8 Ways to Cope With Loneliness

Check your beliefs. Often when we feel lonely, we attach beliefs to the feeling. I’m not good enough, not liked or worth loving. In reality, you would like to feel more love or closeness and you don’t right now. That’s all you know for sure. It’s painful and isolating, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You want to feel love and belonging like everybody else.

Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.

Martha Beck

Check your ruminating mind. I never feel better after rehashing regrets and mistakes from the past (it’s one thing to feel some guilt, learn from it and move on…and another thing to hammer ourselves flat with something that’s already happened…and believe me, I’ve been there). We’ve all made mistakes. When we stop making some of those same mistakes, we’re a little wiser. It’s healthy to grieve and seek compassionate support. It’s healthy to have some regrets that inform how we want to act now. And sometimes we’re just spinning our wheels in a well-worn rut. It takes some extra effort to steer ourselves out of the rut and gain traction again. You might need some support to do this, but first we must decide to take another route.

We are not mad. We are human. We want to love, and someone must forgive us for the paths we take to love, for the paths are many and dark, and we are ardent and cruel in our journey.

Leonard COhen

Find someone to talk to. Feelings of isolation grow in the dark. Take a class where you can share a common goal with others, join a support group, or get involved with a cause. Call a friend. If you don’t have anyone to call at the moment, talk with strangers. If small talk drains you, find a way to strike up a genuine conversation. Offer a true compliment, or ask about something you’re actually curious about. These small interactions can help keep you afloat, for now.

Embrace Solitude. When you’re in the throws of loneliness for any reason, it can drain your energy and the meaning out of all daily activities, including self-care routines. We need authentic, close relationships. But there can be power in acknowledging and then allowing your loneliness. Take time to notice your thoughts and fears; maybe some of those have made it extra hard to be by yourself or to open up to others. How can these fears be brought to light and transformed, with compassionate understanding?

Be aware of self-sabotage. Yesterday I was watching videos of therapy sessions by Peter Levine, a trauma/PTSD expert who developed Somatic Experiencing®, a way of treating trauma through physical movement and engaging the felt body sense. He was talking about the body’s self-sabotage structure: an unconscious process, rooted in our nervous system, of resisting moving forward in our lives that can result from early experiences of emotional abandonment. He claims the opposite of this tendency is to move toward our goals with healthy aggression. Pay attention to your body’s cues and find healthy ways to soothe yourself, while being aware of your fears. If this anxiety gets in the way of living your life, consider talking to a therapist.

Do some volunteer work. Being of service to others can help us feel purposeful, more compassionate, and less alone.

Keep a creativity journal. Jot down what you’d like to see happen in your life, a vision of the world as you’d like to see it, or whatever else makes you feel inspired. Sketch, paste, collage or just write. Don’t worry about what anything looks like. This is just to get your mind firing up, focusing on what matters to you.

Spend time in nature. Being in nature helps us remember that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. It reminds us that everything happens in cycles, every cycle has a function, and nothing lasts forever.

Healing Happens Through Relationship, Including the One You Have With Yourself

Photo by VINICIUS COSTA on Pexels.com

People need each other, there’s no way around that. Betrayal, shame and isolation are some of the most painful feelings we can experience. To see an example of how an infant is affected when her mother won’t respond to her, click here. This study shows how we need to feel seen and heard as we’re developing our sense of self, safety and belonging in the world. 

Our nervous systems are designed for social engagement. We feel more relaxed around people who know and understand us, and we need to feel safe in order to make these connections. When we don’t receive support during times of overwhelming stress, our bodies kick into fight or flight mode, or we freeze up. This can cause prolonged anxiety and numbness (imagine how this affects a child who’s scared of a person they depend on for love).

When we’ve been hurt, it can be hard to trust others or want to be vulnerable again. We might avoid deep personal relationships that could trigger more painful feelings. When our needs for acceptance and belonging have gone unmet, we might focus too much on pleasing others. We might compromise our needs, seeking distractions instead. We might think we have to control or manipulate others to get our needs met. 

The existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom says, “Healing happens through relationship.” We need relationships where we can be our vulnerable, messy selves.

Healing also happens through strengthening the relationships that exist within ourselves—between our mind (logic, narrative memories, beliefs) and body (physical sensations, unconscious or sensory memories, feeling). When these parts of ourselves aren’t working in a unified way, it becomes hard to know what’s best for us. 

UCLA psychiatrist Dan Siegel came up with a field of study called interpersonal neurobiology, which describes a process of enabling higher functions of the brain such as insight, empathy, and intuition. His research suggests that the more “integrated” we are, the better able we are to empathize with others, while remaining our individuated selves. For me personally, I’ll experience warm chills throughout my body when a thought resonates with an internal sense of what’s right for me. 

To strengthen these connections within ourselves, we can start by paying attention to sensations happening in our bodies, without judgement. For example, often grief accompanies chest tightness. We feel as if our heart has literally broken as our bodies release stress hormones. There might be stomach tension or other pain and discomfort.

We might feel sadness, guilt or anger. When these feelings come up, they can seem like a part of us that has always been there and might never go away. However, we can ride all feelings out, just as we always have before. Feelings don’t define us. They always pass. They are often a testament to how much we value something or someone we’ve lost.

Every situation—even grief over a loss—presents a new opportunity to get clear about the kind of love we want, a chance to ask for what we need from the people in our lives who embody these qualities, step away from the people who don’t, and take good care of ourselves. 

We can also begin to take an honest inventory of all those split-off parts of ourselves that need attention because they once seemed not good enough, unacceptable, or even scary, then find a healthy way of acknowledging and expressing all of those parts.

Going through these difficult feelings deepens our understanding of what it means to be human. Acknowledging and tending to our pain doesn’t make us victims, or a burden. In fact, it empowers us to take better care of ourselves, which also helps us to become more open and available to others.