The day we officialy became empty nesters I was caught off guard in the way loneliness enveloped me. I was drowning in sadness as I found myself wandering around the empty bedrooms remembering the funniest of details about raising our family. For years I had been looking forward to having them all leave home, and when it finally came I felt so alone.
It’s normal to experience various levels of loneliness from time to time. For the lonely, the time around the holidays is often a trigger for this overpowering emotion, for others, major life changes or extreme stress can produce this emotional phenomenon.
The sheer number of people who experience some form of loneliness is surprisingly high. For example, in the last 30 days, I have had several readers and friends share story after story all related to this intense emotion.
One feels isolated because of her debilitating pain spanning the last two decades, another has watched all her friends get married and have children while she has yet to realize this blessing. Several are recently divorced and learning about a new kind of lonely, one young mom raising her little family has just moved to a new town without any friends. And my heart broke when I learned of a friend who lost a family member to suicide.
Maybe you can see one of your friends in this group, or maybe it’s a reflection of you.
The crazy thing about loneliness is its cyclical nature. We avoid talking about feeling lonely because we don’t know how to process the emotions which leads to further withdrawal and increased isolation. The one thing that stops the cycle is what helps the most. Sharing is one of the best forms of medicine when it comes to curing our loneliness.
Loneliness Can Lead To…
Besides being emotionally painful, loneliness can be at the root of many of our common ailments.
Depression: A study by Tiikkainen and Heikkinen found lonely people to have more depressive symptoms, experiencing a lack of belonging in social interactions. The research also found depression and loneliness to perpetuate each other.
Health: One of the more surprising effects is on our physical health. Social isolation and loneliness increase our chances of premature death. Lack of a reliable social connection is connected to poorer immunity, overall health, and wellbeing, making the lonely more susceptible to a variety of health issues.
Physical Pain: The areas of the brain dealing with social exclusion also process physical pain. This scientific explanation brings a new meaning to the idea of a “broken heart.” If your dealing with chronic pain consider how connected you feel with other people. Could loneliness be at the root of your pain?
Physically connecting with other people alters our cortisol or stress hormone levels, helps us maintain healthy eating and exercise routines while curbing negative behaviors like too much TV.”
How to Beat Loneliness
It’s important to remember it’s okay to be alone, but when your thoughts start playing games with your emotions it’s time to reign in the loneliness. The whole notion that it’s all in your head has some relevance when it comes to loneliness.
Have you ever been in a crowd yet felt lonely?
There is a difference between being alone and the actual emotion of loneliness. Our thoughts tend to create more of a problem than there actually is. Do a little mind work and try thinking of alternate perspectives to your situation. Don’t accept the first thoughts that come into your mind (No one likes me, I don’t have anything to offer, I’m a loser and an outcast)
Then try some of these ideas on for size:
- Remember Circumstances are Neutral. Try to separate the difference between what you think are your feelings and what the actual circumstances are. Remember your feelings are not facts.
- Share your Feelings. Talk about what you feel with a friend, family member, or even within an online support group. Opening up and sharing what we feel not only will help you feel better but strength your relationships. Don’t let your brain talk you into thinking it’s not important or you don’t matter. There are people ready to listen and help. Search them out, let them in, and stop the cycle.
- Kindness Matters. Instead of waiting for some to help you, step outside of your comfort zone and help some else. Find a volunteer opportunity through your church or community. Read to the elderly, work at a food bank, take a meal into someone who is sick. Look and you’ll be surprised how much there is to do for others.
- Try out some new happy habits. There is a direct correlation between these tendencies and happiness. Small changes in behavior help us to intentionally manage our emotions.
- Take a class or start a new hobby. There are mental, social and physical benefits to learning something new. Look into a class about an interest you have, join a friend in a hobby she enjoys, or try something you’ve always wanted to try. It will help you feel better. I promise.
- Get a Weighted Blanket. This is an idea a couple of my friends have tried and it’s a fabulous idea. One friend has PTSD and the other has a husband who has been deployed overseas. Both use this blanket to help with loneliness. Studies have shown the weight of a blanket simulates being hugged and what could be better when you’re feeling lonely than to have a nice hug. They come in different weights and have various fabrics. Here are a couple of brands to look into.
Often when we feel lonely it is related to a lack of belonging. We don’t quite see where we fit into the world.
In the absence of love and belonging, there is always suffering.”
Loneliness can be a painful and dark place. But you are important and have so much to offer! Don’t give up keep searching because I know you have a place in this world; you just need to find it. Try some of these ideas out see how it feels. I’d love to hear what helps you the most in the comments below.
How do you beat loneliness, drop a comment in the space below? I’d love to hear from you!
Originally published at www.choosingwisdom.org.