Thanks to the development of new technologies the world is continually getting smaller. Travel and communications have become easier, faster, and cheaper than ever before. Social media allows us to keep in touch with people that in days gone by would have had nothing more than a bit part in our lives, and offers the opportunity to get to know people we’ve never actually met.
So why do we still see so many articles about the “loneliness epidemic”? Maybe society is forgetting how to really connect, and the importance of genuine human contact? Or maybe it’s because people only show their best on social media, and we’re forgetting the uniting (and healing) power of sharing our insecurities, pains, and secrets in private with another person? Maybe it’s because we are more aware than ever of what we weren’t invited to or included in by our “friends”, or because we can see that person our crush (or ex, etc.) is spending a lot of time with, at the click of a button…
The truth is the reasons why don’t really matter. What really matters is what you do about it: loneliness may seem utterly debilitating, but it can also be defeated. It may affect people differently – from mild to devastating, short lived to seemingly endless – but it will affect everyone and anyone indiscriminately, if it is given the chance. In fact, everyone I have ever spoken to about it has felt the same at one time or another.
Here are the five things that I have found to be most powerful against loneliness, and help to keep it at bay when it comes for me:
1) Exercise. The endorphins will make you feel better, as will the satisfaction of swimming a length that little bit faster, or lifting that little bit more, or even being a little less out of breath when you walk up the stairs. You’ll also start to look better too, which will only help your confidence grow and make you feel happier in your own skin. It’s also hard to find time to feel lonely when you’re trying not to notice that your lungs are burning and your muscles aching. Outdoor exercise can get you out of the confines of your lonely room, and simple things like an amicable nod from a passing stranger may have a subconscious effect on how you feel for the rest of the day. Joining a club, participating in team exercises, or even simply working out at the gym can also lead to new friendships!
2) Set goals and document it. What the goal is really doesn’t matter, whether it be getting a new job, passing an upcoming exam, eating a cleaner diet, or even just sleeping more (which is also proven to help boost one’s mood, and will help get you through the next day’s exercise!), set some goals and fill your free time working towards them. Not only does filling empty time reduce how much time you have to wallow in your loneliness, but by documenting your progress you can look back and see the progress you have made, which will not only give you the satisfaction of having improved yourself but can help keep you motivated until you have completed your goal. And once you have, give yourself a pat on the back and get busy setting yourself some more!
3) Find a creative outlet. Loneliness is a powerful emotion, and one best not left to build up inside you. Creativity is a wonderfully powerful emotional outlet, and a great way to express yourself, work through problems in your head, or to simply let off some steam without needing to rely on anyone else. Paint, sing, sculpt, make, design, write, dance… Whatever works for you.
4) Find people like you. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. If you feel like you don’t belong, find where you do. Go to see bands you like in concert, or to watch your favourite sports team. Find your niche – be it a religious centre or a car meet. Don’t be afraid to do things alone, and go with an open mind. I have been to Reading Festival twice, once in a group, and once alone, and genuinely had as much, if not more, fun on the latter occasion – meeting new people and doing my own thing!
5) Disconnect. Get off social media! And if not completely (it is a phenomenal resource for keeping in touch with people after all), why not try to limit the time you spend using it? Social media feeds typically show a mixture of posts from all your contacts, so it can be easy to compare yourself with everyone else collectively rather than as individuals, compounding feelings of isolation and exclusion. What’s more, it can be hard enough to live your own life, without simultaneously trying to keep up with everyone else’s.