HELPING YOURSELF WHEN YOU FEEL LONELY
Just as every human being requires food and water to develop, function and thrive, they also need connectedness and contact to feel truly alive.
Loneliness results when reality fails to meet one's sense of social relationships as with the loss of attachment to a significant individual(s). Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to the poor, referred to loneliness as "the most terrible poverty."
Loneliness is when you feel sad and dejected; it is the deep sorrow that comes with grief. With a death comes a loneliness for a past that cannot be retrieved. It is a feeling of being forsaken — that what you had invested in another can no longer be reciprocated in kind. That part of you is missing.
But alone doesn't always mean lonely, As May Sarton wrote, "Solitude is the richness of self;" feeling the tranquility in being alive. There are times when you need to be by yourself to refuel and get centered, rediscovering the beauty that surrounds you. I realized this truth as I walk the trails near my Walden Pond home in Concord, Massachusetts. I often think of Henry David Thoreau and the loss of his love, Ellen Sewell. Thoreau decided to build a little cabin on the shore to penetrate the purpose of his existence and "to suck the marrow out of life,
With people’s busy, fast-paced lives, it becomes more difficult to create and maintain relationships. Loneliness is part of the human condition — a feeling that all people share. But according to therapist Karyn D. Hall, loneliness has a purpose: "Just as physical pain protects people from physical dangers, loneliness may serve as a social pain to protect people from the dangers of being isolated. It may serve as a prompt to change behavior; to pay more attention to relationships which are needed for survival."
You are not destined to be socially isolated. It is up to you to change. Following are some steps you can take to feel more connected to the world around you.
Let bygones be bygones for those who have not contacted you after a loss. At the funeral, their parting words may have been, "We must stay in touch," and then stony silence. They may have their own problems or perhaps believe the bereaved should be left alone, thinking it's a kindness to not dredge up the past. Do not chastise, try to forge a renewed relationship. (A former friend can be a friend again.)
Reconnect. When invited out, say "yes" even if you do not feel like it. You may feel differently when the time comes. Your "yes" could turn into a loneliness lifter.
Reach out. Is there a friend’s family who at one time you enjoyed? Make a surprise call. Ask them to join you for coffee or lunch. Choose a "safe" person — one who is not judgmental and doesn't offer unsolicited advice. You need a friend who is willing to listen and offer support. As Martin Buber wrote, "One person is no person. The solitary heart must beat with the hearts of others."
Renew Old Passions. Whether you have an interest in art, travel, or social action, find likeminded individuals or organizations who share your concerns. Working on a common cause or furthering your learning with others may rekindle your pursuits while helping you to forge new connections and friendships.
Move your body. Joining a gym or walking around your neighborhood may not only improve your body, but it can also improve your emotional health. Research has shown that aerobic exercise, including walking, gardening, swimming, and dancing, can help reduce anxiety and depression.
Keep a journal. Heralded as a paper psychiatrist, a journal, notebook, or diary allows you to pour out your feelings of loneliness and other emotions. It can be your safe place to get in touch with what you want and need, and who you are.
Think beyond two legs. Consider getting a pet companion with four legs who offers unconditional love and doesn't talk back to you.
Consider hanging up inspirational sayings or prayers:
--"Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love." Rumi e "Don't let the past steal your present." Cherralea Morgen
--"If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is to be present in the present. Gratefully." Maya Angelou
--"What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life 7." Mary Oliver
--"You get in life what. you have the courage to ask for." Oprah Winfrey
--"Protect me God because I take refuge in You." Psalm 16:1
--"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think," From Christopher Robin, Pooh's Grand Adventure
These maxims serve as reminders that you are not alone — there is always hope, light and comfort if you choose to search for it.
Laugh when it hurts. Being lonely can be daunting. Humor can be a great antidote. When author Norman Cousins was told by his physicians that he had scant hope of recovery from a serious illness, he checked into a hotel rather than a hospital. His regime was reading humorous books, watching funny television programs, and surrounding himself with friends who made him laugh.
He wrote that 10 minutes of laughter afforded him two hours of pain free sleep. Of course, humor did not replace medical interventions, but he gradually reduced the need for analgesics and sedatives. His message — laughter has positive effects on the mind, body, and spirit. He later wrote the bestseller, Anatomy of an Illness.
Beware of the dangers of alcohol. Alcohol can be more dangerous than drugs. It doesn't require a physician's prescription. One drink can lull you into wanting more by trying to kill the pain you feel inside. But remember, alcohol is addictive. It is a central nervous system depressant, an invitation to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and sadness.
Help others. When you feel that your loneliness has abated, share your strength with others struggling with loneliness. Devote your time to charities, hospitals, hospices, or Big Brothers Big Sisters. As Sir James Barrie wrote, "Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."
Help yourself by seeking professional help. Loneliness can affect you physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Do not hesitate to call your physician to discuss your health concerns. Consider speaking to your clergyperson "for spiritual support." Working with a therapist or a support group can be beneficial — helping you to express your pain and shatter your feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness is a problem for counsellors as well. How many times have I said to my colleagues and friends, "We have to get together," followed by my own inaction?
The famed British psychiatrist Dr. Colin Murray Parkes quotes from the Latin translation, "Who guards the guardians?" He draws attention to our blizzard of details, the unattainable goals, and the images of ourselves as heroic problem solvers, maybe a bit "messianic" who never learned a two-letter word — no. We are also at the precarious risk of joining the loneliness epidemic.
Since finishing this article, I have made time to join few colleagues for lunch and other occasions. We do not talk about business but about life and living. How about you?
Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, a pioneer in crisis management, is an acclaimed writer and lecturer. In 2013, the Association for
Death Education and Counseling presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. This award honors "his national and international impact on the improvement of death education, caring for the dying person and grief counseling." His books on coping with bereavement have sold more than a million copies.
For further information, visit www.beacon.org/groilman.