5 No-Nonsense Tips for Coping with Loneliness, From Someone Who Has Been There
What does loneliness look like? When we picture loneliness, many of us picture a cowering kid at school sitting alone at lunch, not speaking to anyone. He’s that kid who needs a brave soul to come over and be his friend. That’s loneliness, right?
I suppose it’s one example, but it’s far from a complete picture of what loneliness looks like. Few of us would imagine our high school valedictorian or Prom Queen, that acquaintance on Instagram who constantly posts pictures of their happy family or our favorite celebrity. I know for me, when I’ve felt alone, I’ve thought of these types of people with envy. Surely they could not feel lonely.
I felt at my loneliest this past winter, in the months before I got married. I got plenty of attention and had lots of happy stories to tell on Instagram, yet I felt that no one understood me. I learned that even if someone appears successful and happy, they can and do feel lonely.
In my experience as a Crisis Counselor, about one-quarter of my texters have cited loneliness as their main crisis, with many more mentioning a lack of support in their lives. Loneliness can cause major emotional distress if you don’t know how to cope. Here are five no-nonsense tips for busting the loneliness we all feel.
Tip 1: Speak Your Needs
The winter of my engagement, I found myself packing up my apartment on New Year’s Eve, preparing to move to my new home with my future husband. At that time I lived in student housing, so my roommates and most of my other friends had gone home for winter break. As I packed for hours all alone, I wondered with frustration “Why hasn’t anyone offered to help me move? They’ve left me all alone to pack up by myself.”
I realized no one had offered because I hadn’t asked. We’d all love mind-reading friends who know when we could use a helping hand. We’d love to have friends texting us out of the blue just to see how we’re doing. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for others to think of doing that while living their own lives. But any of us can take charge of this situation. We can let our friends and loved ones know we need them. Miss somebody and want to chat? Tell them. Feeling overwhelmed with a project and need some help? Ask someone. Most people are open to helping and being a friend. It makes them feel good too. They just need guidance on when and how to act.
Tip 2: Seize Opportunities
It’s common knowledge that social media contributes to loneliness, but could it offer some relief as well? Hours into my packing and moving project I opened Facebook to see a notification from my residence area’s group page. Someone I’d never talked to posted that she’d be interested in someone coming over to build a puzzle. Normally, I would not waltz over to a stranger’s apartment, but I decided to give it a try. She was ecstatic that someone responded to her post. We sat for a few hours getting to know each other as we worked on her puzzle. We helped one another feel less alone.
Keep an eye out for events you might like to go to or people you’d like to get to know better. Try to explore those new activities and relationships. Be open to saying yes when the chance to meet someone new comes around. In addition, the Internet also offers many resources specifically for making friends. Apps like Meetup show you interest groups in your area that you can join. A quick search can uncover even more apps and forums based on one of your interests. Just make sure to use them safely!
Struggling with loneliness? Text a trained Crisis Counselor 741741 or click the button below on mobile. We’re here for you.
Tip 3: Be a Friend
We have a tendency to think others don’t want to be our friend. We worry about talking to someone we perceive as more popular than us, or about texting a friend because we feel like we’re bothering them. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been bothered by someone reaching out to say hi. Even if someone seems totally fine, check in and see what’s been going on. The worst that can happen is it gets awkward. This situation happens to me all the time, and I used to feel so embarrassed. Recently though, I learned that it’s okay to laugh it off. You acted bravely reaching out to that person. If they didn’t receive it well it’s okay to take it as practice and move on.
Tip 4: Do Something Kind
Feelings of loneliness can stem from a lack of belonging or purpose. Doing something kind for someone else can give a person that purpose they need. When I’m up at night feeling stressed or sad about something, I like to pet my dog and scratch his head. It’s his favorite thing and he looks at me like he’s so grateful I’m around. Doing kind things for another person, or even an animal, will make you feel appreciated.
Other simple things to do could include texting a friend, going on a “like-spree” on a friend’s photos, tidying-up the house, or sorting out some old belongings to donate. Brainstorm ways to be kind and helpful. If you need more ideas, check out DoSomething.org or Kindness.org, which both offer simple ways to serve in your social circle and community. You might even some friendships along the way.
Tip 5: Remember You Are a Complete Person On Your Own
When one of my texters feels relentless loneliness, I like to run through an activity with them. I share something positive I’ve noticed about them, like that they’re good at communication or that they're empathetic to others. Then I have them share something they find positive about themselves. If they can do it, I have them brainstorm a few more.
I run through that activity with people to help them see they are a whole and worthwhile person all on their own. It’s common to feel low-self esteem when someone's self -worth depends on external factors, such as having lots of friends, a perfect romantic partner, or strong relationships with family. If you can recognize the beauty of your own strengths and interests, it’s easier to cope with being on your own. Because honestly, you’re great company! No one understands you better than yourself. Being a friend to yourself is a beautiful thing.
We all feel alone at times, and no number of relationships can ever completely prevent that. It’s difficult for others to always be there for us, and completely understand our experiences. Loneliness can turn into a major emotional crisis, thus it’s critical that we all know how to cope with it. If you find yourself in an emotional crisis due to loneliness or any other reason, reach out to us by texting HELLO to 741741 any time.
Laura Cooper-Hastings is a volunteer Crisis Counselor from Salt Lake City, UT. She works in oncology research and is an aspiring genetic counselor. Good food and good dogs are her self-care.