Everyone feels lonely sometimes. Loneliness may feel like a gnawing emptiness and trigger an overwhelming emotional response resulting in anxiety and depression. Social isolation often causes loneliness, however, many people feel lonely or rejected when surrounded by other people. Others may experience pain from their perceived disconnection from others.
In 1949 Hank Williams, Sr. wrote the words that Elvis Presley and many others would sing and tug at the hearts of millions of people across the world: “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” Any one who feels lonely can identify with the message.
Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles created the UCLA Loneliness Scale to identify factors that contribute to loneliness. The questionnaire identifies indicators for loneliness including feeling:
- Detached from the people around you
- A lack of intimacy
- Not having anyone to turn to
- Alone or isolated
- Left out or misunderstood
- Lacking meaningful relationships
People of all ages feel lonely at some time in their lives. 70% of adolescents, 60% of people ages 35-40, and 39% of older adults experience reoccurring periods of loneliness. Loneliness affects people across all cultures, races, genders, and economic statuses.
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”
~ Mother Teresa
When seeking help, too often people who feel lonely are encouraged to “just get out” and connect with others, however, reducing the impact of loneliness requires a more comprehensive approach to be effective.
Manage your Mental Health
People who experience loneliness frequently experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts. First and foremost, be proactive about your mental health: find a good therapist, practice mindfulness, journal, be creative.
Improve your Physical Health
Loneliness frequently interferes with basic self-care, resulting in psychosomatic symptoms including headaches, muscle aches, or gastrointestinal complaints. Start with basic self care such as those identified in the PLEASE skills from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy:
- Treat physical illness
- Balanced eating
- Avoid mood altering drugs
- Balanced sleep
- Get exercise
Take Charge of your Social Health
While getting out and engaging with others does not solve the problem of feeling lonely, it is necessary to build connections with others. Often when people feel lonely, they withdraw and isolate themselves, deepening the loneliness. Reaching out to others and building deeper relationships takes courage and commitment.
For example, call your friends and invite them to lunch rather than waiting for them to call you, invite your brother over for dinner, write a note or email to a friend and let them know you are thinking about them, increase your self-esteem through taking an art class or learning a new skill.
“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”
~ Harriet Lerner
To sum up, moving from loneliness to connectedness begins with taking care of your own mental and physical health and then moving beyond yourself to reach out to others. Allow yourself to experience vulnerability in order to build meaningful relationships. Finally, allow yourself to stay in the moment instead of dwelling on past experiences.