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Reducing the Stress of Loneliness

By Susan Murphy, PhD
Small intentional steps can help combat feelings of loneliness which are on the rise due to quarantine.

How can there be a crisis of loneliness when there are more than 7 billion people in the world?  Doesn’t that seem counter-intuitive?  

A few years ago, the UK created a Minister of Loneliness because loneliness in England was increasing at such an alarming rate. This crisis poses as grave a threat to global health as obesity, substance abuse and heavy smoking. When people live with little human contact, they are more likely to become ill, suffer cognitive decline and die prematurely.  Experts refer to loneliness as “quiet devastation.” Surprisingly, young Millennials aged 18-22 report being the loneliest population. 

What can you do to reduce the stress of loneliness and increase your quality of life even when physically separated from loved ones?   

Remember that you are not alone in your loneliness

There can be solace in knowing that feeling lonely is very common.  Everyone has felt lonely at some point. Although it may be hard for you to discuss, there is no shame in loneliness. Novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.”

Find ways to connect with others     

Connecting with others can seem daunting when you already feel low.  A lonely client finally mustered her strength and reached out to her friends, telling them honestly, “I’m feeling lonely. Want to meet for coffee?” Doing this felt like a difficult thing to do in her lonely state. However, the response Laura received by expressing her truth was so positive; she is now reaching out to others who may be lonely.  Laura has reignited some old connections, deepened relationships with her family and befriended new people. 

Help others and allow others to help you  

Humans are social beings and have at their core the desire to connect.  By helping others in meaningful ways, you are reminded of your values and purpose.  The adage “it’s better to give than to receive” fits here.  Focusing on someone else who needs help makes you feel less alone and more meaningful. Your loneliness can disappear as you connect with and serve others, whether sending a greeting card, shopping for a sick neighbor, volunteering at a soup kitchen, calling a lonely widow or smiling
at a stranger.    

Embrace your solitude and rekindle your relationship with yourself

When you make time to understand yourself, what you desire in life and your values, you are more likely to make better choices about whom you want to be around.  While alone, turn on some music, light a scented candle and think of the qualities you like about yourself and that you appreciate in others. This solitude may be the time to start journaling, meditating, praying, playing a musical instrument, or learning a new language.

Practice self-care

Tips from NASA for astronauts to ward off loneliness include a strict schedule for daily grooming, aerobic exercising, making healthy meals be shared experiences with other crew members and a sleeping routine that ensures adequate rest. Fresh flowers and green plants can be nourishing. Many people report that adopting a pet gets them up and moving every day.

Form an attitude of gratitude

Feeling lonely can deplete your energy and make the world around you seem increasingly dismal and empty.  Try shifting your view to an attitude of gratitude.  It is amazing to consider the discoveries, systems and inventions made during the past 30 years.  You can now connect with people anywhere in the world instantaneously. Soldiers away from home can Facetime, play Internet games and even help their kids with homework. There are same-day home deliveries by stores, pharmacies and restaurants 24/7. The recent developments in technology make it easy to rekindle relationships and develop new ones. This is worth appreciating.    

Don’t wallow in your loneliness

Set a statute of limitations on feeling like a victim of loneliness.  A friend once shared that she was so lonely she was going to watch the saddest movie she could find and cry for two hours.  She was surprised when rather than continue to give her the sympathy I had been providing for a few days, I said, “Why not find the funniest movie you can and laugh for two hours?” 

Keep reminders of loved ones close at hand     

Surround yourself with pictures and sentimental items that remind you of loved ones and happy times. Astronauts, soldiers, and others who travel for long distances find that personal keepsakes can ease the pain of loneliness and often bring smiles to their faces and comfort to their hearts.   

Limit your time on social media 

Many studies show that social media can lead to feelings of depression, inadequacy and isolation as people compare their lives with everyone else’s carefully orchestrated versions.  FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a new phenomenon of social media where people sense that something great is happening and they are not included. Then, they feel neglected and abandoned.  Oxford University found that of 150 Facebook friends, you can depend on only four, on average, if you need a real friend.  

You deserve to feel connected, purposeful and valued.  Can you think of a lonely person right now who would enjoy a call from you? Why not make that call? And if you feel your loneliness is turning into depression, please seek professional help.

Dr. Susan Murphy of Rancho Mirage is a best-selling author, business consultant and speaker specializing in relationships, conflict, leadership and goal-achievement. She is co-author of LifeQ and In The Company of Women and can be reached at Susan@DrSusanMurphy.com. Murphy’s article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

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