Being alone and feeling lonely are two very different things. You can be sitting with a group of friends or standing in a room of full of people and still feel extremely lonely and isolated.
It may be a debilitating emotional state, but the dull pain of feeling lonely is only the tip of the iceberg. Constant feelings of loneliness activate our psychological and physical stress responses, including the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. This inhibits the immune system, which leaves us easily affected by all kinds of diseases. Studies show that loneliness can turn into a chronic illness, increasing the risk of other diseases and even premature death.
Many people feel lonely but don’t know that they’re suffering from it. They can even be the most sociable people—always going out and meeting and greeting others. However, all their connections are shallow and without meaning. They simply don’t let anyone get close.
How does it start?
Some enter this perpetual state gradually, over the course of several months or even years. It could start with drifting apart from friends because of work or family. Then it suddenly dawns on them that the people they have always depended on are no longer around.
Others reach loneliness suddenly. They move to a new state or country where they know no one and feel vulnerable and completely on their own or they start a new job and leave behind their old friends and lifestyle. Another way loneliness sets in is after a divorce or the death of a partner or spouse. For many people, disabilities limit their social life by forcing them to be confined, to remain on their own with few friends or companions.
Unfortunately, those who are plagued with loneliness rarely see the good in life. Even when friends or family reach out, they push them aside because of skepticism, resentment, and hesitancy. The lonely person’s belief that he or she is undesired and unimportant causes them to misconstrue another person’s good intentions.
This results in the lonely person withdrawing into deeper isolation as a defense mechanism. Such people believe they’re actually protecting themselves from more disappointment and rejection. Even though the feeling of being emotionally disconnected is a difficult snare to escape from, it can be done.
All you need is to believe in yourself. The following 5 key steps will help you do it.
1. Write it Down
Loneliness is just one of the many emotions you experience each day. That’s the first step. Establish that it’s an emotion, and a negative one at that. Once you have done that, you have to bring yourself to trade a negative emotion for a positive one. An effective way to do this is to write down your feelings in a journal. It helps you to put things in perspective. Start by writing out your thoughts freely and without any inhibitions for 5 minutes a day.
2. Make Excuses for Others
Since loneliness distorts your perception of other people, you have to think of legitimate reasons why your friends have been out of touch with you. It can’t simply be because they don’t like you anymore - that’s a bit simplistic.
Instead, think in a positive light and consider other valid reasons they may have. For example, perhaps their family and work responsibilities have increased and they have less time to socialize. The only way to find out is to pick up the phone and call or text them. Reaching out to them will put your mind at ease about the whole thing and help you to see things in a more positive light.
Remember to use a friendly tone. Set aside your accusations and attacks. Invite your friend for lunch or a cup of coffee. Specify a time and place to make sure your plans don’t just fizzle out. If you’re texting, re-read your message before you send to make sure it sounds both appealing and genuine.
At first you may feel more uncomfortable being with people you don’t know—and that’s ok. You can offer to volunteer your time for a cause that’s close to your heart. You can serve at a nearby homeless shelter or clinic. You can also volunteer at a dog shelter—or, better yet, get a pet of your own.
The important thing is that you choose a place where you feel relaxed and comfortable. When you help others, this gives you a sense of gratification. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which activates the part of the brain responsible for trust and contentment.
4. Find a Hobby
Another good way to keep the oxytocin levels high is to find others who have similar interests as you. It may be scary at first, but taking that one step will prove how strong you are. It’ll also help you get out of your loneliness. Go online or go to your local community center—whatever is easiest for you. Search around for other people who enjoy macramé, reading, or pottery. When you have something like this in common, it will be easier to start a conversation.
Once you’ve found one or two groups you enjoy attending, it’ll be a cinch to find people to connect with on a deeper level. By meeting more and more people that share your interests, your feelings of loneliness will start to dissipate. It’ll do wonders for your health as well as your confidence.
5. Experience Nature
Last, but not least, surround yourself with nature. Exercising outdoors will instantly lift that cloud that’s hovering over you. Direct sunlight triggers the “happy” hormone, serotonin, to be released within you and this will help you to become more affable and friendly. In addition, you will feel more at ease when you see green plants and hear birds.
When you’re relaxed, the brain stops the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. When you include outdoor exercise into your weekly routine, loneliness will become a thing of the past.