A Pandemic of Loneliness

How do you deal with being lonely? Perhaps you’re addicted to something, like I discussed a couple of weeks ago. It’s definitely easier to find distractions than it is to sit with our thoughts. The social distancing certainly seems to be causing emotional distancing.

I recently read a headline that said we’re experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. I figured it would be quite important to bring the topic up, considering how difficult this can often be to navigate. Why is human connection so important and why are we struggling with it?

We have more people on the planet than ever before, yet we feel more disconnected (despite how virtually connected we are) than ever as well. Let’s unwrap what causes us to feel lonely, how social media affects our ability to connect, the power of vulnerability and ways to move forward.

PS: Being comfortable alone and feeling lonely are completely different things.

What causes loneliness?

The definition of loneliness is essentially the emotional state when we feel or perceive ourselves to be isolated from other people. It can be painful, stressful and induce symptoms of depression.

Here are some possible causes of loneliness that I found incredibly insightful:

  • Emotional isolation (EQ)
  • Intellectual isolation (IQ)
  • Affluence (how wealthy you are)
  • Living situation
  • Social anxiety

I’ve obtained the list above from the link below. Feel free to refer to it for more information.

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-25481/unexpected-causes-of-loneliness-what-to-do-about-them.html

So the interesting thing that I’ve gathered is that there are certain aspects of our nature that incline us towards being on our own. Our emotional intelligence enables us to gain awareness, but it also means we are likely to stop surrounding ourselves with people who we’ve connected to through a common brokenness. The quote below describes it incredibly well.

“The more you heal, the less you’ll connect with people with whom you once shared a common level of woundedness.”

People who are incredibly intelligent in a specific way (a high IQ for example), may find it difficult to spend time with less intelligent people. There is often a demand for stimulating conversations and that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Another interesting factor is your affluence / how much wealth you have. It can be intimidating and there can be misconceptions that people think you’re arrogant or better than them. This is also an isolating factor. Your living situation and neighbourhood can also play a role in your inability to connect with people and socialize. Lastly, a prominent factor can be social anxiety or fearing rejection. These cause us to overthink and can discourage us from seeking genuine human connection. Let’s see how social media plays a role in all this.

The impact of social media

I’ve already debated how social media affects our daily lives; both from a positive and negative lens. This time, I’d like to relate it back to how it impacts our loneliness. The problem with being able to zoom into people’s lives so regularly, is that it creates a sense of FOMO.

The feeling occurs subconsciously. You see other people enjoying themselves, going out, seemingly having the time of their life; while you’re at home, alone, bored, staring at your phone in your underwear. This obviously creates a certain yearning. We also crave to be out and about, having coffee with mates or going on adventures.

When we’re alone with our thoughts and don’t have specific Friday night plans, we often distract ourselves on social media. We just need to be aware of the impact that has on our psyche and the way it may negatively affect us; inducing a certain sense of loneliness.

The solution (in my opinion) is to reach out to people instead of watching what they’re doing. Send messages to those you haven’t spoken to in a while. Start conversations with people you find interesting. Make a plan to group video call your friends.

It’s okay to feel a little needy sometimes. It’s okay to want to connect. It’s okay to reach out. It’s okay to be vulnerable.

The power of vulnerability

The concept of vulnerability ties into our inherent fear of rejection. We often think that showing our true colours to people will result in them rejecting us for who we really are. This may in fact have been proved to us when we were younger.

The truth of the matter is, when we’re willing to share our feelings, emotions and thoughts with people, despite how outrageous they may seem, it can result in a more genuine form of connection.

We tend to think that we’re all extremely different. However, we ultimately share a similar array of emotions. We’ve all been hurt, lonely, excited, nervous, stressed, shy, scared and joyful. If we focus more on how similar we truly are, it allows us to share those experiences with others.

Do you want to know why vulnerability is effective? Because it allows us to establish trust. The expectation is that you’ll be speaking to me about aspects of your life that you wouldn’t want me to take advantage of, mock, share with others, or disregard. Once I see how much you can trust me with your thoughts, it allows me to feel comfortable enough to share my experiences with you. This enhances empathy, genuine human connection and makes us feel less isolated. The more we can relate to others and be vulnerable, the less likely we are to feel lonely.

How to deal with the feeling of loneliness

What should we do about feelings lonely then? It’s easy to start watching TV, scroll social media or just read something to keep our minds occupied. But that’s not dealing with the actual feeling, it’s just pushing it further back in the closet. What we need is acceptance.

Arguably the most difficult aspect of all; learning how to accept our feelings for what they truly are. When we accept how we feel, it’s a way of making peace with our mind and the world around us. Acceptance means that we don’t resist what comes up. We don’t force away what’s yearning to be heard. We don’t distract ourselves from the truth. Only once we accept, can we then take action and move forward. It also means that we don’t judge ourselves. We are only short-lived human beings after all.

After acceptance, we can start to work on improving that internal condition. We can write about it, reach out to people, speak our minds, lean into our hearts and share vulnerabilities. We can find activities that fulfil us. Serve others more. Be kinder. Be more caring, patient and loving to the world.

The more you give, the more you get. Start demanding less, and start giving more. And when it comes to receiving, don’t deny yourself that either.

Rumi Quote: “You have to keep breaking your heart until it ...

Don’t allow social distancing to create emotional distancing. If you’re reading this rn, please know that you’re not alone. You are loved. You are cared for. You are worth it. Reach out to me if you need to. Reach out to other people you haven’t to in a while. It’s going to be okay. You got this.

The Essence Of Teamwork

We hear it over and over again, how important it is to work in a team. Sometimes it can be frustrating, sometimes annoying, sometimes incredibly rewarding. So what differentiates a team that produces outstanding work, compared to those who just wish it was all over?

Let’s dive a little more into effective communication, empathy, trust and feedback. I’ve touched on these topics before, but it’s important to see how they connect to each other.

Communication

Why is this so critical? Because being able to clearly articulate your thoughts, feelings and expectations is paramount to successfully working in a team. Here are a few tips to practice when working in a team:

  1. Start with why – have a set intention for the project.
  2. Have consistent meetings and keep each other updated.
  3. Make sure the goals are clear for each responsible party.
  4. Have metrics in place to ensure that people are held accountable.
  5. Be honest when you’re stuck or confused.
  6. Give constructive feedback regularly.

It’s always valuable to have your intentions aligned at the very beginning of a project. This ensures that all members understand the purpose of working together and have a common objective.

The second point talks about having consistent meetings. This has been tremendously beneficial for me, especially working from home. Having a set routine for meetings, where the minutes are being taken, allows people to constantly stay up to date with what’s going on. It also means you can regularly discuss any ideas or setbacks that you’re facing.

Ensure that once you’ve delegated certain roles, the goals for each member are accurate. They know exactly what to prepare before the internal deadline. This doesn’t necessarily mean they know what to do from the get-go, but they need to know what they’re working towards.

Have metrics in place to ensure that those goals are being met. Whether it’s a page of the report, a programming code, a section of the simulation, anything really. When the metrics are known, they can be held accountable.

Getting frustrated or stuck is an evitable aspect of project work. What’s important here is to make sure you’re speaking to other people about what’s going on. Perhaps they could help you or refer you to someone who could. When all group members understand where the other person is (in terms of progress), it makes it easier for them to feel comfortable and confident in the work being done (or not). This requires a great deal of trust and empathy.

I’ll discuss feedback in a little more detail further below, but it’s an important part of communication too. You need to criticize well on a regular basis, to improve the quality of the overall work.

Empathy and listening

Ahh, emotional intelligence strikes again. Being empathetic is crucial to any important relationship you have in your life. When you can make the other person feel heard and understood, it opens up the door to vulnerability and honesty.

When you see that people aren’t delivering or struggling to meet internal deadlines, try and understand things from their perspective. Are there any problems going on behind the scenes? Are they feeling unusually stressed or anxious? Maybe they’re having issues at home?

Being a good listener plays a critical role here. You need to remain mindful, curious and nonjudgmental when holding the space for other people. I think this is a great leadership quality; allowing people to ask silly questions and truly speak to you about what’s on their mind.

Trust

This essentially builds on the previous topic. Trust is formed through active listening and being reliable. You need to commit to your word and show up when you promise to. Things are never going to be perfect, but you need to show other people that you are capable of delivering up to the expected quality.

Trust also involves a certain level of integrity. When you respect the team boundaries, when you don’t unnecessarily expose other people’s flaws, when people feel comfortable being vulnerable.

I need to trust you to deliver. I need to trust you not to share everything I bring up to you. I need to trust you to be there for me when I’m struggling. I need to trust you to give this your very best.

Feedback

I’ve also spoken about this before on my post ‘The Psychology of Motivation‘. Delivering feedback and constructive criticism is an extremely important part of the development loop. You have to show people what’s working and what isn’t. You need to constantly update the expectations and ensure everyone is learning from their mistakes.

This is a really difficult process. For both, the person giving the feedback and for the person receiving it. However, if you’ve managed to successfully build trust, empathy and effective communication, it makes it a little more bearable.

Remember why feedback is important. It’s to help the other person develop and improve the quality of their work. When giving feedback, always bring up what’s working well first. Remind them of their strong points. Make the other person understand that you’re doing this to help them. Be as objective as possible. Offer support where you can to help them out too.

When you’re on the receiving end, keep an open mind. Watch out for your ego. Don’t see it as an attack or a source of demotivation. You can’t expect to be perfect every time. Absorb the wisdom given by your peers, they see things that might be in your blind spot.

Don’t take things personally.

To put it all together, you’re going to work in a team whether you like it or not. No one can do it on their own. Despite how independent or solo your work may seem, there are always people you will need help from. Integrating certain tools can help you work more effectively with people, especially if you’re striving to be a great leader.

Ensure that constant communication is in place. Hold the space for people to speak to you about what’s truly bothering them. Build the relationships on a foundation of trust and integrity. Give constant feedback so that everyone can improve.

“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”

Keep trying your best. If it’s challenging and difficult, it means you’re on the path to growth. You got this.

Toxic Positivity

‘Don’t worry!’

‘Just stay positive…’

‘Everything will work out.’

‘Imagine how much worse things could be?’

I’ve recently come across a very interesting term called ‘toxic positivity’. This is very similar to the concept of toxic productivity that I’ve discussed before, whereby we push certain mindsets past a healthy threshold.

Today, I’ll speak about what I think toxic positivity is, how positivity can become toxic, why we experience it, emotional intelligence and vulnerability.

I enjoy discussing things that I often find myself guilty of following, because it’s how I grow and learn. The IG post below is where I found out about the concept and is a great place to learn more about it.

What is toxic positivity?

It is essentially portraying yourself as being happy all the time, regardless of what life throws at you. It’s rejecting the negative emotions that come up and living in an illusion that everything is perfectly okay. This meme perfectly sums it up for me:

How can positivity be toxic?

The term toxic refers to something being affected by poison. This is often the case when you’re obsessed to the degree that it no longer serves its original intent.

Positivity in and of itself is wonderful. It’s what keeps people going. It helps you see the best in situations. But don’t confuse positivity with optimism and don’t let positivity hinder your ability to feel negative emotions.

Our ability to feel a wide range of emotions is what inherently makes us human beings. Take a look at the diagram below. Can you imagine denying yourself more than 2/3 of that range? It’s all there for a reason, we’re meant to feel things.

When your sole focus becomes trying to always be ‘happy’, you’re falling into the toxic trap.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/ea/9d/46/ea9d468243a408df546ed2946e8bc86e.jpg

Why do we do it?

Because feeling sad sucks. It’s that simple really. We don’t enjoy the feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, embarrassment or fear etc. However, that doesn’t mean that we should try and escape from experiencing them.

Always being cheerful is something embedded deep into our psyche from a very young age. Whereas being upset or frustrated is something frowned upon / ‘annoying’. This is why I believe that emotional intelligence is so important, because it allows us to understand that there’s a plethora of emotions that we need to understand and appreciate.

Just to be clear here, I’m in no way trying to tell you not to feel ecstatic, hopeful or optimistic. I’m merely trying to get you to understand how complicated we are as beings. Allow your self to experience the full range of emotions more regularly and accept them.

https://www.facebook.com/YFSWellness/photos/pcb.2755390471246386/2755390157913084/?type=3&theater

Self-awareness and acceptance

Self-awareness is arguably the most important skill to learn for emotional intelligence. This should definitely be followed by acceptance. When we’re able to identify and become aware of specific emotions, it enables us to accept them.

This process is extremely liberating because it teaches us not to hold onto or force away any feelings. When we’re able to be deeply present with ourselves, we are no longer slaves to our impulses.

“Better awareness >> Better choices >> Better results”

Vulnerability and empathy

Learning how to be appropriately vulnerable will catalyze meaningful connections in your life. You’ll not only amplify your ability to be kind to yourself, but you’ll be able to do the same for others.

This involves being open and honest about how you feel. Talking about what’s bothering you or what’s not going well for you. It’s about being realistic and showing that. Being empathetic will also play an important role in vulnerability, because you would need to relate to how other people are feeling by reflecting on similar experiences.

Toxic positivity encourages the suppression of emotions and faking the fact that things are okay. Being vulnerable encourages you to accept it and then allow it to pass.


It’s okay to not be okay.

Next time you do feel a storm whirring up inside of you, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to sit through the motion and gain an understanding of how your body reacts.

Things will be really shitty at times, but things will also be really great at times and that’s part of the journey. Understand that failure is part of growth and that it’s okay to want to give up. You’re exactly where you’re meant to be. Just keep trying your best to learn.

It’s okay…

I’d like to reiterate on the topic of toxic productivity that I discussed last week (you can click on the hyper-link to read the article). It’s a strange time for us all, it’s okay to feel the way you feel.

I’ll briefly talk about a few key components of emotional intelligence and how that’s relevant to us today. I’ll focus on why acceptance is key, how to ask the right questions and understanding how temporary this all is.

Acceptance

If you can master the art of acquiescence, you’ll truly find peace with all that happens in your life. Acceptance seems to work like a charm, yet it’s so difficult to attain.

One of the key aspects of self-awareness is learning to accept your emotions after you’ve acknowledged them. Learning to become present with your feelings and thoughts is a life-long process, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

Once you’ve learned how to accept a thought or feeling, it no longer holds any weight over you. It sounds incredibly simple, but it genuinely works. Some of you may have more serious circumstances, so it’s not necessarily an immediate remedy. But the concept itself still holds true. Learn to accept.

It’s okay to be confused. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay if you’re scared. It’s okay if you’re a little upset. It’s okay if you’re uncomfortable. It’s okay if your schedule is a bit messed up. It’s okay if you’re uncertain.

Don’t judge yourself. Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t think that this is the end. Our patience and resilience are truly being tested. Notice how your body reacts to those feelings and take in a few deep breaths.

Write it down. Accept it. Let it go.

We need to ask ourselves the right questions and gently work on our state of mind.

Questions

I’d like to offer you a few important questions again. Remember that questions are answers. If you can master the art of asking yourself the right questions, the answers will come finding you. That’s the power of your subconscious.

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What can I do about this feeling?
  • Why am I finding it difficult to deal with this?
  • Have I always felt this way?
  • Is this temporary or permanent? Will I always feel like this?
  • How have I previously overcome difficult emotions?
  • What am I grateful for right now?

There are so many more important questions to ask, these are but a handful. Think of questions for yourself, aspects that are critical to your well-being.

Your mind works really well when you’re not constantly occupied. If you ask a question before going to bed or before going for a short walk, you’ll be amazed at how the subconscious processing works. Another cool exercise would be to answer these questions in a journal.

“Writing is closer to thinking than speaking.”

Temporary

Another incredibly important component of understanding emotions is that they’re temporary. If you contemplate on that fact, it naturally brings peace to your train of thought.

We too are temporary. We’re not going to be here forever. That is something that really makes me feel humble. Things are going to end soon. I may not know when, but I know it’s inevitable.

Meditate on how short-lived natural beings truly are. Everything is cyclic; change being the only constant. There’s no point swimming against the tide, we just need to focus on where it’s heading.

“Change is inevitable; resistance is futile.”

Everyone is on their own journey. Don’t compare yourself to the rate of other people’s growth. Focus on your own growth. Focus on helping others to your best ability.

It’s okay if you’re not okay. It’s okay if things aren’t going according to plan. It’s okay if you’re lacking motivation. We’re in a cocoon. We’re exactly where we’re meant to be. This is part of the healing process. Embrace it.

Don’t quit. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give in to your impulses. Stay strong. Stay present. Stay grateful. We’ll get through this; stronger, smarter and more resilient than ever before.

Mindful Monday #2

There seems to be a lot going on in the world right now. In light of all the uncertainty, let’s remember to be mindful. In this session of Mindful Monday, I’ll talk about emotional awareness, your responsibility, exposure to information and gratitude.

I’d like to share an intriguing thought I had over the weekend. The planet is healing. Yes, the situation we’re currently in is daunting and frightening. However, there are always blessings hiding within the curses. Greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and waste dumping have all been significantly reduced.

Hmm, also randomly started thinking about The Great Depression and the 1918 flu. Quite a circular process.

We should take some time to reflect, to learn, to grow and to empathize with the world around us. Be wary of toxic productivity, understand your boundaries and focus on your blessings. Let’s relate this to Covid-19.

Emotional awareness

There’s a lot of panic, anxiety and stress amidst the chaos that’s unfolding. We need to be aware of how our emotions are unfolding. It’s critical to stay level-headed and find ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms with our circumstances.

Don’t fall prey to other people panicking. Don’t spread misinformation or be a reason for other people to panic. Watch out for fake news. Don’t be guided by fear. Stay aware of your emotional state and accept it.

It’s okay to feel worried. It’s okay to feel nervous. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Try to be nonjudgmental towards yourself and those around you. The more you’re able to understand what you’re going through, the better equipped you’ll be to help others.

Your responsibility

As it stands, there is no cure for the pandemic. All we can do is try to reduce its impact. That means we need to take responsibility for our hygiene, social distancing and reducing stigma.

Social distancing is one of the most effective ways of containing a pandemic. By reducing the amount of people you’re exposed to, you decrease your chances of being affected or affecting others. It’s critical to maintain high levels of sanitation and hygiene at this point, to ensure you eliminate any sources of contamination.

Stigma always seems to be the elephant in the room. We all know it exists, yet we tend to ignore it. It’s absolutely crucial that we remain supportive and kind to everyone, especially to those who are infected or prone to being sick.

Start taking this seriously and act now. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Here’s a link to an incredible article interpreting the data and talking about your role in helping to deal with the covid-19 outbreak: https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca

Exposure to information

We’re living in a hyper-connected age where we’re exposed to more information in 24 hours, than people did in their entire lives around 25 years ago.

Keeping that in mind, we need to be conscious of the news we expose ourselves to. We might not immediately realize it, but after scrolling and reading a few articles our entire mood can change.

Ask yourself how much information you really need to move forward with this. We need to constantly stay up-to date, but within reasonable boundaries. Stay mindful of what your subconscious is absorbing, there’s always a lot to be thankful for.

Gratitude

The best way to deal with negativity is to focus on what is going well. It’s not always easy to shift into that frame of mind, but once you do, nothing can pull you down.

Most of us still have eyes to see, a mind to comprehend with, an eagerness to learn, a loving family, wonderful friends, food to eat and a place to stay.

Think about that more. Show your love and affection to your friends and family. (Virtually of course) Be thankful and be a source of positivity to the world around you.

It’s not easy, I know. We’ll get through this. We’ll look back at how insane things were and smile, knowing we were tough enough to survive. We’ll talk about this to our children and grandchildren one day.

Don’t lose hope. Stay mindful of what’s going on within you. Take in deep breaths and smile. Now is all you have, make the most of it.

The Journey III

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

The most recent book I’ve just read is called Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, thanks to a very special friend of mine. As part of my own learning, I decided to write a little about this topic so that the concepts can stay ingrained within me. Part of this post will cover the meaning of EQ, and how it can help us in our daily commutes. As well as other forms of beneficial concepts to aid us with understanding ourselves better & how to deal with other people. 

What is Emotional intelligence?

Let’s start with a definition. From the research I’ve conducted, it’s the ability identify & acknowledge one’s own feelings (& emotions) as well as that of others.  So this links back to what I talked about in The Journey I, being a better interpreter of your own emotions & learning how to accept them. What I loved so much about emotional intelligence is that it teaches you how to connect with people. Unlike the Intelligence Quotient (IQ), EQ emphasizes on more than just your own measure of intellignce; but rather how intelligent you are with dealing with yourself & others. In developing EQ, a key factor to consider is empathy. 

What is the difference between empathy & sympathy?

Empathy: Is the ability to understand someone else from their point of reference (putting yourself in their shoes).

Sympathy: Is the understanding of what another person is feeling.

The short video I have posted here is a perfect way to understand these different terms. Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. 

One of the most important traits you can have as part of your character is being empathetic. Understanding how to make yourself vulnerable in order to connect with other people & feel what they feel. When dealing with conflict or confrontations, the best & easiest approach for me would usually be: How do I want to be told this? This question shows how important it is to understand yourself, in order to understand others. When you know what works best for you in difficult situations, you’ll be prepared to figure out what works best for others too. Being emotionally intelligent allows you to make the best possible compromise when juggling with difficult emotions. 

How much should you compromise for a relationship?

Discovering yourself is just as important when it comes to forming healthy relationships. The answer to that is a bit more complicated but there are a few tips that I’ve gained from a great monk that I’ve watched, Jay Shetty. “The problem is that we have a list for the person we want to be with, but we don’t have a list for who we need to become.” Before rushing into relationships you need to dig down and find out what you really want from a relationship. When you have that self-awareness, you’d know what you’re willing to change and what you’re not, in order to be with someone else.

Another point that I believe is crucial for this point is self-love. If you think of the love you have as a bar, like a health bar in video games, our instinctive behaviour would be to try and fill that up. If for example, you’ve only managed to fill that bar up halfway by yourself, you’d often seek the rest of the fulfillment from other people or relationships. When they aren’t able to complete it for you, that’s when a sort of lacking starts to appear and you feel like there’s something wrong or missing. If  however, you’re able to fill up that bar completely by yourself, then everyone else in your life would just be adding to an already filled up bar. Allowing for an overflow of love and compassion.

To tie the laces,  I’ve mentioned how important empathy is for genuine human connection, as well as differentiating it against sympathy. Why we need to be self-aware before jumping into relationships, & how important self-love is for that same task. I’ll leave with a lovely quote that I’ve found to be very true:

”The quality of your life is dependent on the quality of your relationships.”