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.

From Shame to Self-Compassion

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When I talk about self-compassion, people often want to know where to start. Self-compassion might seem hard to attain, almost a platitude.

And I get it—I used to have a lot of anger and shame and the idea of accepting myself seemed counter-productive. How could I accept such bad feelings? I wanted to pretend they weren’t there and just…be better. But they showed up in vivid dreams and destructive patterns in relationships. I had strong physical sensations (that always had me going to the doctor, until I realized they were caused by anxiety) and pretty unhealthy coping behaviors. I did some good things with my life, but underneath it all I felt like a fraud.

I can look back on all of that now and see how distorted my thinking was, how “unreal” that sense of inadequacy is—but it can sure feel real. That’s why pushing it under and ignoring it doesn’t help.

Because the thing with deep, entrenched shame—and I’m talking about the kind of feeling that makes you believe you can’t be happy, or loved, or even want to exist—is you can’t just talk yourself out of it. Until you’ve transformed it by walking through its fire and learning different ways of responding to that pain, then it will continue to disrupt your life.

All things happen in cycles. I’ve had profound moments of forgiveness and inspiration. Months later, I would experience an upwelling of the same old anger and hurts. Because I had the experience of compassion for myself, I had a softer way of responding to the pain. I became a little less reactive and the shame was quicker to dissipate. I felt more empowered by my choice in how to respond to what I felt, and I could accept the struggle. I tried difference techniques and perspectives, and went with the practices that resonated with me, discovered things I loved in the process.

Many people despair that they continue to feel their shame despite the work they’ve done for themselves. And because they continue to feel this, they compound the shame with more shame over not being over it already, or messages they get from others about what their healing should look like.

Just because you have the tools doesn’t mean you’ll feel 100 percent better. You are using those tools to build your new way of being from the ground up. While there might be some setbacks and getting stuck, there will also be joy and empowerment as you find your way. You’re courageously looking at your “dark” or “unwanted” personality traits, and this isn’t easy to do. The process lies in finding the support you need to figure out the original source and function of these feelings, and learning to change your relationship with yourself and the world around you.

When I was in art school for painting, a teacher told me that my process was too inefficient because I made a big old mess in the beginning, then created something beautiful in the end. But that just was my process!

I don’t mind any of the chaos behind me, because that’s what it took to get me where I am now. That’s a feeling I want for everyone, on their own timeline, not anyone else’s. It’s powerful when you learn to give yourself grace, to treat yourself well in some of your darkest moments. We don’t have to rush or beat ourselves up to get it done. ❤