Do you suffer from feelings of isolation and loneliness?
Everyone feels lonely sometimes. But if you feel this way severely or over a long period of time it can have a profound impact on your life. It can even lead to serious health issues like anxiety, depression, lowered immune system and disturbed sleep.
As a therapist I understand how painful and difficult these feelings are, but I’ve also seen that they can be eased. Identifying the cause of your loneliness will help you gain control over it. And there are steps you can take to help yourself overcome feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone
Loneliness isn’t the same as comfortably spending time by yourself. It’s the feeling of being unable to connect with others. And you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely – you might be surrounded by friends and family but feel detached from them.
What causes feelings of isolation?
Isolation and loneliness can affect anyone at any stage in life. In today’s society more people are feeling lonely because we tend to move away from family and don’t connect with our new neighbours. But you can also experience isolation if you feel unable to conform in a close-knit community.
Sometimes an event in your life can cause physical or emotional distance from others, like moving somewhere new, the loss of your health or a loved one, or the arrival of a new baby. Feeling different from others because of a language barrier or a disability can also cause acute loneliness. And if you’ve experienced physical or verbal abuse, this can make it difficult to trust people and make new connections.
If you feel isolated and lonely, you can find yourself withdrawing from others and avoiding social situations, which in turn makes the lonely feeling worse.
You can overcome your loneliness
While it can be hard work – especially at first – you can break the cycle and overcome loneliness and isolation. I’ve outlined below some simple steps you can take to heal yourself:
1 Make a plan
Spend some time to identify what’s making you feel lonely. Do you rarely come into contact with people? Or are you surrounded by people who don’t understand you? It can help to write your thoughts in a journal. Make a note of the times you feel most lonely. Then, plan an activity or some interaction with others to combat the feeling during these times.
2 Start slowly
Making the decision to tackle isolation takes courage. The mental health charity Mind suggests that if the prospect of meeting people seems overwhelming, you could start by making small changes. Visit places where you’re around people but not expected to talk to them, for example a sports event or a café.
Online support groups can connect you with people who experience the same issues, without having to meet face-to-face. The Blurt foundation has a helpful list of support groups on their website.
3 Quieten your inner critic
Without someone to talk to, it can become easy to dwell on self-critical thoughts. You might begin to feel that there’s something wrong with you- that you’re unlikeable or an outcast. But that’s just not true. It’s the situation you’re in, not who you are that’s the problem.
You can replace these negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Choose these from books or online, like this uplifting selection from Huffpost, or write out your own affirmations that have special meaning to you.
Another way to quieten your inner critic is by practising meditation, which helps you identify and let go of destructive thoughts. Studies show 10 minutes of meditation a day can greatly improve your mental health and give you a new sense of wellbeing.
4 Reach out
You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence – take a risk and tell someone how you feel. This might be uncomfortable, but loneliness is something everyone can relate to, and you might be surprised how helpful someone can be if you ask for support.
Imagine if the roles were reversed. You probably wouldn’t judge someone for telling you they’re unhappy. You’d just want to help! If you don’t have friends or family, you could approach a religious figure, a colleague, or your GP.
5 Get busy
Starting a new activity not only gives your mind something to focus on instead of your isolation, it gives you a confidence boost and expands your social network. You might want to consider volunteering – helping others is a great way to improve your own mental health. Attending a local club or group, or enrolling in a class to learn a new skill gives you the opportunity to talk to people who share your interests.
6 Be proactive
Rather than waiting to be invited, you can take the first step and invite people to spend time with you; perhaps for a cup of tea, a walk or a meal. This might feel like launching yourself out of your comfort zone, especially if you find it hard to trust others – but the people you invite might welcome the chance to talk. Don’t underestimate the role you can play as a source of support for other people.
7 Recognise you’re not alone in feeling alone
If you’re isolated, you might begin to feel like you’re abnormal or that people won’t like you, and comparing yourself to others who seem to socialise effortlessly can make this worse.
But TV and social media show an idealised version of social interaction. On sites like Facebook for example, people tend to present the best version of themselves. But the reality is everyone has anxious moments. We all experience insecurity – and everyone can feel lonely and isolated, too.
8 Seek counselling
Sometimes it can be hard to identify the cause of your loneliness, and seeing a counsellor can help you explore why you feel this way. Perhaps you’re uncomfortable talking to people close to you because you feel detached from them, or feel you have to put on a brave face for them.
Speaking to someone in an intimate setting like a therapy room might sound a bit daunting, but counsellors are trained to put you at ease, and won’t rush or pressure you. A therapist will offer a confidential and safe place to explore the reasons for your loneliness. And he or she will provide ongoing support to help you find the strength to make positive changes in your life.
These are some of the ways you can overcome loneliness and isolation.
I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful. Whatever you do to overcome your isolation, be kind to yourself. Remember you do have the power to change. And you don’t have to put yourself under pressure to try everything at once. But it’s a good idea to be persistent, too! If an activity isn’t working out, you can always try something new.
If you’re feeling isolated, finding the willpower to make a change is the start of your healing journey. You can take one step at a time, and acknowledge each one as a step in the right direction.
If you’re affected by loneliness and feel counselling could help you, you’re welcome to contact me. We can arrange a friendly chat about what you’d like to achieve from therapy.