Feel Alone?

When you’re feeling alone, you should know that there are a lot of things you can do to alleviate that feeling of loneliness and reconnect with people.

In fact, the world has never been more conducive to people connecting with you.

Friends and family who live miles apart can now reach out to each other in a snap with just the click of a mouse, or by pressing the speed-dial button on your smartphone.

If you desire a more intimate connection, almost any location in the U.S. can be reached by plane within a few hours.

In our large metropolitan areas, like New York and Los Angeles, millions of people from varying cultures and backgrounds routinely come together to mingle and dine together.

It is as if the barriers that once separated us had all suddenly disappeared, and now we’re all one big family.

Nevertheless, there are some among us who are consumed by loneliness and, try as they might, they are unable to shake the feeling.

Some researchers think that America has been beset by a loneliness plague.

In one recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, some 22% of the responders admitted that they are routinely overcome with loneliness.

When allowed to persist, this feeling of isolation can bring on serious health issues, mentally and physically.

For example, that feeling of loneliness has been associated with such health issues as depression and anxiety, and have even prompted thoughts of suicide.

Physicians have also found a connection between people who feel alone with high blood pressure, weakened immune systems, and an increase in body aches and pain.

So, it seems that staying connected with others, not only makes our lives more exciting, but it is good for our overall health also.

So, what are some things you can try when you’re feeling low and there’s no one around to uplift you? Well, here are a few strategies doctors, researchers, and therapists recommend you try in times of loneliness to help alleviate the feeling:

1. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings

One of the things that complicate lonely people’s ability to address the problem is that they are intimidated, or ashamed to talk about how they feel.

But learning how to overcome that fear is the first step to recovery.

Here in the U.S., we tend to apply negative labels to lonely people, like “loner” or “loser,” says Kory Floyd, Professor of Communications and Psychology at the University of Arizona.

And once so stigmatized, the more reluctant those people are to they have a problem with loneliness.

But, refusing to admit that they have a problem only serves to perpetuate it. So, before the recovery process can begin, they must be honest with themselves, and others.

2. Take an inventory of the people you can reach out to

Sometimes our loneliness prevents us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes.

Professor Floyd put it succinctly when he said, “so many of us take a myopic view when it comes to intimacy and affection, in that we have subconsciously narrowed the scope of the behaviors we view as friendly to the point that very few people fit in that circle.”

Or, the absence of expressions of intimacy by family and friends become magnified, but the fact that they’re always there in a time of need seems to go unnoticed.

When people expand the scope of the things they classify as love and affection in other people’s behavior, they often discover that they’re not as deprived of love and affection as they once thought.

3. Understand you do not have a monopoly on loneliness

It comes down to basic arithmetic: If 22% of Americans suffer from bouts of loneliness, then that means that there are millions of other people who feel the same way that you do.

“One of the things I do to remind myself of just how widespread this phenomenon,” says Megan Bruneau, a therapist, and executive coach,

“is to imagine that I’m in the same room with all of the other lonely people in the country.”

She goes on to say that she views loneliness as a healthy emotion that pulls back the curtain on places we yearn to go to connect with people.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

You should know that loneliness takes on a different appearance to different people at different points in their development, and that is possible to be surrounded by friends and family and still be consumed with loneliness.

So, ask yourself exactly how loneliness is manifesting itself in your life today.

Professor Bruneau cautions that “it is important to differentiate between momentary loneliness and chronic loneliness.”

Everybody experiences bouts of loneliness from time-to-time, especially in today’s world where it every man for himself, it seems.

However, if that lonely feeling persists for an extended length of time, I begin to worry and ask myself, now what brought this on?

Has there been a disruption in my relationships making me feel more disconnected than usual?

Have I been paying enough attention to my relationships and creating new ones to ensure that I don’t fall into the doldrums?

Or, have I subconsciously made decisions that would result in me becoming more isolated?

“So, whether the loneliness we’re experiencing is just a passing phase, or something more sinister, these are the types of questions we need to ask to navigate our way out of the loneliness maze,” she says.

5. Just slow your roll

If you find yourself fluttering around like a chicken with his head chopped off, trying to manage business and family life, and all of the problems associated with them, this might be a good time for you to slow your roll.

“Sometimes, when people allow their schedule becomes too demanding, for too long a period, they start drifting away from other people, and themselves,”

says Judith Oliff, MD, psychiatrist, and author of Thriving as an Empath.

“They tend to get overwhelmed and overstimulated from working too hard. So, the remedy, then, is to just slow down and attend to their body’s needs for a while.”

But, what is relaxing for someone else might not be relaxing for you, so do what makes you feel at ease.

6. Return to the things that made you feel good about you

Use the “alone-time” you created for yourself to rediscover the real you.

“You must look out for yourself first,” Dr. Orloff warns. “As for me, I go into seclusion in my secret hiding place and meditate.

I also do a breathing exercise to help me relax, and ask the Lord to cast away all worry, fear, and loneliness, so that I can be alone with me.”

For those who are new to meditation, she recommends they approach it incrementally – start with three-minute sessions, while focusing on something pleasant – like a gentle ocean breeze, or spring shower – or any other experience that has brought joy into your life.

Focusing on things that bring you joy, rather than sadness, eschews negative thoughts, she adds.

Taking a stroll through a park and just enjoying nature also be meditative and relaxing.

7. Get out of yourself by performing acts of kindness

Okay, so we now know there’s a lot of good in you, there is also a lot of kindness in others.

Sometimes when you feel alone you feel like running away and shutting out the whole world, which will only serve to perpetuate your loneliness.

If so, then the idea of just dropping in on a large gathering or making new friends could be asking too much at this time.

Therefore, in cases like this, it is a good idea to start small and work your way up.

“Venture out into the world and take notice of that pleasant smile gracing the store clerk’s face,”

Dr. Orloff suggests. “Hold the door open and let the other person enter first, or do an act of kindness for a stranger and watch the endorphins and oxytocin begin to flow in your body.

When mothers give birth, they experience a rise in oxytocin, which creates a bond between mother and child. So, oxytocin is an extremely important hormone.

And, as difficult as this next suggestion might sound to an introvert, you might even try initiating the conversation for a change.

“Just go out each day and start a conversation with somebody – a neighbor, friend, the grocer, even the librarian – anyone you may come into contact with on your daily stroll,”

says Susan Pinker, a noted psychologist, and author of The Village Effect.

“These do not have to be intimate relationships. Research has shown that even casual relationships strengthen our immune system and well-being.”

8. Perform community service

Another way to get out of yourself and make new friends is by immersing yourself in volunteer work.

“The key is taking the focus off yourself and directing it toward helping others,” so says Dr. Ruth Wolever, Ph.D., of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

One of the best tools for counteracting loneliness is to start laying the foundation for a more meaningful social network.

You can start by joining community organizations, religious groups, and clubs that share a common interest, providing exciting ways to meet new people and make new friends.

Wolver goes on to explain that joining a group whose mission is helping others is preferable to one with a common interest (Like book clubs and sports teams) because they make interacting with new people easier, as your focus will be on helping others and not each other.

You won’t feel like you’re being put on the spot, or like you’re being forced to connect with other people if you’re mind is set on helping others.

Just the act of getting out of the house and helping someone is in itself rewarding, and one of the best ways to ward off that feeling of loneliness, Wolver explains, even if your efforts don’t immediately bear fruit.

It shouldn’t be too difficult finding an organization in your area that can use your help. But, if you need a little nudge, Wolver recommends Meetup, a community board that provides information on charity work interested clients.

9. Join a club

Maybe you’re interested in cultivating some more meaningful relationships.

If so, you may want to look into hobbies you might have in common with other people as a way to foster relationships.

It could be something as benign as a sewing or knitting class, or the community of a community organization, Pinker suggested.

“Any activity that routinely lands you in a social environment.” Connect with someone who shares your love for poetry at a book club.

Find a group with specialized interests like an astronomy or science club. Or, expand your horizons to include something you’ve never tried before, like transcendental meditation.

You can make your search as enjoyable as you like!

10. Discover the power of physical contact

The absence of physical contact can cause loneliness in some people.

From the time we were born, our bodies were conditioned to respond to the tender touch of our caregivers as a form of communication, especially when their imitation baby-sounds didn’t quite do the job.

So, even though your body reflexively shrinks at the touch of another person, the memory of how safe and secure someone’s touch once made you feel is hardwired into your memory.

But, you don’t necessarily need a lover, friend, or massage therapist to remind you of how reassuring another person’s touch can be; just place your hand over your heart and feel it beating in your chest should do the trick.

Our bodies have a way of recognizing when it is being treated properly.

Similarly, it understands the meaning of the gentle, compassionate touch we receive from others, says Dr. Kristin Kneff, an associate professor at the University of Texas, and author of Self Compassion.

“Supportive touching works with a person’s parasympathetic nervous system, which works to keep us calm and reduce cortisol and release oxytocin.”

Everybody’s physiology is different, Dr. Neff offers. Some people prefer rubbing their stomachs.

Others prefer holding their face in their hands. While still others like hugging themselves.

If you’re alone at this time, this presents a great opportunity for you to be your own best friend.

11. Let your creative juices flow

Painting. Sculpturing. Writing. Anything to ignite your creative juices.

“The creative arts have an uncanny ability to supersede and transcend those negative emotions and experiences through self-expression, as well as help us form a deeper and more authentic bond with others,” stated Dr. Jeremy Nobel, MPH, and founder of the UnLonely Project.

One of the tools Dr. Nobel likes to use most is expressive writing.

By writing down the thoughts and feelings you perceive others may be having can be compared to taking in a movie.

At the movies, you share the same space with a large group of people – mostly strangers – all of whom are witnessing the same story play out.

Even if you don’t communicate with each other, you and the rest of the movie-goers are connected through a shared experience, Dr. Nobel surmised.

That same mental phenomenon takes place whenever you put pen to paper, even if you never share it with anybody.

Although sharing it with someone could prove to be a healthy way of connecting with others.

12. And don’t forget about man’s best friend

Recent findings from the Pew Research center suggests that a lot of the loneliness most people experience can be directly related to the stress within their own families and circle of friends.

If there’s a vacancy in your social life, why not fill it with a vivacious and fun-loving force that’ll be at your side 24/7?

Arpit Aggarwal, MD, of the University of Missouri Health Care system, suggests that adopting a pet could add more meaning to your life by breaking the monotony.

If taking care of a dog is not too much of a responsibility for you, adopting a rescue pet (whether it’s a dog or cat) may make each day of your life thereafter more fulfilling.

13. Re-evaluate the amount of time you spend on social media

The jury may still be out on just how much social media is responsible for furthering loneliness and depression, it can’t hurt to reassess the amount of time you devote to this activity, and what impact it has on your well-being.

Are you using it to build meaningful relationships?

Are you spending an inordinate amount of time on there just sitting in the background?

Or, are you substituting your social media app for a real, meaningful relationship?

“When we allow ourselves to be intimidated by real, face-to-face relationships, we can find ourselves retreating into the fantasy world of social media, which only makes the problem worse,”

says Professor Floyd of the University of Arizona.

“On social media, it seems like everybody else has a better job, house, take better vacations, and even make friends better than we do.

But, of course, that is not a true reflection of reality.”

14. Resist the temptation to use alcohol as a remedy

Since loneliness is associated with other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, there are a lot of lifestyle changes you could adopt that could help lessen the severity of the symptoms.

Exercising regularly and making sure you get enough sleep goes a long way toward developing a healthy daily routine.

You also might want to monitor the amount of alcohol you drink (or drug use) to ensure you don’t let it become your “best friend.” furthering your isolationism.

“Using alcohol will only end up making you feel even more depressed, so try to avoid abusing it,”

says Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital,

Weil Cornell Medical College, and host of the new Personology podcast.

Alcohol, like any other drug, only magnifies those feelings of psychological depression, and drinking to avoid feelings of loneliness can lead to addiction, as your tolerance level increases over time.

Alcohol may actually relieve your anxiety, temporarily, but you’ll find yourself needing more and more to fight the feeling as time passes. And this is the definition of addiction.

Now, it might not be necessary for you to abstain from alcohol completely, Dr. Saltz says, but cutting back on the amount you drink, and the frequency with which you take a drink, may actually help lessen the severity of your bouts with loneliness over time.

15. Push yourself, but not too hard

Recognizing that you are experiencing bouts of loneliness is a step in the right direction, but can you fight it off once recognized?

Dr. Howard L. Foreman, MD, a New York City psychiatrist, and psychotherapist say that the desire to feel normal when among friends and family may be a sign that you can muster the intestinal fortitude to cope.

“If you find yourself signing up for things that involve interacting with people, like gym class or intramural sports leagues, then that is a sign that, although you may be lonely, you are willing to address the problem.”