There hasn’t been a test in a long time on our collective mental health and emotional stability quite like the one of the past 18 months. When the pandemic unexpectedly hit us in February of 2020 and was followed by a global travel ban and shutdown, we as a human race panicked. Suddenly, we’d been cut off from the many external resources such as entertainment, friendships, support groups, and other social interactions that would normally help us cope in a situation like this, or at least help distract us from a harsh reality.
Cases of loneliness have been steadily on the rise in the last decade, and not surprisingly skyrocketed during the pandemic. According to an article from the Harvard Gazette, young adults and teens seem to be the hardest hit of the age groups, even more so than the elderly. The reason is they’re just on the verge of transitioning from their inherited family, but haven’t yet entered their chosen family. In other words, most of them are still single and without everyday companionship of a spouse or partner.
But one can argue combating loneliness isn’t exclusive to those who are single and unattached. Even in marriages and committed relationships, many adults experience feelings of loneliness, sometimes just as intensely as someone who is single, or even more so. Since the expectations of intimacy and emotional fulfillment are attached to having a spouse or partner, it would cause each person to feel disappointed and lonely if they’re not on the same page. The feeling of loneliness in that scenario is likely amplified.
It’s evident loneliness isn’t just from a lack of physical companionship. The state of our mental health is also a factor why some of us don’t deal with loneliness as well as others. As society as a whole grows to have a deeper sense of the body-mind-spirit connections, we begin to understand how our physical state can affect our psychological state, which can affect our emotional state and vice versa. Good news is, we now also have an understanding that overcoming loneliness and many other mental and emotional distresses can be taught and learned. It’s a skill like any other that can be acquired through some practice.
Identifying types of loneliness
Before we can dive into the what and hows of dealing with loneliness, we need to first understand the reasons why we feel lonely. Since the degree and complexity of loneliness can vary with each person, a fair amount of self observation and reflection is required. The more we get to know ourselves and our circumstances, the more we’ll understand our own needs and how to fulfill them.
The dictionary definition of Loneliness simply states: Feeling sad or unhappy because one has no friends or company.
However, anyone who has experienced more than a few days of loneliness can probably attest it’s never as simple and straightforward as that. There can be many triggers to feeling lonely and each trigger can bring up a different emotion. It varies from person to person. For example, for a person who is single, to see a happy couple walk by can trigger feelings of sadness and sink into a depression; yet a different person who is also single may feel anxiousness instead and become eager to seek companionship. So it’s just as important to pay attention to how we respond to our loneliness triggers as much as the type of loneliness we experience.
“Loneliness is not lack of company, loneliness is lack of purpose.”
– GUILLERMO MALDONADO
1. Physical loneliness
This is a common type of loneliness with an urge for physical connection. One side of the spectrum can be the need to have another physical body close by — just someone we can share our moments with.
The other side of the spectrum is the need for physical affection such as hugging, kissing, and sex. As shown by years of psychological and neurological studies, physical affection from another human releases oxytocin and reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), therefore nurturing relaxation and trust with others. The power of the physical touch is deeply healing.
Physical loneliness is usually short-lived, based on the amount of interactions with other people.
2. Mental loneliness
Many people crave intellectual connections, whether it’s chatting about what happens throughout the day, communicating what goes on in our minds, or discussing matters of the world. With the amount of upheavals and uncertainties the world has seen in the last 18 months, there’s no doubt this would be an important aspect of releasing pent-up thoughts and concerns. Not being able to would likely cause confusion, frustration, even anger.
Mental loneliness can vary from short-lived to chronic loneliness, based on the quality of interactions and individual needs.
3. Emotional loneliness
For those who operate more on an emotional level, empathetic relationships will play an important role. Most of us feel the need to express our feelings in response to what happens in our lives. In this case, rather than processing external information logically, we feel it more on a primal level — emotionally and intuitively.
Regardless of how logical a person may be, there’ll always be a situation where an emotional response is triggered. Not receiving positive emotional feedback can result in feeling sad, lonely, and disconnected.
Emotional loneliness can be short-lived but can certainly become chronic if the experience is prolonged. It can even last a lifetime if we are unaware of it and accept it as a way of life.
4. Spiritual loneliness
This is a type of loneliness not often talked about, reason being it is far more elusive, and lives in the deeper part of our psyche. Most of us have probably had moments of sensing something but we just can’t quite put our finger on it.
They say a person’s spiritual journey is alone, but I can confidently say, from experience, while each of us is on our own path, it is possible to have those by our side who understand our deepest desires and purpose in life. For some, the pursuit of spiritual alignment based on purpose, belief, and practice is of the utmost importance. Not having someone who understands or shares similar spiritual pursuits can leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Spiritual loneliness can vary from short-lived or chronic, though that depends highly on someone’s own spiritual pursuits and level of consciousness.
Now the big question: How to stop feeling lonely?
If you’re new to the loneliness space, this can be a scary and intense feeling. But not to worry, everyone at one point or another has experienced some type of loneliness. It is ingrained in us to connect with others as well as life forms all around us.
If you’re experiencing chronic loneliness and have lived with feeling lonely most of your life, also not to worry, this too shall pass. You can acquire the tools to help you get to where you want to be. Sometimes the very idea of permanence is what keeps us stuck in a loop of self-pity which perpetuates the feeling of loneliness. Let’s get you out of there!
“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.”
– MARTHA BECK
1. Creating opportunities for more social interactions
If your loneliness falls somewhere between physical and mental, then increasing social interactions and forming new relationships would likely help.
As most adults graduate from college and are no longer provided with an environment full of others with a nearly identical demographic, making friends and maintaining friendships can take more effort. Our goals and priorities may have also shifted during the course of our transition into a different lifestyle.
In order to draw more people into our lives, we need to develop a comfortable set of social skills. While this may seem elementary, having good social common sense and etiquette is a valuable skill to have. After all, relationships are about being able to relate to one another.
Here are some helpful tips if you are ready to welcome new friends into your life:
- Let others know you feel lonely and are looking for more friends
- Say “yes” to invitations
- Keep an open mind to new interests and activities
- Look for commonalities rather than differences between friends
- Make plans to get together and follow through
- Be respectful of others’ boundaries and be honest about your own boundaries
- Don’t force it
2. Form deeper connections
The feeling of not being understood can cause the bulk of our emotional loneliness, and affect our general mental health over time. The language of our emotions is unique to the individual and doesn’t always make logical sense. And it usually takes more than a few casual get-togethers to share that part of us, especially if you’re shy to begin with.
If you constantly feel you’re alone and no one understands you, there could be a number of reasons, such as:
- You’re surrounded by people who don’t really listen or hear you.
- You’re surrounded by people who can’t relate to what you’re saying because they lack personal experience.
- You haven’t developed the skills to articulate exactly how you feel to others.
- You haven’t been open and honest in telling others about your feelings because you fear resentment or judgment.
- You’ve given up letting yourself be known because you have accepted and expect that “no one will understand.”
If you can identify with one or all of the above then you can try doing the following:
- Change your environment. Place yourself in a safe space. Surround yourself with people who listen and provide genuine support and encouragement.
- Sharpen your communication skills through practice describing your feelings and emotions as often and accurately as possible. The more you fine-tune your ability to communicate, the more people will relate and understand where you’re coming from.
- Practice vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to talk about your personal experiences, history, struggles, etc. The only way to form deeper and more meaningful connections is by putting yourself out there. It is also a way to filter out those who are not on the same page as you.
3. Develop a routine of inward-focused practices
Continuing your journey of self-discovery will always benefit your quest to feel less lonely. If you have felt chronic loneliness for many years and always feel unfulfilled no matter what, then it may be wise to lean into this time and learn to love your own company. A routined inward-focused practice will help you confront the shadow parts of yourself you’ve not been willing to face in the past.
Journaling or free writing can be a liberating experience for anyone. Begin by journaling every night and write down anything that comes to mind, without filter or judgment. You can also carry a small pocket journal wherever you go during the day to write whenever you need to. End each session with a quiet minute noticing how you feel afterward.
Develop a consistent practice of yoga, breathwork, or meditation. These practices enhance body, mind, spirit connections and allow for us to set aside some time for stillness and pay attention to what’s happening inside. With consistent practice, you will notice more calmness, focus, and presence.
Practice gratitude every day. Even if there’s only one person who is there for you, willing to talk to you when you need it, or cares about your happiness, then you have more love in your life than many others. Acknowledge who those people are. Cherish those relationships and express your gratitude toward them whenever possible. Doing so will open the space to invite more of them into your life.
4. Overcoming mental conflicts or obstacles
Sometimes our feelings of loneliness live only in our minds, when in reality, we may be surrounded by those who are more than willing to listen and spend time with us. Childhood or ancestral traumas could cause our self-esteem to take a beating at an early age and prevent us from receiving love from others as an adult. Our so-called societal norms can also place confusion and restraint on the way we connect with others, causing us to feel trapped and alienated.
If that sounds familiar, reprogramming your mind and filling it with positive thoughts will likely create a big shift in your social as well as romantic life.
Acknowledge fears and insecurities that may be holding you back. Some of the common obstacles for many are fear of rejection and fear of being judged. The emotional ramifications of being judged and rejected harshly are enough to keep us in our shells and hide our truths. Bravely recognizing and confronting those fears will gradually free us from the cage we’ve unintentionally built around us.
It’s not always about you. When you do experience rejection and judgment from others, like we inevitably will, know that it’s not always about what you said, what you did, or who you are. We’re each responsible for maintaining our own balance, peace, and boundaries. How others react are their choices and are out of your control. Not everyone will click with you and that’s okay. The universe will always provide those who will if you leave that door open.
Give up control and allow for relationships to naturally unfold. Sometimes we get so hung up on the exact type of relationship we’re looking for, we stifle the potential for them to grow and become something wonderful. Nurture the connection you do share and don’t focus on what you don’t have.
Use mantras and affirmations 3 times a day. Choose a positive phrase that resonates with what you’re currently working on, such as: “I welcome new relationships into my life without resistance” or “I feel lonely right now, but it does not define my life and my future.”
Regardless of your current circumstance and the intensity of loneliness you feel, when you understand that feeling lonely is really just feeling disconnected, you’ll better be able to navigate through your current state of mind knowing there is always a way out. The destination of a meaningful and fulfilling life may look unattainable right now, but it’s the life we’re all meant to live — it’s our only destination. The choice of inviting others into our lives or keeping them out has always been ours. We each have the power to create as many meaningful connections in life as we like, if we cho