My parent’s health is challenging right now, and it’s really hard being across the country. I’m spending a lot of time worrying, making and fielding calls from healthcare providers, checking in with my parents, wanting to be with them, mourning what they can no longer do. It’s hard and it takes up a lot of my time and mental space. At the same time, I don’t want to burden my friends with all this, so it’s incredibly lonely too.
Loneliness is an epidemic. Even though we’re more connected than ever. Even for people with strong communities. Even for people surrounded by people they love.
Maybe you just moved to a new city or you just quit your job to stay home with your kids or got divorced or you retired and its supposed to be so great … and you miss your routine or seeing people every day or the identity you had. Maybe you have something going on in your life, like I do, that you feel like you can’t share.
Loneliness and being alone aren’t the same thing. There are times I LOVE being alone. I love having time to be quiet and read or write or just be at home or taking long walks on the beach or in the woods. And yet there are moments when I feel like nobody gets what I’m going through, where I feel like I don’t have anybody I can talk to about what I’m struggling with. Sometimes those moments happen late at night when everyone is asleep, but they can also come when I’m sitting in a crowded restaurant having lunch with friends.
We all get lonely sometimes. Two things to remember: You are not the only one who is lonely. You don’t have to feel lonely all the time. Sometimes knowing these things helps, but actually doing something helps more.
3 Ways to Combat Loneliness
There is no “cure” for loneliness, but I come back to these things again and again and they help remind me that I’m not alone and that I do have support from friends, family and right inside myself.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to help us get past hard emotions and help strengthen relationships. It’s not an immediate fix, but one that builds over time. Rather than writing a list of things you are grateful for, try writing about one thing and go deep. Are you grateful for your sister’s support? List all the reasons why and how her support makes you feel. Better yet, share your gratitude and deepen connection by writing a heartfelt thank you note to that sister or to somebody you care about. It doesn’t have to be for a gift or something specific they’ve done recently. But if you include story to illustrate what you are grateful for, it will be powerful for both of you.
Write Down Your Feelings
So often we’re told to focus on the positive or be grateful for what we have. As I said above, practicing gratitude can have a huge impact on us, but ignoring the harder feelings or trying to gloss over them doesn’t help.
Take time to acknowledge your feelings, whatever they are, and write about them. Getting stuck ruminating isn’t helpful, but often times writing about our feelings helps us process them and move on. Maybe we find a different way of thinking about our circumstance that can lead to a different, lighter feeling. This type of writing can really nudge you away from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself.
I remember when I left my job (one that I had worked hard to get) to stay home with my first child. I didn’t realize how lonely I would feel away from the bustle and excitement of my corporate job. But when I sat down to write about it in a letter to my best friend, I realized that I was suffering from anxiety about transition. I’ve never been great at transitions, but I remembered that after a period of adjustment (and, in this case, finding some new friends) I usually bounced back. Writing about how I had been resilient in the past helped me see myself in a different, less critical light and gave me clarity about how to move forward and feel less lonely.
Connect with Others
This one may sound too obvious, but connecting doesn’t just mean being around. Think about what you need. For me, being able to talk about my parents health—my fears and frustrations, the scheduling and my sadness, all the different pieces—makes me feel more heard and less alone. I do talk to my friends, but I don’t want to overburden them. But I can share a story in a letter to somebody who knows me and my mom. Or I can tell and share my story with people going through what I’m going through and hear their stories—this helps me know I’m not the only one going through this and makes me know I am not alone.
Sharing our stories is an amazing way to connect. It’s so easy to stay on the surface—to talk about the weather or who needs a ride or complain about how busy we are. When we open up and share some part of our story, something we love, something that lights us up, or something that hurts, we make ourselves vulnerable to other people’s reactions, but we also make space for grace and connection.
Share a piece of your story—or ask somebody else about theirs. You may find out you aren’t so alone.
Interested in learning how to connect through letters? I take you step by step in my eBook Deepening Connections.