Loneliness isn’t a fact. It’s an emotion that feels like it’s informed by the truth of our lives, particularly for those of us who are often alone. I’m single right now, and I’ll often think to myself: I feel lonely because I live by myself and I don’t have a boyfriend or any plans for Saturday night and, well … insert more negative thoughts here.
Then I remember this: some of the loneliness times in my life have been when I do have a partner.
At the end of my last relationship, when my boyfriend and I were losing our connection to one another, I would lay in bed beside him, close enough to hear him breathing, yet feel isolated all the same. That was worse than any loneliness I’ve felt on my own. Even if it was a reasonable emotion, it felt like failure. Why wasn’t he eclipsing my loneliness? What was wrong?
The problem may have been in my framing of that question to myself. It’s counterintuitive, but another person can’t keep us from feeling lonely. Being alone or not alone actually has little to do with loneliness. To combat the emotion, we need to first accept that it’s OK to feel lonely sometimes. That being said, chronic loneliness isn’t good for your health. Like depression, the state of being lonely can take a deep toll on every facet of our lives.
So what can you do when the murky grey of loneliness starts to drain the color from your life?
Five Ways to Combat Loneliness
1. Force yourself to make a schedule. Don’t let the week pass by and then, on Saturday night, sink down into loneliness because you’re alone. And, if you do have a partner, don’t succumb to that temptation of just assuming you’ll watch Netflix and eat Chinese food and that will be your Saturday. Sure, that can be fine, sometimes. But not making plans that stimulate your mind or your body in new ways can be depressing. This doesn’t mean you need to have an engraved invitation to some formal affair for the weekend, but plan something exciting. Maybe that just means trying out a new recipe or baking a cake. Maybe it means going to see a play or taking a long evening stroll in the park. It’s the act of doing these activities that will free you from feeling lonely.
2. Send out some texts or make some calls.
At a Christmas party last year, I found myself in a corner talking to an attractive yet solemn man. Out of nowhere, really, he asked me, “How many texts do you receive a day?” I paused and said, “It depends on the day.” He told me that he only receives one text a day. He was troubled by this. I asked him, “How many texts do you send out to people.” He replied, “None.” I’ve fallen into this trap before. Why is no one calling me? Why is no one texting me? Don’t stress out about this. No one receives phone calls all day long. Instead, send out some texts. Tell a friend who you haven’t heard from for a while, “I miss you!” Even if it’s as simple as those three words, you’ll find that giving leads to receiving when it comes to communication.
3. Complete a project.
Redefine what having plans means for you; you don’t actually have to have a group of people around you to “have plans.” Growing up, my parents always seemed to be going to parties and dinners with groups of people. I don’t have the same kind of social life that they did. Part of this is because their social lives centered around religion and our synagogue and I haven’t made this a part of my adult life. No matter. Instead of worrying that you don’t have something on your calendar, decide on a specific project you want to complete. This can be anything. Maybe it’s going for a longer run or walk than usual. Maybe it’s baking cookies. Maybe it’s reading 100 pages of a new novel. This afternoon, I read 50 pages of a novel I decided I want to finish over the next couple weeks. I so often feel lonely on Sundays, but just having this goal
4. Go to a yoga or spinning or other exercise class.
Earlier today, I didn’t quite feel like going to yoga, so I decided I would practice at home and then maybe catch up on House of Cards. I quickly admitted that this was a terrible idea that would inevitably depress me. Instead, I went to the yoga studio. If I could give my 20-something self advice the first item on the list would be to tell her to get her butt to yoga class. I never appreciated yoga or did it consistently until a few years ago. If you’re not a yoga person, I get it. It’s not for everyone. Maybe for you a zumba class or a spinning class would work better for you. Put it on your calendar
5. Stop looking at social media.
I don’t find Facebook or Instagram to be platforms that are particularly good for my mental health. If they’re platforms that bring you joy, by all means, continue to look at them. My best friend, who’s a very self-assured person, told me last weekend that getting off Facebook is the best things she’s done for herself in years. Remember that social media isn’t real. If you have a tendency like I do to feel pangs of envy when you scroll through a curated feed of all of your friends’ and acquaintances’ best moments, then there’s two things you can do. One, change your mindset and celebrate other people’s joyful moments. Even if it feels unnatural and you’re leaning towards jealousy, if you take on a mindset of celebrating with others the envy will dissipate. Two, stop looking at these platforms ten or twenty times a day. The easiest way to resist? Take the apps off your phone.
If you are struggling with loneliness, the irony is, you are not alone in feeling this way! Nothing on this list is a silver-bullet, but I hope something I’ve written helps you find the peace you deserve.