, you are alone in the house and have nothing to do. You are bored and start to feel lonely as you are struggling to entertain yourself. Well before it gets to this, compile a list of things to do that you know occupy your mind. Things you enjoy doing, things you want to try, books you want to read, skills you want to improve and tasks you want to accomplish. Hopefully you have some interesting goals – remember to include these. Just keep writing. Come up with as many things as possible. Then when you find yourself alone, before it becomes loneliness, grab your list, pick something that draws your attention and have a great afternoon.
Step out of your comfort zone and do things alone that you assume you will not enjoy simply because you believe you have to be with others to get the most from it. Try taking a trip out. It can be as planned as you like. Just know you get to choose where you want to go, when you will stop for breaks, where and when you will eat, when to come home again. Nobody to answer to but yourself.
Things to do alone
Read, listen to music, crafts, computer games, write a book, cook, tai chi, yoga, meditation, exercise. In fact much of these are best done alone to get maximum appreciation from them.
Expressing your opinion
I have written a separate article called The Right to Your Own Opinion that will help you recognise that it is okay to be alone in an opinion.