Coping with Loneliness
“All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot!” – Dr Seuss
We all feel lonely from time to time. It’s a normal part of being human. However, the number of people feeling lonely more often in the UK is steadily increasing. It seems ironic that with all the technology available to help us connect with others from all over the world, many people feel more isolated and disconnected than perhaps ever before.
You can find facts and statistics about loneliness at the following links:
Loneliness is difficult to define and is a very subjective, personal feeling. There are different types of loneliness we may feel:
Loneliness can be a feeling that comes and goes (transient loneliness), which is something most people experience from time to time. There may be certain situations where we’re prone to feeling lonely e.g. evenings after work, weekends, Christmas, birthdays etc. (situational loneliness). Or we may feel lonely all the time (chronic loneliness).
We might feel lonely because we’ve lost someone who we were close to (emotional loneliness), or because we lack a social circle, community or sense of belonging (social loneliness). We may simply feel disconnected from others, even though they are around, and feel that life lacks meaning (existential loneliness).
Like many people, I’ve experienced my fair share of loneliness (of different types) throughout my life. When I feel lonely, I’ve found there are a few strategies to make things a little easier. I recently came across a technique called ‘Self-Support’, which sums these up quite nicely.
Of course, the best way to overcome loneliness is to reach out and make connections – to people, animals, nature, our interests, and wider community. But if for whatever reason we’re finding that difficult, supporting ourselves can be the first steppingstone to helping ourselves cope with loneliness.
Seven Strands of Self-Support comes from the book ‘Seven Ways to Build Resilience’ by Chris Johnstone. The seven strands are;
Treat Myself Well
If there’s no one else around to cheer us on, maybe it’s time to become our own cheerleader. Our own coach. I really notice a difference in my mood and wellbeing between times when I allow my inner critic to take over, compared to when I talk to myself compassionately and with gentle encouragement. Research has shown that when we talk to ourselves in an encouraging tone, it can help us achieve what we’re aiming for. Talking to ourselves kindly might just put us in a better mindset to do the things we need or want and move forward, including coping with our feelings of loneliness. “I’m ok” and “I can do this” are go-to statements for me. Play around with statements you might like to use.
If we were helping someone else, we would take the time to listen to what they’re feeling and what they need, to understand how we can help them. If we want to help ourselves, we need to do the same thing! Setting aside time to listen to our own needs can help us understand what we need to do to boost ourselves or move towards our goals. And if we don’t have anyone else to listen and understand us, we can gain a comfort in doing this for ourselves. We may even feel more connected to ourselves which could kick start feelings of connection to other things / people in the world around us.
How can we listen to ourselves? There are lots of ways we could do this, including staying in tune with our body and thoughts through mindfulness, or writing about how we feel in a journal. These are techniques we talk through on our courses, so join us if you haven’t already by signing up at https://valleyssteps.org/online-sessions/
Another way to coach ourselves when we face difficult times alone is to focus on our personal strengths. We all have personal strengths. To identify yours, you could look back on times when you felt you did something well, felt at your best or reflect on what qualities helped you to cope during previous difficult times.
Are you hardworking? Determined? Practical? Kind? Playful? Something else? It may take a while to identify our personal strengths, especially if we’re not used to paying attention to them, so don’t be disheartened if you can’t think of them right away. Once you’ve identified what your personal strengths are, simply using them in our day to day lives can boost happiness and reduce low mood. For example, sometimes this blog post is difficult to write as I struggle with finding the best ways to word things, but I’m determined to complete it!
To paraphrase various singers; “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. Life unfortunately requires us to do a lot of tasks and chores that we don’t always feel like doing. Or if we’re working towards goals, we may go through difficult or boring times between our milestones and successes. If we feel alone, these mundane or difficult times can seem all the more daunting.
How can we bring more joy and fun to the mundane aspects of our day? It’s the difference between doing the dishes and thinking about how much we hate it vs putting on music we enjoy / singing or listening to a podcast / audiobook while doing this chore. Or we could pay attention mindfully to our senses while washing dishes (or other tasks!), maybe tune into a sense of gratitude for ourselves in taking care of these aspects of our life – looking after ourselves.
Everyone enjoys different things, so this will take a little thinking about how you can put a positive spin on things. Can you focus on the sensory aspects of a task? Turn your tasks into a game? Make your workspace a comfortable place to be? Bring a sense of acceptance to the mundane or difficult? Experiment with what works for you.
Acceptance of what we can’t change is a key component of mindfulness. You could join us on our Mindfulness for Everyday course to learn more about the skill of acceptance.
When we feel alone, we can be especially vulnerable to becoming critical of ourselves. Perhaps we become fixated on past regrets, feelings of shame, or thoughts that we always mess things up / things never go right. But focussing on these things only kicks us when we’re already down and doesn’t help us move forward.
We all make mistakes and we’re all worthy of forgiveness. Offering this to ourselves can be very freeing. Making mistakes is a part of learning, so it can be helpful to identify what we can learn from these situations and take this experience into the future. We can break this down into 4 steps;
- Identify the action we regret
- Give ourselves empathy and understanding about why that happened at the time (in any situation, we’re usually just doing the best we can with the knowledge and experience we have at that point)
- Recommit to our values (what we feel is important in life), especially any values we feel we may have broken
- Move forward with a strengthened sense of what we value
Offering forgiveness to ourselves is not easy and may take time to work on. The more we can focus on what we value and move towards those, the more we can move on from our past mistakes.
As a side not, here is a handy values checklist to help you identify your values
We also talk about values at our 5 Steps to Mental Health and Wellbeing workshop, so do come along to learn more!
Unhelpful habits can sneak into our routines and become difficult to shake off. If we’re dealing with things alone, it can feel especially difficult to break our less helpful habits. The idea of regenerative habits is to replace an unhelpful habit with a habit we would prefer to have. Replacing the unhelpful habit with something we would like to do can make it easier to stop that unhelpful habit, compared to if we don’t have anything to replace it with (we could even end up replacing it with another unhelpful habit!).
Let’s say someone realises they’ve gotten into a habit of scrolling online for long periods of time and this is something they want to stop. Each time they notice themselves going to scroll, they could find another way to take that moment for themselves e.g. go for a walk, draw, write, read, gardening etc.
Again, different people enjoy different things or have different goals for what habits they want to introduce into their lives, so it’ll take some thinking about what you would like to do. The aim is to find a range of regenerative activities that you can get into the habit of doing as another way to support yourself.
Treat Myself Well
Just as we need to speak to ourselves well, we also need to treat ourselves well as a part of self-support. Can you fit little breaks into your day and do small things that cheer you up? Savour a hot drink? Watch videos that make you laugh? Make a nice meal for yourself as if you were doing it for someone else? Or if you’re enjoying something already, like a nice bubble bath or anything you find pleasant, can you give yourself permission to stay with it a little longer and savour it?
If we can do just one thing each day that brings us joy, this can go a long way to boosting our wellbeing. When we treat ourselves well, we are acting with compassion towards ourselves.
What do you think of the Seven Strands of Self Support? Could they help you cope with feelings of loneliness? Like any new technique or habit, it may be good to introduce the seven strands gradually. Perhaps starting with one, becoming used to that and then introducing another (and so on and so forth). If we try to do everything in one go, it can become overwhelming and difficult to keep up with. Small, consistent changes are the key.
By supporting and connecting with ourselves, we can build our resilience and ability to cope with difficult feelings. This may also put ourselves in a good mindset to take action on connecting with others, if that’s what we would like to do.
Our free wellbeing courses can help you along the way, so be sure to check out what sessions are coming up at https://valleyssteps.org/online-sessions/ for online sessions and https://valleyssteps.org/community-sessions/ for face to face sessions.
Here’s a link to the “Seven Ways to Build Resilience” book on Amazon. Why not check out your local library to see if they have this book for free? https://www.amazon.co.uk/Seven-Ways-Build-Resilience-Strengthening/dp/147214113X