Can we un-learn our loneliness?
Positive Psychology Coach and RB Mind Trustee, Monika Waller, examines how developing new ways of being and relating can increase our sense of belonging.
We face social distancing on a daily basis. Rules for meeting friends and for family gatherings keep changing and disrupt our social life. Loneliness can deepen in such conditions, unfortunately. Are we ashamed to admit we feel lonely? Do we assume we are the only ones who are struggling?
Loneliness will escalate if we fortify it with negative self-talk about not being likeable or being socially insufficient in some way. Of course, there are different degrees of loneliness. Sometimes it’s more about how you feel about connections in your life and not about how many people you have around you or your online friends and followers.
Adopting new micro habits
Well, what if there’s something we can do about it? We can increase our sense of belonging and look at things in a different light. Here are some micro habits we can adopt. These won’t take more than 5-15 minutes each day. Like all new habits they require some patience and practice to become effective.
Starting a day by saying ‘Good Morning’ to yourself (Good morning…and say your name). A friendly greeting – a sign of respect and kindness – will boost your mood as soon as you wake up.
Noticing our interdependence with others. Pause before you take a sip of your tea or coffee. Close your eyes for a moment of mindful consideration. There was at least one kind person who had harvested the tea leaves or coffee beans and then someone else was involved in shipping it and others in delivering it to your nearby shop and putting it neatly on a shelf for you and so on. Drink your beverage and for a minute think about all these people with warmth and compassion. You are not alone!
Focusing on the quality of the time we share with others by listening carefully and with an open heart. Even when you can spend only a few minutes make that time count. Being truly present then is more enriching than half an hour of interaction while you’re checking your emails or updating online posts.
At the end of a day taking 10 minutes to reflect and write about three things – even little things – that went well in the past few hours and helped you in some way. Be imaginative! Cultivating gratitude will in the long run bring us closer to people we share this planet with.
Building up these joyful micro habits and enhancing simple yet positive experiences in a daily life is important for our mental health in these uncertain times. Our self-care is vital and a gentler attitude towards ourselves matters. With time we will realise we are not truly alone even though we might still feel lonely. It’s a shift in perspective.
Connecting with the community
Loneliness is a subjective experience. And we can search within ourselves for examples of when we feel most lonely. Maybe we feel left out or perhaps we do not feel understood. Sometimes we wish others would relate to us in a different way. To see a clearer picture, it’s also worth exploring:
- how we relate to ourselves – what words and tone we use in our self-talk
- how we relate to people we know
- how we relate to people we don’t know
Long-term loneliness can blur a person’s objective view of the world. A once friendly and warm neighbourhood may often seem strange and uninviting. And yet community may be the best remedy for lonely people to grow in confidence and start developing new relationships. If you feel lonely, don’t hide it, ask for help. Finding an empathetic companion in your area will be an uplifting experience. You will feel visible and acknowledged again, and connected in spite of social distancing.