Loneliness is an emotion that we all try to steer clear from. We tend to question our worth, ruminate why we’re feeling it, and blame ourselves when things don’t go the way we want. While it’s easy to point the finger at yourself and view loneliness as a negative emotion, switching your perspective to see it in a more positive light can make all the difference.
It’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with feeling lonely. Rather than trying to evade it, you may want to understand why you’re experiencing loneliness in the first place. “People experience loneliness for many different reasons. Like happiness, feeling lonely is something unique to each and every one of us. It’s so normal to experience these feelings, and it can trigger and be triggered by other thoughts, like ‘am I enough,’ or ‘am I in the right place,’ Loneliness can cause us to question everything and make us feel separated even when we might be surrounded by many people,” said Poppy Jamie, the founder of Happy Not Perfect.
Although loneliness can feel isolating and trigger more negative emotions to appear, it’s a far cry from simply wanting to be alone. For instance, Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear, notes that the feeling of loneliness usually signals that something doesn’t feel right (i.e. disconnected from others) whereas wanting to be alone comes from a more fulfilling, positive state of mind. “Many people confuse loneliness with being alone, but the two are very different. A person can be in a crowd of people yet feel very lonely, whereas someone can be alone — in complete solitude — yet feel content.” Dr. Manly said. “This is key: It’s important to differentiate between feelings of loneliness that arise from ‘not being busy’ or ‘not being entertained’ and feelings of loneliness that say, ‘I am feeling disconnected from others.”
However, while comprehending where the source of your loneliness comes from will allow you to work through it, it’s still important to get in touch with your social support when you feel disconnected from others. “We all have an innate need to feel connected to others and loved by others; if loneliness is coming from a place of feeling disconnected, then it’s important to reach out for connection and support before the situation worsens,” Dr. Manly explained.
Whether you’ve been feeling lonely for quite some time or just recently become acquainted with the emotion, we connected with a few experts to find out how you can find solace in your loneliness.
1. Loneliness can help you become comfortable with being alone
Learning to feel comfortable with the uncomfortable is the first step to understanding your relationship with being alone. Oftentimes we do things to numb ourselves from experiencing these unsettling emotions, such as scrolling through our social media accounts, or beating ourselves up. “Being alone can help us practice being comfortable enough in dealing with the insecurities and worries about being alone; a nice phrase to repeat when the insecurities start to take over is to remind ourselves, ‘In this moment, I am okay.’ Take a few breaths in and out and let that sink in,” psychotherapist Kristen Martinez said.
2. Loneliness can help you build an intentional relationship with yourself
Feelings of loneliness can bring deeper and uncomfortable emotions to the surface, which can make it hard to be alone. However, facing these emotions head-on can allow you to ask yourself tough questions and build a deeper, more meaningful relationship with yourself. “Being by ourselves helps us to cultivate more of an intentional relationship with ourselves — this is what self-acceptance, self-care, and self-love are all about and why they are so important,” Martinez said. “Who are we when everyone else in our life is momentarily in the background? What do we value?”
3. Loneliness can allow you to reflect and be mindful
Reflecting on your loneliness allows you to get a deeper understanding of why you’re experiencing this emotion in the first place. Rather than utilizing this time to avoid the pain, you can take a few moments to check in and be present with your thoughts. “Being alone allows us to more easily reflect on our inner experience and check in using some mindfulness: how are we feeling right now? What are we thinking?” Martinez said. Doing this will allow you to distinguish all the anxious or negative emotions you might be feeling and work through them in the future.
4. Loneliness can allow you to connect with your community in a new way
It’s easy to feel trapped when feelings of loneliness appear. You can blame yourself and make believe that everything is out of your control and that no one wants to hang out with you, but while these negative thoughts can take over, sometimes forcing yourself into a different space can alter your mindset for the better. “Often a simple shift in mentality — along with a slight shift in physical space — can be very helpful,” Manly said. “For example, I might urge a person suffering from loneliness to volunteer at an animal shelter or to join a community service event. In other cases, taking a trip to the local park or grocery store can offer a dose of contact and connection with others through a shared smile, a kind word, or even a chance meeting with a friendly dog or dog owner.”
5. Loneliness gives you room to enjoy the things that make you happy
While most of us tend to stay at home to partake in self-care rituals, it can be hard to enjoy those moments of solitude when some of us feel disconnected from our loved ones. However, you might be able to embrace your alone time by practicing gratitude and showing appreciation for those solo moments you do have. “You can embrace lonely periods as a time to shift your mindset into enjoying the spaciousness of being alone — time to make the food you want, wear your comfiest PJs, enjoy a treasured book, window shop, take a bath, dye your hair, or watch a rerun of your favorite show,” Manly advised.
6. Loneliness can allow you to connect with your creative side
While no one wants to feel alone, loneliness can get your creative juices flowing. According to Thrive Global, Virginia Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology at Wilmington College, said, “Solitude is a crucial element for being creative, and for engaging in spiritual contemplation.”
But how can your creative juices flow when negative thoughts are ruminating in your mind? Dr. Manly said that journaling or drawing about loneliness is a great place to start. “You might journal about what loneliness means to you, write a story about loneliness, or draw a picture of what it feels like to be lonely,” she explained. “Such activities are often dealing [with] healing in nature and can even allow you to share and connect with others — many of who will resonate with your feelings.”
7. Loneliness can teach you to feel comfortable to reach out to others
While you may want to isolate yourself when you’re feeling lonely, pivot your perspective to view loneliness as a chance for you to be courageous and vulnerable enough to reach out to people you’ve been wanting to hang out with. “Loneliness can also create the motivation to learn to reach out to others; instead of suffering in silence, loneliness can give us the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I’m feeling alone. Would you like to go for a walk, meet me for coffee, go to a movie, etc.?’ When we are honest about how we are feeling, we give others the opportunity to reach out and connect,” Manly said.
Without a doubt, feelings of loneliness can cause a rift to our psyche and mental health when we begin to think that we’re the reason why we’re alone. It’s important to remember that a lot of beauty can come from times of solitude when we try to find the richness between the grime. Nothing is ever perfect, and if we begin to beat ourselves up because we’re feeling disconnected, we may have forgotten to rekindle with the most important relationship in our lives: the one we have with ourselves.