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.

Loneliness

I’d like to speak about a topic that everyone has inevitably experienced at some point. Loneliness. Now, the premise of this post will be more than just being comfortable in your own company, but rather that empty chest feeling that creeps up on you without you ever realizing it. No one goes through life unscathed, that’s why I believe it’s important to speak about things that may be uncomfortable or even daunting. Because if we’re all going through similar experiences, why not help each other deal with it?

Enjoying some quality alone time by yourself is without a doubt an extremely healthy habit. When we give ourselves a safe space to ponder and let thoughts flow, it provides with insightful reflection and wisdom in return. An example of this would be, going on a walk somewhere in nature and enjoying your own presence within the present. Some of the greatest minds of our time such as Beethoven, Darwin, Dickens & even Steve Jobs have taken daily strolls to enhance their creativity and let ideas flow. (This doesn’t necessarily mean you enjoy quality time alone, it’s just an example of how you could) However, even if we have a healthy relationship with ourselves, it’s too often we find a hollowing pain within, yearning for connection.

I generally refer to a term called the empty chest feeling (ECF). A little bit of loneliness that creeps up on you out of nowhere, regardless of how well everything seems to be going. Sometimes it could be out of boredom, our minds’ way of dealing with the fact that we’re all going to die some day. Just think about how much we do to distract ourselves, from the very idea of death. There’s a reason I love the quote “Memento Mori” so much, it translates to “The art of dying”. Ironically, what we’re willing to die for, is ultimately what we should strive to live for.

The ECF is part of our nature I believe, from an evolutionary perspective. To drive social interaction and bonding, as it was more effective for us to work together & build pacts. From hunting and protecting, to building and expanding. The instinctive feeling to connect, drove us to stick together and do better. But at this point in time, when we’re the most connected to everyone around us, why do we find ourselves still struggling with meaningful connection? I think it’s to do with the very nature of being connected with yourself. Remember that no one else can completely fill in the void within you, unless you learn to fill it up yourself.

So what can we do when that empty chest feeling appears, even when we’re comfortable being alone?

Accept it, write it down & let it go! That may sound way too simple, but honestly if you’ve read my post about journalling , you’ll realize how important I think writing down is. But what’s vital here is the first aspect, acceptance. When we consciously accept how we feel, we’ve automatically allowed ourselves to deal with it. Always remember that as humans, we’re not meant to be feeling ecstatic and over the moon at all times. Things do fall apart, we mess up and sometimes life sucks. But that’s okay! If you didn’t have to struggle or experience crappy emotions, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy and appreciate life either. So when a bit of loneliness creeps up, tell yourself: “I love you and I’m listening”. I know there’ll be mixed reactions around this, but it’s something that personally works for me and I can honestly tell you that it makes you feel some type of way.

Having purpose and serving others, is another way of healthily using that feeling to your advantage. When you find something that drives you, something that gives you a reason to wake up everyday, something that has a positive impact on your community, you start feeling a sense of purpose. Start measuring your own success based on the effort you put in & based on the impact you’ve had on others, instead of results or material success.

This post included a lot of what I’ve written about previously, but these are important and relevant points that should always be reiterated. Forming a healthy relationship with yourself sometimes just won’t cut it, which is why we need to look at our species more holistically and be driven by our contributions to society. So taking that together with healthy strolls, learning to accept your own emotions and being there for yourself, would therefore be a better game plan. I’ll leave with a quote as usual:

“You find yourself, when you lose yourself in the service of others.”

-Ghandi