“Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man”.
Loneliness is a universal human experience that most individuals will go through at any given stage of life. Recently, it has been one of the glaring issues facing many of us during the Covid-19 epidemic, as we navigate the realms of quarantine, social and geographical distancing and stay-at-home orders. With the holiday season upon us, some of us may be feeling a sense of acute loneliness as we are limited in the ways that we can celebrate, whether that means not being able to be travel to be with our loved ones, or gather with all the people we would usually see.
One can feel lonely in spite of being among people, experience it in a marriage or a relationship, or be lonely due to lack of interaction with others. Many times, it is brought about as a result of changes in circumstances (such as physical isolation, separation, bereavement), aging, or lack of friends and community.
Ongoing and acute feelings of loneliness can impact physical as well as mental health. It can lead to alcoholism, depression, stress, anxiety, impaired cognitive functioning, or cardiovascular disease. So how can one address the intense, empty and (at times) overwhelming feeling of loneliness?
- Acknowledge: Accept and acknowledge the very existence of it. Observe the feeling and the thoughts going through your mind. What does the loneliness look like? If you are a visual person, give it a shape, a colour, or a name. This first step can help to detach from the feeling itself and help to reduce its intensity.
- Connect and communicate meaningfully: With the myriad technologies available to us these days, one can sometimes be led down the rabbit hole of the internet and social media without actually connecting with anyone. Choose your time wisely and use technology to connect with those who matter to you. It’s the quality of personal and social interaction that matters, not quantity.
- Plan activities: Schedule and participate in activities of your interest or try something new. Not only will this get you out of your comfort zone, but could also lead to a hobby. Additionally you may gain the opportunity to interact with others who have shared interests.
- Volunteer: Giving someone in need your time. Participate in community service. Reach out and volunteer with a charity/organisation of your choice. Serving others can help alleviate the feeling of loneliness as one gains a sense of purpose.
- Practice self-care: What do you like to do for yourself? Indulge in activities that make you feel nurtured. It could be something as simple as a nice warm bath, reading a book, or walking outside.
- Exercise: It is a well-known fact that exercise releases endorphins and enhances mood. Schedule regular exercise for yourself. If weather permits, try to get outdoors. Spending as little as 15-20 minutes a day on exercise that raises your heart-rate can boost your mood as well as overall health.
- Seek help: If you find that the loneliness continues for an extended period of time, reach out and seek help from a therapist or call a helpline.
Feeling all alone in this vast universe is something we all experience, but it does not have to be a dark, bleak ordeal. As Hellen Keller once said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it”. By taking small, gentle steps, with self-love and self-compassion, we can use it as an opportunity to connect with our deeper selves and discover our strengths.
Gayatri Singh, Associate Counsellor
Master of Counselling (Monash University, Australia)
Provisional Clinical Member, SAC