How to Deal with Loneliness
Kristen Roman, Psy.D.| Director of the Young Adult Program
In the wake of Valentine’s Day, when expressions of love for romantic partners, friends, and family are center stage, many people may be experiencing increased feelings of loneliness. Winter can also be a more pronounced time for loneliness, as cold weather brings increased temptation to stay inside, limiting opportunities for connection. An interesting thing about loneliness is that you can feel lonely even when you are surrounded by people and have a lot of people in your life who care about you. Regardless of the sources of your loneliness, I wanted to share some ideas about ways to cope with loneliness.
The first idea is counter to what we instinctively do—it’s to radically accept (fully embrace the facts of) your loneliness. Our tendency is to resist loneliness and to tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel lonely or that loneliness is “bad” or “scary.” In reality, loneliness is an emotional state that serves a function for us, just like all other emotions. The function of loneliness can be to increase awareness of the absence of others and to motivate us to change this. While the emotion can be painful, it ultimately helps motivate us to socialize with others and benefit from connection and shared resources. So step one is to accept that loneliness is a normal emotion to have, albeit uncomfortable.
Another helpful concept for loneliness is to remind yourself of the universality of this emotion, meaning the fact that everyone feels lonely at times. And more specifically, to think about all the other people in the world who in this very moment are feeling similarly lonely. Loneliness can typically make us feel “weird,” separate from others, and isolated, so thinking about others who also feel lonely can remind us that we are not alone in this suffering.
Finally, I would suggest asking yourself what would be a kind thing to do for yourself when you’re feeling lonely. Is it to try and solve the problem (i.e. increase connection) by texting a friend, signing up for a dating app, or sitting in a park or a café to feel more a part of things? Maybe the kind thing is to focus on soothing yourself and the pain of loneliness by curling up on your couch with a soothing cup of tea, putting on relaxing music, or doing some slow breathing. Maybe it’s saying some kind and encouraging words to yourself, like, “It’s hard to feel lonely, but I can get through this.” It may also help to recall recent times in which you did not feel lonely in order to remember that emotions don’t last forever.