The Loneliness Epidemic & How to Overcome It

The Loneliness Epidemic & How to Overcome It

I’ve had this article about loneliness hanging out on my to-do list for a long time. It’s popped in and and out of my periphery, but instead of letting it come into full view I pushed it into my blind spots and stuffed it down into the emotional trash bin.

Writing is a therapeutic experience for me, and I tend to write about topics that I’m feeling in the moment. Loneliness is not a topic I wish to feel, but it’s one that I do feel regularly, and chances are you do too.

As it continued to move in and out of my periphery — lingering on the sidelines, if you will — I pretended it didn’t exist. Do you know that feeling when you push something away so much it comes back stronger than it did before? It’s like what they say about gray hair — you pull one out and two will grow in its place.

This is what happened with loneliness. Over the past few weeks it’s moved closer and closer to my line of sight with more frequent reminders of its presence.

First, it was an article on Goop. Then, a loaned book from a friend called Lonely City. Then, there was my slightly irrational fear of becoming J.Lo in the opening scene of The Wedding Planner. (If you haven’t seen this classic, J.Lo prepares herself a dinner and sits in front of her TV every. single. night.) And finally, when I got a promotion and didn’t know who to tell.

A quote in Lonely City described loneliness in a way that tied my stomach into knots.

“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.”

Before I continue, I need to share a disclaimer: I have amazing friends, a loving family, fun coworkers, an inspiring and motivating professional network, and I genuinely like hanging out with my best friend (me!). But even with my community and surrounded by the millions of people in NYC, I often feel lonely — and I know I’m not the only one.

 

Even with my community and surrounded by the millions of people in NYC, I often feel lonely — and I know I’m not the only one.

 

The feeling that I got reading that quote made me want to close the book, but it was time to face the feelings and get uncomfortable.

I believe that in many cases, we hold the key to our outcomes. By facing our emotions and getting clear on what we want we can overcome what holds us back. For me, talking about it and being open is one of those ways.

 





Source: rawpixel

 

So, let’s get to it—let’s get uncomfortable.

Similar to feeling depressed, feeling lonely can feel shameful or embarrassing to admit. You should know that even when you’re lonely, you’re not alone. In fact, nearly half of Americans reported feeling alone. Loneliness doesn’t discriminate against age, gender, job title, role in the home, marital status, or the amount of money you make. It can appear unexpectedly at the most unwelcome times.

As I started to go deeper into my thoughts on loneliness I started to think about community.

Einstein said, “without the sense of fellowship with men of like-mind, life would have seemed to me empty.”

I agree with Einstein (smart, I think… considering the source). I believe that while some of us may be more introverted than others, at our very core we’re hardwired to connect emotionally and physically with one another.

 

Loneliness doesn’t discriminate against age, gender, job title, role in the home, marital status, or the amount of money you make. It can appear unexpectedly at the most unwelcome times.

 

The way fish travel in schools and elephants in packs; how we choose a partner and the way we work in and on teams, we have a fundamental need to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. We need security, support, belonging, and love.

There is nothing shameful in that.

But for me — and maybe you feel this way, too — it’s embarrassing that I’m not fulfilled despite all of the incredible things and people I have in my life. These feelings of loneliness are not experienced in solitary confinement, they perpetuate themselves and affect other areas of my life, too. I start to feel less confident, guilt for feeling this way, and engage in things that I know make me feel more sad and more alone despite not wanting to feel that way.

I don’t want to feel isolated — I want to feel alive and vibrant, I want to give the energy that I know I have, and I want to escape this vicious cycle.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never fully escape loneliness. It will always be back. But as I’ve learned, escaping it isn’t the answer. Understanding it, seeing where it’s coming from, saying “I see you loneliness, and I accept you,” and having the tools to overcome it head-on is the only way to step out of it and into being alive.

 

I don’t want to feel isolated — I want to feel alive and vibrant, I want to give the energy that I know I have, and I want to escape this vicious cycle.

 





Source: rawpixel

 

Here are my loneliness triggers and how I overcome them:

 

Technology

Despite being interconnected with everyone I know (and don’t know) 24/7, and being able to have conferences and phone calls with people all over the world, when I rely on technology to connect with people, I’m missing a huge part of building relationships.

There’s something so personal about a tone of voice, a smell, and a facial expression. It tells you a story that you could never understand through a text message or a conference call.

 

 How I overcome it:

 

I hate the phone, but I pick it up and I dial. I have a few people on my speed dial that I talk to almost every single week. Hearing their voice makes me feel comforted and loved.

I also try to stay off my phone once I get home from work and avoid eating dinner while scrolling through Instagram and watching TV.

 

Social Media

What a love-hate relationship I have here. You’ll know I’m feeling lonely when I’m binge-watching Instagram stories and posting a lot on social. I do this because I feel connected to people — I know that this is a false sense of connection, but it makes me feel like I’m part of someone else’s life.

Social media can also makes me feel bad about myself — there, I said it. It’s like a game of constant comparison where I end up “shoulding” all over myself.

 

 How I overcome it:

 

At the beginning of the year I did a bit of a digital detox. I didn’t use Instagram for about a week, and by the end of the week, my mood lifted so much. I engaged in things happening in real life and lived more for the moment. It’s not reality to cut this out all the time, but taking breaks is important.

I can also sense when my negative self-talk starts to enter the room and I see it, accept it, and then say goodbye to it. Comparing myself to people who have entirely different lives than me is not a good way to meet my goals.

 

Mobility

We don’t stay in one place very long anymore. I have lived in seven cities, nine apartments (not included college dorms), and went to four schools pre-college (not including nursery school). I’ve had friends be in my life in prominent ways and then move or I’ve moved. While none of these friendships have lessened, it’s hard to experience them in a new way.

 

 How I overcome it:

 

I find that one of the best ways to feel happy is to enjoy being alone and learn to be alone. It can be really uncomfortable at first, but spending this time with yourself helps you learn the things you like to do and don’t like to do without external opinions. Maybe you used to go to yoga because your best friend always liked to go, but you realized that you loved spending time with her and actually hate yoga. Time to find something that fulfills you, not your relationship.

 

Relationships

If you read my article on being single, you knew I couldn’t talk about loneliness without talking about being single. Despite loving spending time alone, I crave the feeling of spending time with someone where it feels comfortable and easy. Of course, relationships aren’t easy all the time, but there’s something about feeling like someone wants to spend time with you outside the guesswork of dating. As you get older, it’s harder to make plans with friends because the romantic relationship takes precedence.

 

 How I overcome it:

 

I really have to push myself outside of my comfort zone on this one and put my extrovert hat on. I swipe on the dating apps, say yes to parties and happy hours, and talk to people standing in coffee shop lines. But aside from the relationship-seeking actions, this also goes back to self-fulfillment and practicing the things I’m passionate about. When I’m passionate, I’m happy, and in turn am my best self.

 

Feeling isolated can be a vicious cycle, but I hope knowing that you’re not the only one helps you feel a little less alone.

 

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