Feeling Lonely? So many people feel like you do.
Before the social distancing and isolation brought on by Covid-19, there was an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A recent poll identified three out of every five Americans as suffering from chronic loneliness. Among millennials the percentage is even higher.
With Covid-19 even more Americans feel lonely. It’s not just about being physically alone. It’s a feeling that no one really cares about you. Yes, there is social contact online and by telephone. There is maybe even talking with someone six feet away. But none of this contact is the same as interacting with co-workers or others on site. The deep connection is missing.
Several of the patients in my practice as a clinical psychologist tell me they feel the pain of not being touched physically nor emotionally day after day. They begin to think of themselves as not really mattering to anyone.
Because I am also a psychology professor, I try to give my patients some ways of thinking about being alone that psychologists have found are helpful.
Realize Loneliness Is a Label about Yourself Put on a Feeling
Being alone can create a feeling of emptiness, anxiety, dis-ease. Humans are social animals with a need to bond with others. When this need is not satisfied, there is a feeling of lack. Yet, it is not the lack itself, but the label attached to this lack that creates the pain of loneliness.
In trying to figure out why there is not someone there for you, you might label yourself as not loveable. Or you think that something is wrong with you, which whomever you are with will quickly notice. That lonely feeling, then, comes from thinking of oneself as a loser. And when you label yourself as a loser you lose the motivation to begin or renew a relationship with others. You then isolate even more, creating the very conditions that are distressing you.
Notice and Then Change What You Are Saying to Yourself
If you thought of yourself as loveable you might be more comfortable being alone. And you might also be more willing to seek out opportunities to be with others.
But how do you see yourself as more loveable? First, notice what you are saying to yourself that is not helpful. Are you labeling yourself as flawed and that everyone eventually will see those flaws? That is a sure way to not venture out of your shell. Now change the flawed message to one that is more helpful. Identify some of your attractive qualities and remember these each time you see yourself negatively. In this way, the flaws are balanced out with the attractive qualities.
Reach Out to Others
Now you are ready to connect with others. Yes, you will have to initiate the connection. That can be uncomfortable but, if you are now giving yourself the message that you have some positive qualities to share with others, it might be a little easier to reach out to others.
Yet, another thought might quickly enter your mind and keep you from taking action to connect with others. You might be thinking, “When I’m with others I think they are constantly evaluating me—what I say, how I look, what I do.” That self-talk holds you back so you have to change it into something more helpful.
Challenge that thought by saying “I will focus on the other person instead of focusing on the anxiety I feel when I feel I’m being evaluated.” Focusing on the other person instead of yourself takes the pressure off of what you are feeling.
Let the other person know what you noticed or heard instead of worrying about what you should reply. Stay with this stance. Everyone wants to be acknowledged as noticed and heard. It starts the connection and it deepens it.
Where to Find Others
If you don’t have some friends or relatives that you can reconnect with, try volunteering to help others. Volunteering increases your sense of really mattering to someone, which is the opposite of what you might have been thinking when you were isolating.
Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping. Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens? Then do an online search for where you might be most needed. The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”. Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. neighbors, homeless, migrants, special needs). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community. Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting other people who are also volunteering. And in this time of the Covid-19 crisis, so many people need so much help.
If you want to help but still want to stay home, there are many ways you can volunteer virtually. You won’t have quite the same experience of connection but you are taking the first step in reaching out to others.
Thus, by opening up your mind and focusing on the needs and words of others you will start to recover from loneliness.