What to Do When We're Lonely
In a recent post, Does Loneliness Make You Sick, I reviewed a study that came out linking physiological reasons why loneliness puts us at risk for getting sick. One of the readers aptly commented wanting more resources for loneliness, saying that now that we know that loneliness can have a negative effect on us physiologically, what can we do about it?
If you’ve been following my writings, you know I have an inclination toward mindfulness as a way of approaching our lives. So I’d be curious about whether loneliness is actually the culprit in making us sick or is it the way we relate to loneliness? Meaning loneliness is an uncomfortable feeling that makes us want to retreat from the world or perhaps avoid in other ways such as addictive behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, sex, or work.
In mindfulness, we speak about learning how to nonjudgmentally approach the actual feeling that’s there as a first step. This means putting on the hat of beginner’s mind and exploring the actual physical sensation that is associated with loneliness. As best you can, relate to the feeling with compassion, if this is difficult, imagine someone who you think of as a compassionate person, dead or alive, and consider how they might relate to this feeling.
Your mind may pop up with the thought, “that’s the most awful idea I’ve ever heard, I’m already so alone, you want me to spend more time alone with myself?” Remember, this is just a first step, what we’re wanting is to train the mind that it can actually be with what’s here and doesn’t have to be so reactive to hating oneself or turning to destructive behaviors.
Although many of us can feel alone even in a crowd, it’s still a good idea to try and come up with some ways to be around people.
This is the second step and here are some ideas:
- Meetup.com – I don’t work for this company or know anyone who does, but I’ve had some success with patients who have engaged with this site. You can find others who share similar interests and join in-person groups who are meeting up around something you care about, whether it’s a hike, a movie, knitting, or just going out for a meal. Never, take my word for it, try it out for yourself.
- Social Networking – Sometimes going out with people is just too much. Sites like Facebook, Ning, Myspace and others provide a space to be connected with others. We love people to join our growing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook community on Facebook. There are many opinions about these sites also being a source of avoiding person to person contact, but they do provide a means of connection.
- Therapy – Sometimes just getting one relationship started provides the springboard for many more. Therapy is a great option to get that caring person to person connection going and to explore other ways to relate to loneliness and shift from it. In this process the most important thing is to find a therapist you connect with and feel good about. If the connection is not there, it’s ok to shop around.
Don’t take my word for it, try these steps out and see what happens next.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Is my lonliness getting worse because of these symptoms? - Michaela - Mar 6th 2011
I have always been a VERY lonely person so I would always try to keep someone around at all times, If there was no one around I would get on the computer or try to keep my mind occupied. I am also Bipolar and recently found out im pregnant. Since I have found out Im pregnant I have had alot of stress and have been without my medication because I dont have medical right now, I have been EXTREMELY lonely but have lost the want to be around people, To be honest I hate going out and seeing people. When I go out I think people are staring at me and making fun of me, So I dont go anywhere anymore. If I have to go some where I flip out while im getting ready and start calling myself names and having anxiety attacks. Is this a symptom of my disorder or could this be because of my severe loneliness?
mindfullness - Gledwood - Mar 5th 2011
I'm interested in this mindfulness thing. I just got diagnosed schizoaffective it means I have 3 mental problems. Mania, schizophrenia and depression in roughly descending order. There are worse things in life than "elevated mood" so I try not to think on it too badly. But your post contains some useful food for thought.
Hey how come your blog gives no link to mine? I'm at gledwood2.blogspot.com. If you do know of a good schizoaffective forum where people don't go on about the US Government posting microchips in patients' brains please do let me know at mine. Bipolar I found lots of good resources for but schizophrenia was dire and schizoaffective very patchy indeed.
Also I found out I have an illness classified differently in Europe (where I am) and the USA. I'd have to go 2 weeks without mood swings to be American schizoaffective, which I'm not sure I've ever done in immediate living memory...