“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact”
Today’s post is being written from my cabin on the Mont St Michel ferry as I travel across the English Channel to France.
It’s the summer and the ship is packed with people heading off on their holidays or visiting family and friends.
It was lunchtime when I boarded, so I headed to the restaurant, ordered the lamb tagine and went and found an empty table to sit and eat.
As I sat there in the crowded restaurant watching the people around me I suddenly noticed a big smile had crept across my face.
At first I thought it was just the enjoyment of feeling calm and content in a busy room full of strangers, but it was something more.
Then I realised why I felt so good, it was the fact that although I was on my own, I didn’t feel alone.
I felt like I was part of the world, connected and grounded, ready for my holiday ahead.
It was a very enjoyable experience, just sitting there, enjoying my food and watching the people as the waves rolled slowly past the window.
It felt a far cry from the darker days when I’d often feel lonely, cut off and thinking anxiety was my only friend.
Loneliness and Anxiety
Loneliness is often felt by those with anxiety and it can play a major role in depression too.
It’s that hollow feeling inside, that no matter where you are or who you are with, you feel like you’re lost, adrift and all on your own.
Loneliness can make you feel like you are facing all the problems of the world alone and can be a major contributing factor to feeling like you can no longer cope.
It’s because anxiety often robs you of that ability to really connect with others, or to feel wanted and loved, even when you know you are.
It does this for 2 reasons:
You spend too long focusing inwards on yourself and how you are feeling. This makes it difficult to feel like you are part of the world and the people around you.
You avoid more and more to try and manage the anxiety and feelings of panic. You stop doing the things you used to do, say ‘no’ to anything you’re unsure about and slowly cut yourself off from the people around you.
You may often not even realise you are doing it, but the more you focus inwards and cut yourself off from others the lonelier you are going to feel.
Do it for too long and the social interactions you do have, no longer feel as satisfying. You begin to believe you’re not a ‘people person’ and are better off just keeping to yourself.
This is just another lie your anxiety likes to make you believe.
But it’s not the truth, everyone needs to interact and socialise, not doing so is a key contributor to your anxiety and overall poor mental health.
You feel at your most comfortable and relaxed when you can just be yourself around others, but you don’t get that same feeling being yourself on your own.
It is the spending of time with others which allows you to lower your defences and just be you. This is because when you feel like you are being real around people, you feel at your most calm.
Because it feels natural and you know you’re being true to yourself.
Your mind knows when you are not being the real you and when you keep doing this it can only make you feel more anxious. It’s stressful having to keep up your walls and a pretence when around others.
It may feel like self-protection from your anxiety, but it is only self-perpetuation of your anxiety.
Anxiety is always harder to beat when you feel lost and alone. If you often feel this way, then it’s time to take some active steps to reconnect with people and the world around you.
How to stop feeling lonely
1) Don’t be alone
Get out there and get involved with other people.
It’s sounds too simple, but that is only because it is. There’s 7 billion people out there, there’s really no excuse to keep yourself shut away all alone.
Yes, you’re going to feel anxious or panicked for a while, just understand it’s only a feeling and the more you interact and get caught up in the moment the quicker those feelings will go.
You have to make it happen though, they are unlikely to just come to you.
We are social creatures and need that bond with others. Don’t allow your anxiety to stop you from doing new things and meeting new people.
Human interaction is what enables you to find more opportunities, get more satisfaction from life and ultimately to feel less lonely.
2) Find like-minded people who enjoy the same things
Whatever your passion is, there are others who enjoy it too. It’s very easy nowadays to find people online who are interested in the same things.
Sports, nature, astronomy, photography, dancing, there’s no shortage of groups you can go and get involved in.
In Britain, there’s even a ‘Chimney Pot Preservation’ society, who knows, it might turn out to be your thing.
There’s nothing like doing something you enjoy with other people who enjoy the same things to make you forget your anxiety and not care how it makes you feel.
Once you’ve found them, get in touch, but from there on, get involved in the real world. The internet is a great tool for finding people, but if it’s the only way you contact people it can make you feel even lonelier too.
3) Use real forms of communication
The ease of modern communication is great, but if it’s all you use, it can make you feel cut off and alone.
Email, text messages, Facebook, WhatsApp are useful tools for a quick message or organising a get-together, but they should be viewed as an aid to increase your ‘real’ interactions, not as your primary means of contact.
They are impersonal and often do not provide as rewarding an interaction as being there with someone talking. When you can see and hear someone you get a much greater sense of the conversation and this increases the connection you feel with that person.
Phone calls are also fine, at least you can hear their voice, their tone and inclinations.
It just makes it feel more real, a conversation in real time has so much more to offer, you never know what might happen or what you’ll plan to do.
Electronic communication has its place, but when you can, always try and do it face to face, or at the very least over the phone.
Remember, a community of a few hundred people living and working together is more connected than the entire world’s population linked up through their laptops, tablets and smartphones.
4) Avoid social media
This follows on from electronic communication, but overuse of social media takes it that one step further.
The constant checking of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instigram etc will only make you feel more lonely.
What’s worse is you then end up comparing your life to other’s and what they are doing.
How else do you expect to feel when you sit there seeing all the fun and exciting things your friends and family are up to while you’re at home alone and worried about how you will feel the next time you have to go to the supermarket?
It’s depressing and this will only strengthen your feeling of being alone.
But know this, the majority of the stuff people upload is an edited version of their lives. They are showing off all the good bits and trying to make people think what an amazing life they are having.
Trust me, it’s never as good as people make out to be.
They still have long, boring and stressful days, fed up with their jobs and arguments with their other halves.
In fact, you’d be surprised at just how many of them are sat there feeling anxious, depressed or lonely while they try to hide behind the face of their perfect online world.
I stopped using Facebook almost a year ago and I’ve never felt less lonely. I really couldn’t give two shits what some girl I knew for a few months five years ago is up to.
Yes, I do have social media accounts for this website, but they are not personal accounts and I never use them to contact friends or family.
Stop watching other people’s lives and instead focus on you.
‘Facebook friends’ as I like to call them do not alleviate the loneliness, in most cases they just make it worse.
Stopping or greatly reducing social media use helps very nicely with point number 5……
5) Stop comparing yourself to others and looking for their validation
Rachel from school is now married to a Doctor and has two children.
Mike from work has just got a promotion and bought a new BMW.
The couple from next door are off on a 2 month world cruise.
Good for them, but who cares?!
You are where you are and comparing yourself to others will only make you feel bitter, jealous and more lonely.
Stop comparing yourself to others and what they have and instead focus on making the changes right for you.
Stop looking for validation from other people, it often won’t come and this can make you feel unappreciated and alone. Validation comes from within because of what you do and achieve.
6) Quality of people over quantity
Five good friends who truly care about you is worth ten times more than a hundred ‘friends’ who for the most, don’t want to know.
It comes down to the quality of people in your life, not the quantity.
A few close relationships with people you really care about will make you feel less lonely than knowing half the neighbourhood.
Being lonely comes from not having those close connections, not because you only know a few people. Real friends make you feel loved, wanted and cared for and when you have these, it is very hard to feel alone.
Get rid of the toxic people in your life, the ones who bring you down. The will pick you up and spit you out when they feel like it and are often not there when you need them most.
I used to want everyone to like me, even people who were not worth my time.
Now I couldn’t care less what the majority of people think, yet I feel less alone.
Why is that?
a) I don’t take my feeling of self-worth from most of the people I meet
b) I put more time and effort in with the people in my life who are worth it
I have about 10 or 12 really good friends and a small but closely family, that’s it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like meeting new people and spending time with others, but I don’t need a huge number of people in my life.
Quality over quantity every time!
7) Help others
When you have those quality people in your life, then make sure you are there for them and look for ways to help them out.
It can be as simple as giving them a lift to the station or as big a gesture is helping them with their latest DiY project.
When you help others, you help yourself. You feel more connected, it makes you feel good and ultimately less lonely.
Not only that, but when the focus is on them and what you can do to help them you shift your focus away from thinking about you and your anxiety.
Don’t do it expecting something in return, just enjoy the feeling of helping someone when they need it and being a part of their life.
It will help re-connect with people again and it’s likely they will be there for you when you need them to be.
8) When you are alone, learn to be ok with it
This is perhaps the most important one of all.
No matter who you are, you’re going to have times on your own, but if you’ve followed the points above then these times shouldn’t make you feel so lonely.
It’s why I don’t feel lonely today while travelling over to France on my own.
I know that I have some really great people in my life and just because they aren’t with me right now, it doesn’t mean I can’t feel their presence.
You have to learn to be ok with being on your own and not allowing the thoughts of anxiety, worry and panic to start creeping in.
It’s a balancing act of keeping busy, but also allowing yourself time to relax and actually enjoying the time you spend alone.
I work from home which means I spend a lot of time alone.
This used to make the loneliness even worse as I’d often go a whole day without seeing someone and there’d be many hours with just me and my thoughts.
It used to bother me a lot, but now I make much more of my free time and spend it with others.
I’ve also learned to be fine with the time I do spend on my own, in fact I need that time alone to completely unwind and relax.
Loneliness isn’t a choice, it’s just the way you feel, but it can be worked on to reduce feeling this way.
However, being lonely and spending a lot of time alone is a choice. It may not be one you are consciously making, but it’s a choice all the same.
It’s time to start consciously making the right choices to stop being lonely and to feel like you’re part of the world.
This is what will ultimately remove those feelings of loneliness and help you with anxiety.
You can do this whether you feel anxious or not, that doesn’t matter.
You don’t need to feel calm first before you start doing more things with other people. Make social interactions more important than the way you feel.
Don’t use the excuse, ‘I need to be happy with myself first before I meet new people’, no-one is happy with themselves all the time.
There is nothing worse for anxiety than endless hours on your own, left with nothing but your negative and unrealistic thoughts and feelings.
There is another way…..
But as always, it comes back to you and the effort you are willing to put in.
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