Don't Wait! What YOU Can Do About Loneliness Today

Loneliness -- the feeling of being socially isolated -- is a serious problem any time of year, but the holiday season can make it so much worse. Whether it's not being able to be with your family for the holiday, or being forced to be with your family for the holiday and realizing all over again how much of an "outside" you are, loneliness is very common and can be exacerbated by the holiday season.

Loneliness has been linked to a number of serious chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, compromised immune system, diabetes, dementia, and let's face it... even without all those problems, it SUCKS to feel lonely! But how do you beat it?

I saw the video below posted to social media. Its a TV Commercial that deals with loneliness and the measures one man is willing to take to send a strong message and it really got me thinking:

What a powerful message! What will it take to get your attention to what is really important? Don't wait for a tragedy to make time for the ones you love. Reach out to them today! There is nothing more important to the health and well-being of humans than social connection.

One of the problems associated with loneliness is the social stigma of being lonely, and what it does to one's self esteem. Often times people who are lonely feel further isolated because they convince themselves that they are losers, or that there is something wrong with them and that's why they feel lonely, but feelings of loneliness are a completely normal part of life that everyone goes through. Even those who are surrounded by people all day can be lonely because loneliness is the feeling of social isolation... its a lack of connection. Its not always clear that someone is lonely. You can be surrounded by people and still feel as though you are alone.

Social media is not a good solution to overcoming loneliness. Although in one study, some participants felt slightly less lonely when engaged in social media, in many cases it actually perpetuates further isolation as people withdraw further from actual social situations. Loneliness is about a lack of connection, and studies show that the human brain needs vocal stimulation and eye contact to establish real connection. Text messaging doesn't work, nor does commenting on somebody's social media post.

Here are some idea of how you can combat your own loneliness, or help someone you know who may be lonely.

1. Pick up the phone and CALL someone (don't text): While eye contact is best for establishing new connections, a phone call can significantly reduce the isolation someone is feeling. Think of someone who you've not seen or talked to in awhile and call them. Make it a priority to reach out to someone and have a conversation with them, if only for 10 minutes. Set time aside or schedule a call in advance if it is hard to reach the person you want to speak with. Set a specific day and time each week to make that connection.

2. Find others with similar interests: If you like to read, put an ad in the local paper for a book club. Join a quilting group. Join a running club. Find a group that goes to movies. Find a group dedicated to learning a new language. Whatever it is you like, there are others like you. There are platforms such as MeetUp.com that are dedicated to connecting people with similar interests. This is a great way to make connections with others who are interested in the same things you are. 

3. Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to take the focus of your feelings and put your attention to helping others. Kindness goes a long way in terms of boosting self-worth. There are thousands of ways to volunteer and help others in need. Look up your local animal shelter, or boys-and-girls club. There are several websites to link you up with organizations based on your interests. VolunteerMatch.org and Volunteernow.org are just a couple places to start.

4. Talk to someone about how you're feeling: This can be incredibly hard due to the stigmas attached to feeling lonely, but recognize that everyone feels lonely at one point or another. Loneliness is often initially caused by conditions outside of our control. Feeling lonely is not your fault and there are people ready to help you. Talk to a family member, a teacher or youth leader. Start small. Connecting with just one person can help you turn things around.

5. Challenge your negative thinking: Too often, loneliness can lead to circular thoughts of being a loser and really beating up on yourself. Recognize these patterns and put a stop to it. Society has gotten better at understanding the impact of bullying and trying to combat it. Don't be your own worst bully!  But how do you do this? You can't just NOT think something... First, start to pay more attention to your thoughts so that you are aware of the negative thought patterns that are habitual. Try to catch them when they are just sprouting. Just like weeks in the garden, negative thoughts are much easier to pluck out when they are young. As negative thoughts arise, don't allow yourself to get carried away with them, but also don't try to suppress it... that never ends well. As the witness of your thoughts remember JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK IT DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IT! We all have thoughts, but it doesn't make those thoughts true.  Come up with FACTS that directly challenge the negative thoughts. For example, if you think, "I'm such a loser!" combat that by listing 3 good things about yourself. It may sound silly, but over time you can lessen the impact and frequency of your negative thought patters.

6. Adopt a pet: Pets can make great companions and if you get a pet from a shelter, even better -- you've saved a life! If you are saving lives, you are definitely NOT a loser. Studies show that people who have pets live longer. It is believed that one reason for this is that people who have pets experience less loneliness. It is also helpful to have another being that depends on you -- it reminds you just how essential you are.

7. Attend an exercise class: There are a lot of classes where you can connect and just have a great time. Yoga, pole dancing, aerobics, step (do they still have those)... you get my point. Get out and get moving. Exercising is a great way to feel better about life in general because it naturally boosts your endorphins and other "feel good" biochemistry within your body. If you do it in a class format, it can be a great way to meet others and feel the connection you are missing.

8. Start a gratitude journal: Spending just 5 minutes a day writing down the things you are grateful for can make a significant impact on your perspective. It can be just the thing you need to overcome the self-deprivation that often accompanies loneliness and get you back on your feet and in control of your life. Gratitude is a powerful gift that, when practiced, will change your life. Start today!

This is by no means a full list of things you can do to ease your loneliness. The take-away point is this... nobody ever became less lonely by sitting in their house feeling lonely. Make the effort to put yourself in situations where you have the opportunity to connect with others. I know its easier said than done. But its worth it. And if you can't think of anything else to do, call me -- no seriously, let's talk. I will give you my undivided attention for free, no sales pitch, no catch... just me. Schedule an appointment here.