Dealing with Loneliness – Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist, Denise Iordache, shares her tips on dealing with loneliness.
What is loneliness?
As noted by the world-renowned emotions researcher, Brene Brown, at the heart of loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interaction. Social interaction can be anything from an intimate relationship to friendship or even community or workgroup connections.
Loneliness is an emotion experienced by all human beings at some point in their lives. However, loneliness is both complex and unique to everyone – there is no one size fits all. According to many experts, loneliness is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, if one feels alone and isolated, then that’s how loneliness plays out for them specifically.
Loneliness generally causes people to feel empty, unwanted, alone, and isolated and can be a major factor in depression. And it is not to be confused with solitude. Loneliness is marked by feelings of isolation despite wanting social connections and is often perceived as involuntary separation, while solitude is always voluntary.
What can cause loneliness?
For those of us experiencing loneliness, the following list of challenges is not an exhaustive list of situations that may cause someone to feel lonely, but a mere indication of potentially triggering situations we need to be aware of.
Moving to a new location
Divorce (end of a long-term relationship)
Death of someone significant
Additionally, loneliness can be a symptom of depression and it is sometimes attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem.
People who lack confidence, tend to believe they are unworthy of attention, which in turn can lead to chronic loneliness.
How can you help someone who appears to be lonely?
Since there can be many scenarios to consider, one approach can be to sensitively ask someone who appears to be lonely, about their social interactions and connections. For example: How are you spending your days most often? Are you taking part in many activities with your friends/colleagues / etc.? This questioning should be done in an empathetic and non-judgmental way for the other person to feel safe answering the question. Also, never assume you know their answer. Remember that we ask the questions because we want to hear the answers, which in turn can help us understand if there is anything we can do to help.
Additionally, overcoming loneliness is not only about getting support but also about giving support back and mutual aid. For example, a sensitive way to reach out would be to ask that person for their help.
Ask them to help you be more socially active for example or ask them for a coffee after work. An act of kindness and inclusion can make all the difference for a person struggling with loneliness. So, if in doubt, just be kind and offer your support in the best way that you can and according to your own available resources.
Managing loneliness, the healthy way
One of the first things I would recommend to someone feeling lonely would be to acknowledge and accept the feeling itself. Many of us feel lonely at some point in our lives, while for others this could be an overwhelming feeling which does not seem to easily go away.
However, many do not accept we feel lonely, and this negates or invalidates our own feelings which I would highly recommend against. I would say radical acceptance of our feelings (including loneliness) should lead the way. Yes, loneliness is an emotion just like all the other emotions and we should not feel any less worthy because of it.
In addition to the above Denise Iordache would encourage people who struggle with loneliness to seek:
Balance in their lives and looking after their well-being as a top priorities.
This can mean different things to different people. For most of us, this would mean we resort to mindfulness-like initiatives and place our focus on the present moment. e.g., breathing, noticing 3 things, seeking calming activities which allow us to reconnect with ourselves, etc.
Pleasure in their activities and plan those because they are pleasurable and make them feel joy. Joy can be a great emotion to counter loneliness. These joy-infusing activities can be endless; some examples could be reading a book, watching a comedy, dancing, joining a new class, going walking, hiking, or taking a relaxing bath.
Achievement in their lives. Sometimes, it is very easy to see the things we did not do versus the ones we completed successfully. By focusing on those we’ve achieved, we can improve our own perception of ourselves. These achievements do not have to be large efforts to be mentioned; they can be anything, even doing the housework, cooking a new recipe, completing an exercise routine, or doing admin tasks. We need to seek and celebrate all our achievements, no matter how small.
Connection as this is an integral part of being human. We are social animals; therefore, we thrive on meaningful connections which bring us closeness. A way to drive this would be to increase opportunities for social interaction, such as joining a group of like-minded individuals who share their hobby interests or choose to volunteer for a cause they believe in (either online or in-person). Or they can perform their own little experiment – why not talk to a stranger and see what happens?
Help – therapy can be of great help to people struggling with loneliness. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can prove to be very helpful as it is one of the most researched therapeutic interventions for loneliness2. CBT proves efficient because it deals with both cognitive and behavioural restructuring while challenging the negative thoughts lonely people tend to focus on.
Top tip: challenge your thoughts. Challenging our thoughts allows us to reflect and find our own answers to the problems we face. Just as much as we challenge ourselves to present proof of what we think, e.g. ‘What evidence is that for that belief?’ or ‘What would be a more helpful and realistic way of looking at this situation?’ to help shed light on the fact that we’re sometimes stuck in our own heads, and we do not realise that there are people out there who care about us and can help us feel less lonely.