“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty. ~Mother Teresa
Solitude and loneliness are two very different things. Solitude is a deliberate choice of being alone, while loneliness is a feeling of being alone. The irony is that loneliness can happen any time, even while surrounded by a group of people.
The root of loneliness stems from a need for emotional connection. We need to feel that others hear us and understand us; that we aren’t alone in our feelings. It’s more than a physical state of being alone, but a lack of emotional connectivity. And as we get older, and our lives move into different seasons, loneliness can increase. As relationships become more and more disconnected, loneliness is on the rise. And a 2015 study showed that 75% of Americans feel lonely.
For instance, a young mother who is the first of her social circle to have a child may feel very lonely and isolated because her new role as mother has shifted her priorities. She may not feel quite as connected to friends who haven’t yet started their own families.
Flash forward, and that same mother may feel a sense of loneliness if she struggles with parenting issues none of her other friends seem to face. Or, if she gets divorced, she may feel isolated from married friends. When she becomes an empty nester or retires from work – all of these things represent different seasons, and with them, potentially, a sense of isolation.
It’s for this reason that women should prioritize friend time. The effort to periodically put in face-time and communicate one-on-one through conversation is a key component to fighting the isolation that ushers in loneliness. But beyond that, a few key points about loneliness:
- It’s a feeling.And while feelings are valid, it doesn’t mean they are always accurate. Loneliness as a feeling can be fought when we consciously choose to acknowledge our feelings with another person. That doesn’t come easy for women, who generally don’t like to ask for help (for fear of bothering someone or appearing inadequate).
- Reaching out to others may be the very thing needed to battle loneliness, but it also may serve as a lifeline to someone who is afraid to reach out.
- Write in a journal. Writing is therapeutic and enables us to express thoughts and emotions in an honest way. Getting it out on paper may help identify loneliness triggers.
- Recognize that silence is just that. We live in a noisy world and silence can be intimidating. But for those who push past the uncomfortable awkwardness of silence, they may discover a deep love for it.
- When you’re lonely, Ben & Jerry are not your friends. Avoid turning to comfort foods and, instead, do something healthy – even a walk around your neighborhood with some music may help lighten the feeling of loneliness.
- Smile at a stranger. Sometimes, the simple act of showing kindness to someone else, even a stranger, is enough to engage in a feeling of connection.
- Joining a group of people with similar interests may be a great solution for loneliness.Finding a group who share the same hobbies or interests may help disengage the negative self-talk that can be a side effect of loneliness and help establish new friendships and relationships.
- Get off social media (which has its own special way of cultivating loneliness) and do some volunteer work.
When feelings of loneliness set in, take action. Loneliness can lead to depression. And if you suspect depression may be at the root of the problem, seek medical assistance. But more than anything, be confident that you are not alone. So many understand and share the feelings you have. Be bold enough to seek those people out and ask for help.