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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I always used to tell people that loneliness was a pandemic.
I simply say this because it comes with many complications that increase your risk of death.
I now say it was the pandemic before the pandemic. This pandemic was only increased over the course of time since March of 2020 in the United States and earlier elsewhere.
In my life, I have known the extreme downside to loneliness and how it can impact us. I have also found ways to overcome it that will be shared in this article.
I will clarify, though, that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Being alone is a situation that we face when others aren’t around, or we may not have a romantic partner in our life. As a 35-year-old who has never had a relationship, I am, and I have always been, alone. This does not mean that I struggle with being lonely anymore.
Loneliness is a feeling that can sometimes come from being alone, but it can also be a feeling we have surrounded by other people. Years ago, at the height of my own struggles with loneliness, I felt it whether surrounded by loving people or not. It was simply a feeling that manifested in my life that did not change due to circumstances.
There have been a few things that I have done to have nearly eliminated this feeling from my life.
The first thing is to have become comfortable with myself no matter the situation. Often, loneliness can come from feeling like we have to belong and be accepted by other people. The truth of this is we are putting how we feel in the hands of other people. We simply can’t do anything to change how other people see us, and if we do, we are not being true to ourselves as we simply try and do those things that help us to fit in. Learning to be who we are regardless of what others may think of us creates a sense of true belonging that helps to minimize the feelings of loneliness so many of us face.
The second is really learning to identify what we are feeling. Many people will say that anger is a secondary emotion. While I believe this is true in some cases, I don’t entirely ascribe to it in all situations. Many times, loneliness can be something we feel based on other emotions we may be feeling. This can come from feeling anxious, embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, or a whole other host of the many things we feel. Learning years ago that shame was a root cause of my own loneliness helped me to identify a part of the underlying cause of what made me feel lonely. Truly learning to identify and sit with our emotions is a great way to combat loneliness.
The third is to really find people who help you feel accepted for who you are. For many years, I surrounded myself by people I thought were like-minded. As it turned out, I was like-minded because I was trying to fit in and not being true to myself. Does this mean I am around only people I agree with? No, it doesn’t, but I love our similarities, and I love that they are different, and vice versa. It’s not about finding people we fit in with, but finding those people who fully accept and support who we are regardless of the differences we might have. This might take some time and some level of work on our part to be with those who are different, but being accepted by those in our life helps us not to feel so lonely and also not to have to be as alone.
The fourth thing is learning to reach out to other people either for help or as help. I reach out often to check in on and help other people, and this has definitely helped to not feel lonely myself, but also, in some ways, helps to combat their loneliness. As much as we hesitate to reach out, others might give signs without fully coming out with things they are going through. Even if they don’t accept the help you offer, it means something to them that you reached out. In the same context, we can always reach out. I still struggle with this as I go through hard times, but finding those people who really do care and want to help has meant a lot. It can also, at times, make people feel unsafe if they tell you their problems and you don’t share with them. Reciprocal support can sometimes be vital to both helping others and ourselves.
Finally, it is vital that you learn to be comfortable with yourself and who you are. Many people say you have to learn to love yourself, which is a valid point, but for some of us, this is hard to do, and we feel shame when hearing it because we don’t. I would simply say learn to appreciate things about yourself. I appreciate how much I can show kindness to other people and try and focus on this when I’m alone and around others to not feel so lonely. I allow myself to read helpful things that I can apply in my life and think deeply of to share with others to fuel connection. I also have become my own companionship by engaging in my academic and personal learning interests. I can’t say I love myself and am not sure if I ever will, but I am okay with myself and have learned to be in my own company by at least being comfortable with myself and who I am.
These are five things I have found helpful in my life that you might find beneficial in yours. This does not cover everything, and I strongly encourage you to find your own ways to combat this life-threatening feeling that exists. One thing that is the most important takeaway is that loneliness exists even when we may not be alone. This feeling can be coped with like many other emotions we feel. So, we need to stop feeling alone in our own loneliness as this is what truly keeps us from connecting with other people.
Be authentic, be genuine, be kind, and always reach out, and this is something we can all help each other out with on this journey called life.