How to Deal with Loneliness in Ten Easy Steps
Despite being surrounded by billions of people on an over-crowded planet, we can feel lonely for many reasons. Whether it's through illness, lack of family and community connections, or simply because you've ended up feeling that way, check out my ten top tips for reconnecting with other humans.
1) Don't pay for social connection. The 'companionship market' now includes options to rent a walking buddy, dinner date or hire a friend along with the more traditional human interaction services. Yes, really, it's a thing! Why fake it when you can have the real deal? You might as well rent a hologram or a robot for all the good it's doing for your self-esteem.
2) The summary of all the self-help and happiness recipe books I've read is that we all need social connections to survive. They are as essential as food, air and water. So don't feel that you are somehow 'abnormal', 'needy' or 'weak' for feeling lonely. Experiencing loneliness can lead to a downward spiral of self-doubt, lack of confidence and inaction, if you let it. The more lonely you feel, the harder it can sometimes be to do something about it. As John Donne so wisely said, 'No man is an island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main'. We are designed to be connected.
3) If you are lonely because of circumstances such as chronic illness, disability or other crap circumstance, it can be particularly tricky to keep and maintain social relationships. This is where the internet comes in. We are forever told that as a society, we spend too much time online and that it is a poor substitute for meeting people face to face. But if you can't get out, the internet is an extremely salient second-place contender. Aside from the option to connect with people on social media, there are all manner of forums, self-help groups and support groups online chock-full of people just as lonely as you. The added benefit of these is that the normal rules of socialising don't seem to apply, you can jump straight in and start discussing exactly how it is without even bothering to mention the weather. If you are lonely at night, the internet is always awake to keep you company. There will always be someone on the other side of the world up and online to chat with.
4) Feeling lonely requires an effort on your part to overcome. Try not to focus blame for your loneliness outwards on people who haven't called, emailed or visited and instead think about what you could do to increase your chatting chances today. You don't have to make a big effort, just take regular small steps to reach out. Start tiny and start local. One of my friends got a small bench and put it in front of her house so she could chat to people coming and going in her street. She met and got to know most of her neighbours over the following weeks and by adding props such as knitting or a book, it created a handy focal point. A retired neighbour of mine simply sits on her front step with the door open around 5pm when people are coming home from work. She appears to know everyone and from saying hello to her every day, we have now moved beyond discussing her cat and the weather, to actual matters of importance. She is a loneliness busting ninja and has smashed her own solitary blues.
5) If you are able to venture further than the internet, or your immediate locale, the public transport system is ripe with opportunity for meeting and connecting with other lonely folk. The bus stop is prime socialising fodder and if you don't know what to say to people, sometimes just a smile can be enough to encourage someone else to chat. Good conversational opening gambits can include discussing/complaining about the buses, asking how long someone has waited for the bus and of course, the weather. Lots of people are happy to chat with a friendly stranger and in many cases, these superficial conversation starters can often led to more in-depth discussions, particularly if you see the same people every day.
6) Gen up on news and current affairs so that if you do have an opportunity to speak to new people, there is a common platform on which to connect. News creates strong emotion and most people like to express this, especially to a willing listener.
7) Identify what type of loneliness you have. You can be surrounded by people all day, every day and still feel lonely because you don't have the connection with them that you would like, or you just don't like them at all. Is it a close deep relationship you are missing? Or a connection based on a passion or goal? Do you feel unable to express your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly? If you can identify what it is you need from other people and what exactly is missing, it is much easier to go about finding it.
8) Research has shown that simply hearing the sound of other people talking, seeing them on TV or even reading books can help us feel less alone. I find that watching YouTube videos is great for the times when I'm ill and forced to spend time indoors. Sometimes mundane daily vlogs of people going shopping is enough to make you feel like you're hanging out with a mate, with the added bonus of not having to interact if you're low on social energy. I've been surprised that when I have felt like commenting, a lot of YouTubers have replied and I've built up an online friendship with them. They are mostly just ordinary people just wanting to connect, just like you are.
9) Animals can be a fantastic way to beat loneliness and you don't even need to own any yourself. I've found that other people's pets are a handy portal for opening conversations with their human owners. Again, start local in the street or a nearby park and you will find that complimenting dog owners on their pet is like a golden ticket to making pals. In the world of dog walking, as on internet forums, the normal rules do not apply. It is perfectly acceptable to just go up to a stranger and start stroking their pooch. This can then lead onto bigger and better things such as a conversation about you, an offer to borrow said dog or even a friendship. If cats are your thing, stop and make time for them when you're out and about. Some of my best friends are cats I've met near my house and one is so friendly, I accidentally ended up wearing it as a scarf the other day.
10) Or you could just tell people you are lonely and see what happens. There's seems to be a huge stigma around admitting to loneliness, but it's something we will all feel at some point and there's nothing to be ashamed of. Feeling connected again might be as simple as being honest with the people in your life and asking for their help. They may not have any idea you feel this way and for all you know, they could be feeling lonely too. Remember, you're NOT alone and loneliness is not something you have to suffer. I hope these tips have helped and I'd love to know how you get on if you try some of them out!