From Feeling Lonely to Feeling Connected
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’m lonely,” you’re ironically not alone. Everyone has experienced feeling lonely at some point in their lives—even people in long-term relationships or who are surrounded by others throughout the day. Although common, loneliness is a complex emotion. We are more connected than ever before, yet we somehow feel more isolated. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome loneliness and build meaningful connections, establish friendships to enrich your life and help you feel less isolated.
According to Sanity & Self’s dating and relationship coach Diane Mandell, in her audio session From Lonely to Connected, there’s a tremendous amount of stigma surrounding loneliness and being alone, but the two are not the same.
“Being alone is a state of being while loneliness is a state of mind,” she says. “Feeling lonely is the state of not feeling connected to others.”
Today’s Online World Plays a Part
Social media, instant messaging, and video calling can help us feel more connected, but the more time we spend online, or engrossed in technology, the less time we spend developing and nurturing those connections. We are also less involved in our communities and pursuing activities such as volunteering and sports. With longer commutes and workdays, which are often spent isolated in offices or cubicles, even family dinners have become a thing of the past. We are missing those critical face-to-face and intimate interactions that help us form meaningful connections. This leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Mandell describes loneliness as an enduring pain; one felt deep in your chest and one that is constant. Feeling lonely is not something you can just shake off. No matter where you go, what you’re doing, or who you are with, loneliness follows you like a dark shadow.
And, loneliness doesn’t discriminate. A recent national survey in the U.S. found that loneliness has reached “epidemic levels,” affecting all age groups, genders, and income brackets. Nearly half those polled reported sometimes or always feeling alone and only 53 percent said they had meaningful, in-person social interactions on a daily basis.
Persistent loneliness not only manifests in emotional pain, but it can also be damaging to our physical and mental health. Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity. It is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and blood pressure, and can trigger depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Some people turn to drugs, alcohol, or both to cope with the pain of loneliness.
To complicate matters, there are several different types of loneliness. Transitional loneliness occurs when we experience a major change in our lives. Even if the change is positive, such as moving, switching jobs, getting married, or starting a family, there’s a period of adjustment that can trigger feelings of loneliness. “For many people, change is not easy; especially people who are prone to anxiety,” says Mandell.
Workplace loneliness is also common. Feeling lonely can set in when the sole focus is on making money in lieu of making solid workplace connections. It’s also possible to feel isolated & alone when you’re surrounded by people, even friends. There are varying degrees of friendship, and there’s a big difference between a fast friend or acquaintance and having a friend you can confide in and who you can be your authentic self around. A study from 2014 indicated that one in ten people feel that they don’t have a single friend. Lack of family support is similar to friendship loneliness. “Many people are not blessed with strong family connections and this can bring about loneliness especially around birthdays and the holidays,” says Mandell.
Loneliness in a Relationship
The final kind of loneliness is feeling lonely in a relationship. It’s possible to feel lonely even when your partner is right next to you. This type of loneliness can occur when relationship dynamics change, such as after the birth of a baby, or when your partner is less committed, ungrateful, or inattentive. You might also feel lonely in a relationship when you’re both busy and have little time for one another. Feelings of resentment can surface, and arguments pile up.
Building Crucial Connections
When you’re feeling lonely, the first step is to tap into your support system, whether that’s family, friends, or both. “It’s important to have at least one person that you can tell everything and anything to,” says Mandell. But never jump into new relationships just because you’re craving companionship. Instead, focus on forming meaningful platonic relationships and having genuine social interactions with other people. Aim for quality, not quantity. “It’s important to seek out interactions with people that make you feel loved, engaged, interested, and happy,” Mandell explains. “Call your mom or dad and catch up with them or make an effort to call a friend when you’re both home after work instead of watching Netflix alone in your room.”
If you’re feeling lonely in a relationship, make sure you openly communicate with your partner. Work on making changes that help you feel more connected. You can also enrich your life and reduce loneliness by valuing your own self-worth and becoming familiar with the tools that boost your mood. Setting small goals and actively working toward them every day can help you combat feeling lonely and develop a positive outlook. Volunteering, joining a club, or participating in other activities, such as yoga or an improv class, are other avenues for making meaningful connections and overcoming loneliness.
Examine your past too. There might be hurtful experiences that contribute to why you’re feeling so lonely. Talk to a mental health professional if the feelings of loneliness evolve into feelings of hopelessness. And, remember that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. We all experience loneliness at different times in our lives.
Listen to Diana Mandell’s 7-part audio series, From Lonely to Connected in the Sanity & Self App Today
Have you experienced loneliness? How did you overcome it?