“Some days, 24 hours is too much to stay put in, so I take the day hour by hour, moment by moment. I break the task, the challenge, the fear into small, bite-sized pieces. I can handle a piece of fear, depression, anger, pain, sadness, loneliness, illness.”Regina Brett, American Author
What is loneliness? If we were to believe what many of the artists, writers, and poets of our age have to say about it, loneliness seems a part of the human experience.
From Maya Angelou who said, “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness,” to the hard-hitting words of Henryk Sienkiewicz, “The sky is one whole, the water another; and between those two infinities the soul of man is in loneliness.” It seems that we must be lonely because we are human.
But loneliness isn’t a standalone emotion, its often tied up with mental health issues. If you battle anxiety, depression, or addiction, these can all feel extremely isolating. Depression, in particular, is likely to contain immense periods of loneliness. How can you fight all these issues at once, when you are already emotionally depleted?
Although many creative minds have pondered the meaning of loneliness, is it a mandatory emotion in today’s age? Is there a way to avoid feeling lonely and depressed? There are approaches to making loneliness better, to make it feel less alone. As a human emotion, it’s essential in some ways, but you can make it less debilitating.
What is Loneliness?
In the academic textbook Personal Relationships in Disorder, the author’s state matter of factly, “Virtually by definition, loneliness is an unpleasant experience.” They describe the emotion as frequently associated with depression, and use the words “painful,” “frightening,” and “dissatisfying.” Social isolation can severely impact motivation and in a cruel twist of fate, make it harder to reach out, even if you desperately want connection.
Although some people may believe loneliness is about a lack of social skills, this is not true. Even social butterflies may feel lonely if they don’t feel connected to those they surround themselves with. Lonely people tend to be anxious, depressed, and sometimes hostile. It’s a complicated emotion, with no single cause. You can feel alone in a sea of friends, and connected while totally alone.
5 Ways To Treat Both Loneliness and Depression
Most campaigns to end loneliness focus on three main approaches: boosting social skills, increasing social contact and support, and finally addressing self-defeating thoughts.
A team at Sheffield Hallam University uncovered that the most successful method is to focus on the third approach – defeating those irrational and self-blame patterns of thinking. Using this information as a guide, here are five ways to beat loneliness and depression by tackling those challenging negative thoughts.
1. Practice Kind Self-Talk
Low self-esteem is a reinforcing aspect of loneliness and isolation. Lonely people tend to get trapped in a vicious cycle of negative self-talk, which further impacts their isolation. If you don’t feel like you are wanted, needed, or enjoyable to talk to – it’s hard to make an effort to get out of the house and socialize. Although people with high-self esteem still can feel lonely, their experience is much more likely to be a fleeting one.
So, focus on turning those inner thoughts into positive ones. Picture your mind like a superhighway of little thoughts. The more you think negative ones, the easier that road is to travel. Your brain expands the highways of ideas, adding more lanes, and fewer traffic lights. The more you practice a thought, the easier it is to use it.
Every time you find yourself circling negative emotions, be mindful. See it happen, and reflect on a positive characteristic. Practiced (over and over and over), this reduces the load and the harmful highways and improves the logistics of the positive ones. With enough time, you’ll find it’s easier to use these positive mental pathways, and you’ll rarely get trapped on the self-deprecating ones.
2. Focus on a Few Strong Relationships
As one study stated so well, “Loneliness is affected not only by the existence of social relationships and the frequency of social interaction but also by the quality of relationships.” In today’s day and age where you can have thousands of Facebook friends, you can still feel isolated and depressed.
Instead of focusing on many weak connections, find one or two strong ones. Seek our a single friend or family member, and put your energy into strengthening that relationship. They already love you for you who are, which is worth repeating to yourself to break down the negative self-image you might have developed.
Invite them over every week, text them throughout the day with funny antidotes, and most importantly open up to them about your isolation. In times of need, you don’t need quantity. You need quality in your social relations.
3. Learn About Loneliness and Depression
Once you start looking into these very human conditions, you begin to see how common they are. It’s hard to feel so lonely when you find out how many people feel the very same way. For example, did you know about 50 percent of American’s report feeling lonely? If they surround themselves with people, the very same report found 56 percent of respondents felt those people did know them. Roughly 40 percent said they didn’t have meaningful relationships, and they feel isolated.
Depression affects more people then you might imagine as well. According to the most recent statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Major Depressive Disorders affect over six percent of the country. That translates to over 16 million Americans over the age of 18.
Knowledge is power. The more you find out about your experience, the more control you have to change it. You’ll learn about the leading causes of these issues, support groups to for times of need, and many options to find healing.
4. Volunteer and “Be a Good Neighbour”
The Connect2Affect foundation promotes “A Good Neighbor Day” every year on September 28th. Each year they help end isolation by connecting neighbors. Neighborhood connections are the social fibers which hold our communities together and offer an essential support network in times of need.
On September 28th, why not say hello to your neighbor? Invite them over for a pot of coffee, offer to help with yard work, or give them a lift to an appointment. While you might be thinking, “But why would I offer help to others when I am in need?” You are laying the seeds of connection. You are improving your self-worth by offering assistance to others. A smile from a neighbor can go a long way towards ending those negative inner thoughts.
5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Look for a counselor or therapist who can help you rework your inner dialogue from the negative self-doubt to positive self-esteem. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is one of the most common approaches to counseling these days, and extremely applicable to negative self-talk.
Online therapists can offer “structured, time-limited, problem-focused and goal-oriented form of psychotherapy.” This well-established method of counseling “helps people learn to identify, question and change how their thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs relate to the emotional and behavioral reactions that cause them difficulty.” Considering the correlation between self-doubt and social isolation, cognitive behavioral therapy is a perfect fit to help boost your self-esteem and get you back out in the world.
Loneliness is not a symptom of the human condition, but still a shared experience. Even social butterflies can find themselves surrounded by a sea of friendly faces, but alone in their experience. The ways to cope with periods of isolation isn’t about building better social skills or finding new friends. It’s mainly about building up your self-esteem and ending self-blame, self-doubt, and fear.