People are inherently social beings. We crave community, socialization, and making meaningful connections with others. But satisfying that need isn’t always easy – nearly half of all Americans report feeling lonely sometimes, or always.
Loneliness is no casual issue. A chronic state of social isolation has connections to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Thankfully, loneliness is treatable. Here are a few suggestions for combating feelings of isolation and loneliness when they seek to overwhelm you.
An excellent way to ward off feelings of loneliness is to focus on ways to serve others in need. Volunteering puts you in contact with new people, gives you concrete goals to focus on, and fosters new feelings of accomplishment – especially as you put your energy into improving the world around you.
If you have school-aged children, their schools are an obvious place to start. Beyond that, take a look around your community watering holes, message boards, food pantries, and community gardens, and you’ll quickly spot opportunities to lend a hand.
Rediscover Your Favorite Activities
If you’re like most people, odds are there’s a space in your house or apartment for abandoned projects, plans that are perpetually on hold, and books waiting to be read. Rather than viewing the space as clutter that needs to be eliminated, think of it as a great tool for fighting loneliness.
Feelings of sadness and depression have a way of convincing us to put down the things in our lives that bring us joy. But those are the very things that hold the key to overcoming our loneliness. Make an attempt to rekindle an old hobby, with a deliberate effort to seek out groups in your area devoted to that activity.
Social media has its issues, but it’s a great tool for bringing together like-minded hobbyists. Use it to locate people in your community with similar interests, and find out how you can get involved.
Reconnect with Old Friends
Chances are you’re not the only person in your circle of friends and acquaintances who experiences feelings of loneliness. When it comes to reaching out, however, most people wait for someone else to make the first move.
Start with the assumption that it’s your responsibility to rekindle old relationships that have been sitting on the back burner for too long. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover how many people are delighted to hear from you, and how relieved they are that someone else took the initiative.
Don’t Depend on Social Media
The prevalence of social media in the past few decades may make it seem like we’re more connected than ever. But many of those connections are not very meaningful.
It can be easy to convince yourself that posting on social media is the same as socializing with a friend group. But you’re not really making friends. Instead, you may be spending your time looking at how others are presenting their lives – a habit that often leads to even greater feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Turn off your computer, put down your phone, and engage in face-to-face time with another person. Doing so will foster feelings of encouragement and empowerment that hours of social media will never provide.
Know the Difference between Loneliness and Depression
Most people experience feelings of loneliness, grief, and loss from time to time. These feelings may persist for days or more – and that’s normal. Accepting these feelings as valid is one of the first steps toward moving past them.
However, sometimes negative emotions persist and can seem insurmountable. While loneliness is a natural reaction to feeling isolated or alone, depression is a more generalized feeling of sadness and hopelessness that permeates all aspects of your life.
If these feelings won’t go away, regardless of your efforts, you should strongly consider talking with a professional counselor. Keep in mind that while loneliness is one of the most pervasive and impactful negative emotions you may encounter, it’s possible to enact meaningful change.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.