10 Essential Mental Strategies to Deal With Loneliness
You’re definitely not alone in feeling lonely—a recent study by health insurer Cigna found that approximately half of the 20,000 surveyed adults reported feeling isolated and lack companionship. Nevertheless, loneliness is a significant mental health issue, so serious, in fact, that the UK has assigned a Minister for Loneliness to address the problem.
If you’re one of the millions of people struggling with loneliness—whether you’re single, living alone, going through a transition phase, or all three—here are a few helpful mental strategies to help shift your perception of your situation. These strategies can give you the tools you need to overcome your feelings of loneliness.
How are you dealing with loneliness right now?
1. Recognize That Loneliness is Just a Feeling
Understand that loneliness is a feeling, not your reality. You may feel alone and isolate, but that’s rarely the case. Our brains are designed to focus on any feelings of pain and danger so we can better protect ourselves if needed. This means that our minds tend to prioritize scary thoughts and feelings like loneliness. That’s why loneliness can feel so overwhelming.
And when your brain tries to make sense of this scary feeling, it’s easy to start over thinking and for things to blow out of proportion. What may have started with feeling a little sad about being alone during the holidays can explode into the belief that you’re a loser and everyone hates you. So the first step is to make an extra effort to recognize that your loneliness is just a feeling that will pass. It is not your reality, so you don’t need to overreact.
2. Identify Your Negative Thoughts
When you’re lonely and sad, it’s common to start seeing yourself and the world around you in a negative light. You can become so consumed by negativity that you just don’t notice the positive things that do happen to you, or you’ll create a negative narrative to explain away that positive event (i.e., “It could have happened to anyone” or “They did it out of pity because I’m such a loser.”). The most pervasive thought you may have when feeling lonely is that you’re alone because no one likes you or that you’re not good enough to be around others.
The most dangerous aspect of thoughts like these is that they’re so subtle and can creep up and hijack our minds before we know what hit us. So get into a habit of self-awareness. When you start to identify your negative thoughts, you’ll be able to replace them with more rational and positive thoughts, which will help you start building a more positive narrative of your world.
3. Debunk Your Negative Thoughts
Once you’ve identified your negative thoughts, write them down so you can begin debunking them. Here are some common negative thoughts you may have and how you can start debunking them:
There must be something wrong with me because I’m alone:
The idea that there must be something wrong with you because you’re alone makes no logical sense. Everyone will be alone at some point. Research shows that half of the developed world feel lonely, so you’re definitely not the only one. Being alone is a situation, not a reflection of who you are. Situations change, and your loneliness will pass.
I can’t stand feeling so lonely:
It may be true that you dislike feeling lonely, but your feelings won’t become overwhelming unless you let them. It’s the way you react to feeling lonely that matters. If you respond to loneliness with anger, frustration, desperation, or defeat, then you’re making your situation more unpleasant that it needs to be. Instead, accept your feelings of loneliness as just another common aspect of life that will come and go without catastrophizing it.
Since I’m alone, I should feel sad and lonely:
You are not on an island deep in the untapped wilderness. You may be alone right now, but you will be around others soon, whether it’s at work, getting coffee at Starbucks, or texting a friend. As long as you are living your life, you will never be alone forever.
I will always be alone:
Being alone is not the same as being sad or lonely no matter how much Hollywood movies may say so. Being alone is just being by yourself. Why should you feel sad just because there’s no one around you at the moment? Take this opportunity to do whatever you want. Indulge in your hobbies, develop new ones, and be as selfish as you like!
4. Make a Plan
As you develop better self-awareness and realize that you’re dealing with a habitual emotional spiral, you can start making plans to help you fight back against your feelings of loneliness. Reach out to the people around you even if it’s been a while. Get involved with your community, or find something else to do that will keep you occupied so you won’t spend so much time in your own head.
5. Treat Yourself With Compassion and Kindness
Instead of thinking that you need others to give you love, compassion, and acceptance, you can give yourself these things as well. Be kind to yourself. Show yourself some love by taking good care of yourself. Make yourself a healthy meal. Buy yourself a nice gift. For every criticism you may have about yourself, give yourself three compliments. Channel someone in your life who has shown you kindness (like your mother, father, aunt, etc.) to help you self-soothe. When you are compassionate and kind to yourself, you’ll find the strength and start developing tools to help you move past your feelings of loneliness and into a more comfortable head space.
6. Focus on Others Instead of Your Own Thoughts
You can walk down the street wallowing in your loneliness while staring at the ground. Or you can choose to walk down the street feeling grateful for being in the same space as all these people walking with you on the sidewalk, smiling at every person who makes eye contact and silently wishing them well. If you’re walking through your neighborhood, why not wish them a “Good morning/afternoon/evening”?
Sure, many probably won’t return your smile or respond with their own “good morning/afternoon/evening,” but that’s okay. The point is that you’ve put that positivity out there, and you’ve made yourself feel better.
7. Avoid Dwelling in Nostalgia
Revisiting fond memories may be fun or especially tempting when you’re feeling lonely, but it may be better for your mental health to keep those mementos in your closet. Reminiscing about the “good old days” may distract you temporarily from your feelings of loneliness, but you’re preventing yourself from taking concrete steps to deal with your loneliness. In fact, you may feel even worse after you finish reminiscing because if you’re stuck in the past, your present situation in comparison may seem even more impossible to handle.
8. Learn to Enjoy Spending Time With Yourself
If you’ve grown up with siblings or have always lived in shared living quarters, it can be jarring and uncomfortable when you start living alone or have to deal with long stretches of time by yourself. It’s easy to misinterpret the anxiety or the unsettled feeling of being by yourself as loneliness.
You don’t need other people to fill your schedule. Take this as an opportunity to develop new hobbies or discover something new about yourself. Do things that only you want to do. Instead of pining for the company of others, take this chance to be a little selfish and do things that make you happy.
9. Don't Be Afraid to Visit a Therapist
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your feelings of isolation and depression can become so overwhelming that you feel like you can’t overcome them. If you feel this way, please don’t be afraid to find professional help so you can get guidance on how to develop the necessary coping strategies specific to your needs.
10. Understand that Being Alone Does Not Equal Being Lonely
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that loneliness is relative. Some people may feel more lonely than others depending on their perception of how many friends people “should” have or how many regular social interactions people “should” have. In reality, many people are perfectly happy with just a few close friends and may only go to social events once or twice a month. So what you may consider a lack of social contact may not be the case.
Understand that loneliness can occur to anyone no matter how popular they may seem, so even if you’re feeling lonely right now, you’re definitely not alone.
© 2018 KV Lo