Living in lockdown presented many challenges to all of us. One of them was likely loneliness –and not necessarily because you live on your own. In this article, I look at the subject of loneliness, the reasons why it might be more prevalent at the moment and suggest ten steps to deal with this uncomfortable emotion that will benefit you now and long after lockdown is lifted.
I am currently living through lockdown on my own. Unlike many people, I value and need solitude and my nervous system is quite happy with it, however there are times when I notice solitude slipping into something less nourishing. As a result of Covid-19 and lockdown, many of us are being forced into longer periods of being alone than we are used to or prefer and this can give rise to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
There is much more talk about loneliness these days. It is no longer a taboo subject. And it is widespread. In 2017, long before lockdown, the UK appointed a Minister of Loneliness in a bid to address the impact loneliness can have on our mental and even physical health. This appointment came after nine million of this country’s 67 million people admitted to feeling lonely either all or part of the time.
We know much more about loneliness now than ever before. Researchers identify many different types of loneliness, here are just three:
1. Emotional loneliness – longing for close confidante or an intimate partner.
2. Relational or Social loneliness – longing for quality friendships, social companionship.
3. Existential loneliness – a need for people who share your sense of purpose and interests.
The lack of relationships in any of these areas can lead to feelings of loneliness and this is where we turn to our drug of choice, whether that is busyness, food, alcohol or other ways to numb ourselves. Now we have been forced to slow down, we have the opportunity to turn to gently face these feelings we might have spent time and emotional energy running away from.
Loneliness can be one of the most painful experiences that we have as humans. It is one all of us feel at some time or other, whether we live alone, or whether we are in a supportive relationship.
What’s different about loneliness is how it can lurk beneath the radar. It can come when everything seems to be going well: you are busily engaged, being creative, making the most of the extra time in lockdown, getting exercise, eating well, and regularly connecting with friends and family online.
And yet, there is something creeping out from the woods, coming closer and closer, like a shadow you catch from the corner of your eye, and you don’t want to look at it, you daren’t look, and you try to convince yourself it’s all in your imagination.
Speaking personally, this shadow monster is one of the scariest ones to face. This monster speaks to me about failure in relationships, questions my loveability, suggests that there is something wrong with me. There are so many terrible things it whispers in my ear that I run away and try and distract myself with food, drink and Netflix.
However, the more we ignore the loneliness monster, the bigger it becomes. A lack of attention towards it seems to fuel it somehow. The paradox is that the more we avoid loneliness, or for that matter, any difficult emotion, the more we feed it.
So, what would happen if we were able to walk into our own hearts and meet loneliness? To befriend the very monster we are so desperate to avoid? Here are some ways I have tried which worked for me:
1. Know that you are not alone – loneliness is one of the common experiences we have as human beings, whether we are around people or not. It doesn’t only apply to people who live alone, it is a universal feeling and can sometimes be even more intense when we are surrounded by people.
2. What feeds loneliness – start to notice the signs that loneliness is creeping up on you: sleeping more than you need to, binge eating or drinking, spending lots of time on social media, feeling irritable. Recognising the signs that feelings are building can help you take earlier action.
3. Accept how you feel – it may feel more challenging to accept loneliness than other emotions because of the stigma associated with it, however it is a paradox that the only way to change it, is to accept it. It may not be the way you want to feel, but it’s the truth about the way you feel right now.
4. Let go of the stories – it can be tempting to try and analyse why we are lonely, and create narratives around friendships and relationships. Let go of these stories. Dwelling on them can keep us stuck and take us into the ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’ questions which usually leads to a downward spiral.
5. Say hello to loneliness – instead of running away or analysing the feeling, see if you can do the opposite, turn around and say “hello”. Put out the welcome mat for it. Breathe into the place that feels lonely. The moment you say hello, there are already two of you, you and your loneliness.
6. The sunshine of your attention can melt loneliness – If step 5 went Ok, then go even further, allow the feeling to be there, and notice where it lives in your body, often we feel it in the heart and chest area and in the tummy, where we carry a lot of emotions. Bring your kind attention to that place. This can feel scary at first. However, you may find that as soon as you allow the feeling to be there as fully as it wants to be, it starts to lift or change. The clouds part and there is a glimpse of sunshine. That’s because the feeling wants to be met. It’s as simple as that.
7. Get support to feel it – if it’s too overwhelming to feel it alone, and you fear you might end up spiralling downwards, ask a friend or even a stranger to be with you as you feel lonely. It’s like having support to face the scary monster. Talk about how it feels, what thoughts and emotions you are experiencing, allow any tears to come.
8. Loneliness is a hopeful story – we feel loneliness because we all need connection and love as a part of the human condition. We feel lonely because we all have a capacity to love, and we are looking for someone to share that love with. Seen in this way, loneliness can be viewed as an invitation to connect, and if we start by connecting to ourselves, we can alleviate most of the pain, even without having anyone else around.
9. Whilst we all need social connection – Could it be possible that some of our feelings of loneliness are about not being at home with ourselves? When we are busy thinking about other people – the ones we miss or those who are having a better time than us apparently on social media – there is no-one at home with us. No wonder we feel lonely!
10. Therefore, coming home to ourselves – acknowledging and sitting with our feelings of loneliness, in a kind and non-judgmental way, is one effective way to alleviate loneliness, and we can start to see that loneliness has less to do with other people than we imagine, and more to do with the quality of time spent with ourselves.
Mary Louise Morris is a Mindfulness teacher and coach who works with people of all ages
If you would like to book a session with MaryLouise click here. Or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. Wondersource is on a mission to support and improve people’s mental and physical lives so they can heal and live healthier lives. Whether we have a chronic illness, a high level or anxiety, want to improve our sleep or just want to proactively support our health, we’re all works in progress and need support.
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