Loneliness is something we struggle with at the best of times.
Some of us are introverted and content to be alone. Some of us are extroverted, and feel energized by other people. Loneliness can manifest when we don’t have the people or opportunity to experience the type of connection we need.
We can also experience loneliness amidst others. Sometimes we are around people, but may feel we don’t fit in, or aren’t getting the type of support we are seeking.
Whether you are by yourself, or with others, loneliness can creep in. Loneliness can be a cycle that is hard to break. When we are removed from others, we may feel disconnected, shut down, and in turn, not reach out. It is important for us to learn strategies to break that cycle, and also to reach out to others who may be circling the drain of isolation. One of the most essential steps to coping with loneliness is to get to know yourself, to get more comfortable with yourself and to learn to be your own best friend.
There are certain practices that help us develop our coping skills. The first is self-awareness. Sounds obvious, but we often haven’t the time or inclination to self-reflect, especially when things are hard. We label our emotions as “bad” and “good” and we attempt to deny the bad. I call this the “volcano strategy”. We stuff everything inside and ignore it. We don’t admit it. We don’t share it. We carry it around, until eventually we explode.
It’s okay if you are struggling. You are not alone. This is not the “new normal”. This is the new abnormal set of circumstances we are now living in.
When we are alone, we have a tendency to set up camp in the dark corners of our mind. We filter out the good and focus on the negative. We don’t take care ourselves. We fall into unhelpful patterns of thinking. We do the same things over and over even though they don’t work. In order to break the cycle, we sometimes need to challenge ourselves. Pay attention to the basics. Eat, shower, put on fresh clothes. Stick to a routine that will help get you off the couch, even if for a little while. Try to find the good in the day. Challenge your negative self-talk. Celebrate something you’re good at. Treat yourself as if you alone are worth it, because you are.
I have had many conversations with folks who “hate to be alone”. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these are the same folks who will say to me, “it’s not worth it, It’s only me”. Wearing your favourite outfit, cooking a nice meal, decorating your space; it is worth it. I say this not as a judgment, but as an observation; if you don’t treat yourself well, it stands to reason you won’t like being alone.
Another tendency we have is not to communicate. When we are lonely, we often wait for others to come find us and help us. When they don’t, we are disappointed, and sometimes resentful. Whether the support is informal (family, friends) or formal (doctor, help line), please reach out. People who ask for help are more likely to get it. Explore casual ways to stay connected, like free online classes and tours. Have a video chat or phone call. Write an old fashioned letter (with a pen and paper). Join a peer support group.
Please know that formal supports are always available, even if offices aren’t open. Mental health services have adapted to the times.
Now, more than ever, people are reaching out. If you need support in Waterloo Wellington, please call HERE 24/7 at 1-844-437-3247. Visit www.cmhaww.ca for events and resources.
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This article was written by Angela Heeley, mental health promotion and education coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo Wellington. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.