Overcoming loneliness and strengthening relationships

There’s always been a stigma around loneliness. Now more than ever, we should not be ashamed of it. Many suffer from touch-deprivation during lockdown when living alone. I recently posted about finding new friends online right now, but even that can seem too much when caught in the grips of loneliness.
What exactly is this hollow feeling inside, and how can we escape it?

Quality over quantity

Our instagram following or amount of Facebook friends do not determine how lonely we feel. Our romantic relationships, close friendships at work or our family support system influence how emotionally and socially isolated we feel. Now during global lockdown, the size of our household is the greatest factor. More than ever, our casual friends do not matter. We need to work on our relationships from afar.

The lies loneliness tells us

  • We become overly critical of ourselves, people around us and our relationships
  • We distrust our communication, social and empathy skills as we haven’t used them in a while (we are unaware that our relationship muscles atrophy)
  • Something must be wrong with us for feeling lonely (even though 40% of adults feel loneliness!)
  • That our self-protection and avoidance mechanism keep us safe (instead of stuck in the loop of isolation)

How to heal from loneliness even now

Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch identifies six different treatments that I will summarise below (and adapt to our crazy times). They first target our relationship muscles and then search for new avenues to find friends. Therefore we should do them in this order:

  1. Remove your negatively tinted glasses!
    We start expecting awkwardness, rejection and disappointment from the start when initiating a conversation. By giving situations the benefit of the doubt, we start getting out of our own head. Write out a list of people you fell out of touch with (by going through your old messages or address book), rank them by how good they made you feel, and reach out to one or two people a week. They will take it as a compliment. What’s the worst that could happen?

2. Identify your self-defeating behaviours!
We are often blind to our repeating patterns, so analysing our behaviour and being mindful of it going forward can make all the difference. Do we ask other’s about their day, do we smile when talking, give calls back, not take comments too personally? Once written out, keep this list at hand and read it before talking to people. Be patient with yourself and praise yourself for the progress you’re making!

3. Take the other person’s perspective!
This is a mental exercise crucial for healthy relationships, and it can weaken when we fall out of habit. Do other’s find our jokes funny? Do we make sure any sarcasm or irony is obvious in written messages? Do we expect others to read our minds? Are we maybe seeming judgemental to other people’s opinions?

4. Deepen your emotional bonds!
Overestimating our empathy is human. Visualise yourself in their situation, but really do it. Not just for a second, take into account their entire emotional landscape and your relationship history. Ask other’s compassionate questions, and your caring and consideration will make people feel listened to.

5. Create opportunities for social connections!
For this, my recent post about finding friends (for free) will come in handy. Gaming is another great outlet, as well as volunteering. I started helping out in a food kitchen, and speaking to people every day has done my loneliness wonders.

6. Adopt a best friend!
The final advice is about adopting an animal. This of course depends on where you live right now and whether shelters are still open. Battersea Cats & Dogs Shelter announced record numbers for March when the lockdown was announced as many pounced (hehe) on a quarantine buddy.

Still in pain?

If you’ve tried all of the above and are still suffering, to the point of having unhealthy thoughts, please consider seeing a specialist. Everyone has moved online and you should be able to find someone even with a smaller budget. They will be able to tailor treatments to your situation too! Don’t let life pass you by, take initiative and feel joy again! All the best in your journey x

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