There's a tendency to make light of feelings like loneliness. In American society there's even this idea that no one is ever really alone. So we often dub it as a selfish, First World problem.
Of course, that isn't true.
Loneliness is a real and legitimate condition, and sometimes people are truly, physically alone. Not just "alone in a crowded room" lonely. Some people go through periods of actual friendlessness. They might not have much family. Or maybe they’ve relocated to a new town where they know no one.
It’s easy to remain largely oblivious to the genuine isolation that other people endure. Which makes it even harder to know how to deal with such deep loneliness.
Personally, I've been through a lot of isolation. There have been far too many times where I haven't had a friend to turn to. With that in mind, I wanted to put together some tangible ideas of what you can do when you're alone and need to cope in a healthy way.
Read something that inspires you.
There are a few books that I love more than others because they’re so damn relatable, inspiring, and quotable. Both fiction and non-fiction will do. You know that feeling you get when you hear an inspiring story about someone else’s success? The way it makes you feel like you could be someone inspirational too? There might be some science behind that feeling, since researchers say that instilling a sense of hope can make us more effective ourselves.
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My inspirational shortlist includes Cloud Atlas, Silver Linings Playbook, and If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For.
“You say you’re ‘depressed’ — all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective — it just means you’re human.” ― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
"When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” ― Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook
"What if the things that ended--the things that broke and break your heart--what if it was the end of a chapter but the story keeps going? What it life comes back? What if love comes back? What if you would not be who you are and you would now know what you know it not for all those sleepless nights?" ― Jamie Tworkowski, If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For
It may seem silly, but sometimes when we're alone and lacking other people to talk to, we can give ourselves a leg up by remembering that while there is pain and suffering in this world, there's also beauty. It's a bright idea to give ourselves plenty of inspiration.
Listen to music that moves you.
There's no question about it--music is powerful. We all have different songs that motivate and inspire us, and on some lonely days, the right music can give us enough of a boost to get through to the next day.
Here are a some of my favorite happyish picks:
Whatever music moves you and lifts your soul is a good choice. Personally, I go through periods where I'm so busy that I forget to purposefully listen to music. When I finally do, it's like, why have I not been doing this everyday?
Music is good for us. It feeds our souls.
Write about your feelings.
Clearly, I find value in writing about my feelings--including all the terrible shit. As a child, it was poetry in actual journals. By college, everything was online on deadjournal. After my divorce, Xanga. And now of course, I write here on Medium.
Sometimes it’s enough to write privately for yourself. But it’s also good to let others into your head--and heart--as well. You might be surprised to discover how many people understand what you’re saying and feel the same. Or at least similarly.
You might even make some new friends along the way. Just the other day, I spoke to my first Medium friend over the phone, Michael Thompson. Now, I’m not normally a phone person, but once I get past my initial uneasiness, I understand the value of phone calls. Talking to Mike reminded me how good it is for isolated people--like parents of young children--to connect. And writing can help make that happen.
Make some art.
I used to paint constantly in high school. Then adulthood set in and the "rat race" got in the way. For whatever reason, making art felt like too much of a luxury when I wasn’t in school. So I quit.
The reality is that everyone can make art, and it’s a really wonderful outlet for our feelings of deep loneliness and isolation. There’s a reason why so many artists use their pain and struggles to move forward and inform their own art. When you’re battling loneliness, try to find an art form that’s right for you. Whether it’s painting, writing, making music, or crafting, creating gives you a positive place for all of that energy.
Get outside and take a walk.
I've been guilty of staying indoors in my pajamas on far many days if I have nowhere to go. Once I get myself outside I'm reminded that simply taking a walk outdoors is an instant mood booster. Do yourself a big favor and go outside for at least 15 minutes a day. Twice a day is even better.
Make some new friends.
It can be an enormous challenge to make friends when you're in an isolated situation. I've often found myself in situations where I'm in a new town with no people, no transportation, and no work outside of my home. I know what it's like to go stir-crazy but have no one to turn to.
To me, that’s when a judicious use of social media can make a positive difference. You might join an online community on Reddit, Meetup, or even Facebook. If you’ve got friends across the globe that you haven’t talked to in a while, it’s worth sending out an email or having a Skype session.
Earlier this spring, I watched a documentary on Netflix that fascinated me. I looked up one of the subjects on Facebook and sent them a friend request. They’re now probably the most uplifting person on my whole newsfeed. It’s okay to seek out friends online. Sometimes they’re a huge saving grace.
Set a goal for yourself.
Give yourself a(nother) positive reason to get out of bed. Start by setting one small goal for yourself and then build from there. Just be sure to make it a goal that you're truly passionate about.
When you're lonely and isolated, it's easy to get used to expending and taking in too little energy from others. That's why having a goal can help--whether it's a hobby or health-related project, it will help you burn some energy and get more back in return.
Reach out for help.
There are a number of ways to get help these days when you need to talk to someone about your feelings. Of course, there are the typical crisis phone lines, but I'm not really into the phone and strangers. What I have found really helpful is anonymously emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Another positive and anonymous way to connect with others and chat about struggles is through the Lyf App. It’s an Australian app I’ve used on my android devices. Basically, you set up a “journey,” and post on it much like you would on Facebook. The difference is that you can be anonymous, and the journeys are typically more positive or goal-oriented.
You can also reach out to me. Don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at email@example.com if you need to talk to someone who understands the complexities of loneliness and isolation. I care.