I Am Lonely Part Three

What can I do?

John Cacioppo author and researcher on Loneliness, offers a few tips on how to overcome loneliness:

Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. Notice your self-deflating thoughts.  We often create self-centered stories to explain our feelings when we are young, it is not unusual for children to assume that there is something wrong with them if they are not happy. If they are lonely and sad, children may assume other people don’t like them.

Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. Habitual assumptions about negative social status continue into adulthood and if you are looking for evidence that the world sucks, you can always find it. When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone. The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes triggering painful scary feelings. Many times these triggering scary memories create lonely feelings.

But then the brain tries to make sense of the feeling. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because they are all mean? Theories about why you are feeling lonely can become confused with facts. Then it becomes a bigger problem so just realize that you are having this feeling as temporary and not to over react.

Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness. If you realize you are dealing with an emotional habit, you can make a plan to deal with loneliness. Since healthy interaction with friends is good, make some effort to reach out to others, to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness and depression are telling you not to. Yes, it is work, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is good.  Reach out because loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are a loser, an outcast. You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings and this is not helpful. At its best, anticipation of loneliness might motivate us to reach out and cultivate friendships, which is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. When you are a child, and your sadness causes you to cry, you may evoke a comforting response from others. If you’re an adult, that is difficult to receive such a response.

Understand the effects that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally.  Morbidity among lonely people is increased by 45%. Loneliness is associated with depression and anxiety. Loneliness effects your heart, your immune system and increases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease. Embrace a healthy lifestyle by combating loneliness.

Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy.  Volunteer for a good cause. You don’t have to worry about interacting with people, you all have something in common, because you are all doing something good. You have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to all you come into contact with. These situations present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions. Focus on the needs and feelings of others, and less attention on your lonely thoughts and feelings.  You can walk down the street thinking about yourself, your loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, staring at the sidewalk or your cell phone. Or you can walk down the street grateful for the diversity of people you get to share the sidewalk with, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person you meet. The latter is more fun.  Be persistent even if a particular group does seem to be a dead end for you, try another. AA and Al Anon recommend that everyone try six different groups to find one that suits you best. If you are persistent, challenging the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, showing up, being curious and kind to others in groups, the odds are in your favor.

Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and values with you. Find others like you.  Now days there are more tools than ever before to find out where the knitters, hikers or computer code writers are congregating through meet-up sites advertised on the internet. This makes it much easier to identify groups with ideas similar to yours. Always show up when meeting up with others. Don’t just not show, which makes people avoid you because you are unreliable and therefore makes you feel more isolated.  You don’t have to run for president of the knitter’s society at your first meeting. But you do have to show up.

Be curious, but don’t expect perfection or applause. Each time you show up, it is an experiment, a micro adventure in social bonding. If you are curious about and interested in others, they will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention. So you will get attention in return. Curiosity about others also takes your focus away from those painful feelings that tend to make you hide and sulk. Kindness goes a long way.

Develop one good intimate friend. And once you have a friend or two, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be too analytical about whether you are giving more than you are getting, at first. If you make more friends and some of them are takers, you can choose to spend more time with the friends who reward your friendship.

And finally,

Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.


Research gathered for this blog came from:

Daniel Askt, (2008, Sept. 21). A talk with John Cacioppo: A Chicago scientist suggests that loneliness is a threat to your health. The Boston Globe Found online at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/09/21/a_talk_with_john_cacioppo/

Cacioppo, J. T., Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (in press). Alone in the crowd: The structure and spread of loneliness in a large social network. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.