What can I do when I feel lonely?
The cost of loneliness and what you can do about it
It was Mental Health Awareness Week recently and this year’s theme was ‘Loneliness’.
We don’t talk about loneliness enough. I know this because when clients mention feeling lonely (which is not uncommon), it’s often done with eyes lowered, a cringe of embarrassment and an undertone of shame.
There seems to be a sense that if we admit we’re lonely, we are admitting some school hang-up about not having friends or not being popular. The truth is we ALL need in-person, human connection to thrive. We need relationships just like we need food, water and the air we breathe. Introverts need it. Busy people need it.
Where is your loneliness coming from?
The symptom of feeling lonely is something you need to sit with to address it and create a life with more connection. I offer these possible lines of enquiry to explore with a pen, paper and cuppa:
- Is the depth of your existing relationships giving you what you need?
- How are you holding back in your current relationships?
- Are you staying in friendships that aren’t bringing you anything?
- Do you long for new friendships and connection with a wider group?
- Are you making enough time for your relationships?
- Is your fear of vulnerability causing you to withdraw in relationships?
- Are you hiding behind excuses like “I’m an introvert” or “I’m too busy” to avoid creating the connection you need?
- Is your loneliness a symptom of anxiety, burn-out or low mood that could be helped with professional support?
Why should we care about loneliness?
The health cost of loneliness is huge. Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad conducted a meta-analysis of 70 studies on loneliness and mortality. She found that the cost of social isolation is as detrimental to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese.
When we feel lonely, we’re more to prone to feeling anxious, stressed and less resilient in the face of life’s challenges. And when we feel isolated, it taps into our deepest fears; the fear of being on the periphery or rejection. We’re tribal people. Historically, if we weren’t accepted into our tribe, that exile would have meant death.
It’s also harder to create a life we love if we’re feeling isolated. Isolation creates a bias towards defensiveness and playing it safe. This isn’t ideal when creating opportunities usually requires a healthy appetite towards risk and a willingness to be open and engage with the world.
We are more likely to successfully achieve our dreams if we have the support of a strong social network. Luck and opportunity tend to flow in through our connections. We’re also going to feel safer and more emotionally balanced when we benefit from strong relationships. From there our energy is more easily freed up to be creative and bolder in what we do.
What you can do if you feel lonely
Hopefully you’ve seen that creating time for connection is never frivolous or unproductive. It’s essential for your success and needs to be treated as a non-negotiable.
If you know you need connection with new people, it’s time to take a deep breath and take action. What clubs or community groups could you join? Why not explore https://www.meetup.com/?
If that all feels too overwhelming, check out the Random Acts of Kindness foundation. It has great suggestions for creating daily moments of kindness every day which is another research-backed way to reduce loneliness.
If you’re feeling disconnected in your existing relationships at the moment, I LOVED this podcast with Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle which is called “How to Know Ourselves and Be Known By Our People”. There’s an eye-opening section on the ‘near enemy of connection’. It opened my eyes to the ways I had been creating disconnect in my relationships so I hope it serves you too.
It starts with you
Finally, the most important relationship you have is with yourself. I don’t buy into “you can only love another until you love yourself”. But I do believe we’re much more likely to be critical, controlling and projecting our sh*t onto others when we don’t treat ourselves with the kindness or love that we need.
If you want to explore how you can transform your relationship with yourself (and others), you’re welcome to book in for my free, 45 minute clarity call.
May 24th, 2022