Loneliness differs from aloneness and isolation and while spending some time alone can be a deliberate decision, loneliness is seldom a choice. When separated from usual friends, support networks or family we can feel both isolated and lonely. One may also feel lonely when surrounded by people and experience a sense of disconnection from the rest of a group. Loneliness can be a sign that some important emotional needs are not met. It may be experienced as a lack of:
- Connection with others, opportunities to share feelings and important experience with someone
- Sense of belonging
- Security and familiarity within your environment and with people.
To overcome loneliness some will focus on extending their social network while others will prefer developing closer bonds with a lesser number of people. Depending on your personality and cultural of origin, your needs may differ.
Here are a few strategies to consider that may help alleviating loneliness:
Extending your network
Get involved in your community life:
- Share your personal interests with like-minded people; music, sport, art, politics… Sharing an activity is a great way to break the ice and meet people.
- Get a part-time job
- Engage in volunteering
- Create situations favourable to social contacts in your daily life, such as asking someone to have a coffee or lunch with you.
Relationships where you can share personal, private parts of your life and feel understood can significantly ease loneliness.
- Share some of your experiences with someone, disclose a bit about yourself (the things you like, what you do during your free time or did during the weekend).
- Reach out to someone when you are having a difficult time. Talk to someone about your situation. They may not be able to resolve your problem but they can offer to their presence, emotional validation and support which are important ingredients of a strong friendship.
- Value and appreciate your friendships for their unique characteristics. Not all your relationships have to have the same level of closeness or meet the same needs.
- Intimate friendships take time and care. Be patient and allocate some time in your schedule to be present and share with the people you care about.
Reducing personal obstacles
Awkwardness, shyness or anxiety can get in the way of interactions with others. Many experience some level of discomfort when meeting new people or interacting in group settings.
- Developing your social skills. Practice is key in gaining confidence in your social interactions. Practice greeting a workmate, small chat and getting involved in discussions. Being mindful of self-criticism and adopting a gentle and compassionate approach in your assessment of how well you did will help maintain a positive growth mindset and foster further progress.
- Pay attention to your thoughts and self-talk. Our thoughts influence how we feel and this may prevent us from engaging in an interaction with someone. For example, if you worry about what you will say, how it will be received, and what others will think of you. Some of these concerns may have an element of truth, but when we look closely at them, they are often disproportionate or distorted in term of likeliness or risk and consequences. Challenging those unhelpful thoughts or keeping your mind focused away from them, on the here and now for instance, can help in regaining control and reducing any negative effect on your social life.
Spending time alone in a meaningful way
Spending time alone offers the opportunity to discover more about oneself and practice individual creativity. Being mindful of how you spend your time alone helps insuring those activities will be pleasurable and fulfilling for you.
- Time spent on the Internet, mobile phones and in front of the TV doesn’t always feel rewarding. Some researchers have found correlations between internet and mobile phone use and degrees of loneliness, it may be worthwhile to reflect on how you use these media. While Skype and messenger apps can be great tools to maintain contact with people, they offer a different type of interactions and may not be sufficient in term of interpersonal life satisfaction.
- Spending time on your own could be the occasion to explore and express more your individuality. Learning something new (e.g. playing an instrument), listening to music, reading, writing, arts can offer relaxing and rewarding moments.
- Don’t wait for company to engage in something you are interested in. Going to a movie, a concert, treating yourself with nice coffee or dinner, attending cultural events, visiting your city or travelling… all those activities may be as enjoyable on your own.