Coping with Loneliness BCP

How to Gently Cope With Loneliness

by Brisbane City Psychologist Dr Cindy Theresiana

Loneliness is one of the most complex human emotions and can be very painful to feel. Loneliness is not just merely being alone, it is a feeling and awareness of being disconnected from people around you. Some people describe the experience of loneliness as “being invisible while the world goes by around you”, “I feel like screaming but no one hears me”, or “intense longing to be seen, understood and connected”. 

Experience of Loneliness

Although loneliness can make it seem like you are the only person who feels lonely, nearly everyone feels lonely at times. For some people, loneliness is a transient feeling and experience. For others, loneliness is experienced during major changes in their lives, such as moving away, losing a loved one, a relationship break up, becoming a new parent or retiring. 

For some people, loneliness can also feel like a chronic disconnection from others around them. Although loneliness can be such an isolating feeling, it is a universal experience and part of being human. As social beings, we have an innate need to be connected to others. Loneliness can be a signal that our need for meaningful connection is not being met adequately. 

Epidemic of Loneliness

Ros Knight, the president of the Australian Psychological Society, has described loneliness as a ‘psychological epidemic’ and one that is quickly becoming a public health issue. Our society continually becomes more anonymous and disconnected. Participation in community activities has reduced and we live in a society where we do not know the names of our neighbours. 

The Australian Psychological Societ and Swinburne University recently conducted a survey exploring the level of loneliness experienced by Australians and the effects on their health and wellbeing and produced the Australian Loneliness Report. This report shows that:

1 in 4

Australians feel lonely

Lonely

Australians have worse physical and mental health, including increased blood pressure, depression, and anxiety

Many

especially younger Australians – report anxiety about socialising

30%

don’t feel part of a group of friends

Tips to Gently Cope with Loneliness

If loneliness is something you have been struggling with, there are some first steps you can take to help you cope:

Normalise
Loneliness

Remind yourself that, although feeling lonely can feel isolating, loneliness is a universal emotion that most everyone feels at times. Loneliness can touch everyone and it is far more common than we thought.

Identify and Catch
Self-defeating Thoughts

When we experience loneliness, our minds can automatically wander to unhelpful stories about ourselves, others, or the future. Thoughts such as “I am a loser”, “I am unlovable”; “I am unimportant”;  “No one cares”; “Everyone forgets and leaves me”. Identifying these stories, helps us to assess and to get unstuck from these stories.

Use Mindfulness Skills to Help You While You Are Experiencing Loneliness

Loneliness can be unpleasant and painful. Fighting the emotion can leave us feeling more frustrated and helpless. Mindfulness skills can help you move through the experience by non-judgmentally observing, describing, accepting, and breathing through the emotion.

There are some useful books and apps to help you practice mindfulness, such as:

 Headspace   |  Smiling Mind   |   Smiling Mind App   |   What is Mindfulness

Remove Judgement of Doing Activities Alone

Friends might not always be available and finding like-minded people to develop meaningful connections with can take time. In the meantime, try to experiment with yourself and do activities alone. Be open without expectations. It is ok to do activities alone. You might surprise yourself and find it more enjoyable than you expected. You might also meet new people while doing those activities. 

Identify Barriers of Developing Connections

Sometimes, we have some barriers in developing connections with others. It could be our anxiety and fear; trust issues due to past trauma, self-esteem issues, unhelpful beliefs about ourselves or others, or depression. We sometimes also subconsciously self-sabotage ourselves by withdrawing, isolating, or pushing people away. These barriers can be a longstanding pattern in our life. Identifying these barriers can help us to overcome them.

Foster Connection

Look at loneliness as a reminder of your value for connection. Reconnect with people around you:

– Go out and smile to a stranger.

– Reconnect and stay in touch with people that you care about.

– Find activities that are meaningful for you such as volunteering at animal shelters or at an organisation that supports a cause that you care about.

– Join a sporting club, discussion groups, hiking groups, book clubs, mindfulness groups, or Meet Up groups.

– Find like-minded or support groups online.

Treat Yourself With Kindness and Compassion

Loneliness can be a painful emotion to experience. Kindness to yourself is especially important while experiencing unpleasant emotions. Beating yourself up will only make the experience more difficult for you. So be kind and gentle to yourself.

Connect With a Counsellor or Psychologist

If you are having difficulties in dealing with loneliness, a compassionate therapist would be able to support and guide you to your manage emotions. With their help, you can learn to identify your unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and barriers; and help you to overcome those barriers to develop more meaningful connections. 

Worried about seeing a psychologist for the first time? These steps can help you have a positive experience.