How to be lonely
America is incredibly lonely, but social norms and the nature of loneliness, itself, can make it difficult for people to take the actions that make them feel more connected to others; loneliness can lead to a feedback loop in which feelings of isolation make you perceive the world in ways that lead you to feel even lonelier.
Since this leaves a lot of folks feeling trapped in their loneliness and unable to see a way out, we decided to develop some activities to help break the cycle.
The below tips are inspired by cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and loneliness research. Next time you feel lonely, try putting aside some time to give one of these a shot.
Grab a box of tissues to have on hand and write down all your thoughts, stream-of-consciousness style. Let yourself feel your sadness, your anger, or whatever else comes up for you, as you write.
Take your time. This could take a while before you feel “done.” If you get stuck, that’s fine-- write about being stuck.
Once you’re done, read what you wrote and underline every “all or nothing” statement you wrote. If the sentence is a generalization, that makes it a good candidate for underlining.
Then, write at least one counter-argument for every “all or nothing” statement you wrote down.
For example, if you wrote and underlined, “Nobody cares about me,” you might write, “My coworker Carly asked me how I was doing when I was sad last week” or, “My mom cares about me.” If you wrote, “I’m never truly happy,” you might write, “I might not feel happy now, but I remember a time when I felt happy when I was dancing.”
If new “all or nothing” thoughts come to mind as you do this exercise, write those down and write counterarguments for those, too.
This is a great exercise for learning to question your thoughts when your feelings are screaming at you that nobody wants to hang out with you/ nobody likes you/ whatever other misleading and unhelpful thoughts your brain comes up with for you.
Write a list of everyone you could reach out to right now.
As you write this list, thoughts may come up that discourage you from reaching out to people, like, “I barely know them,” or, “I’ve never talked to them on the phone before-- it’d be weird,” or, “They’re probably too busy with their kid to support me.” If you do experience those discouraging thoughts, write them down next to the relevant person’s name.
Once you have a list of names and any thoughts that are hindering you from reaching out to those people, write next to each name how you could reach out to that person while also taking into account your concern.
For example, you might have a line that reads: “Emily and Rick-- I don’t want to reach out to them because they’re probably busy with their newborn.” Next to that, you might write, “I could ask if they had an hour some time in the next week to chat about something hard I’m going through while we hang out with their kid.” This last sentence addresses both your concern that they're busy and your concern that they can't be apart from their newborn.
Once you’re done writing your concerns and some ways to ask for support while circumventing your concerns, pick a few people you’d feel the most comfortable reaching out to, and go for it.
If they don’t get back to you immediately, remember that people often want to put some extra thought into phrasing things if they know you’re already having a hard time, so it may have a longer turnaround time than you’re used to; you may be tempted to read into little things, but those thoughts are probably based in your feelings of loneliness, not necessarily in reality.
And if they say no, that doesn’t mean anything about you, either!(!!!!) You are still worthy of support, and all that this means is that *this person* is *right now* unable to support you *in this way*. There are other people who are available to support you. It may feel scary, but if you can, try asking them, too.
Self-care, self-care, self-care
Here are some ideas:
Ask a friend to hang out, even if they can’t make it today. Having plans with them in the future can reduce your feelings of loneliness now.
Do some form of exercise you like-- endorphins can be a huge help, and if you can’t make it out of the house, you can follow along to an exercise video on Youtube
Take a walk outside, even if the weather is crappy
Go to a public place, like a coffee shop or a bar or a mall or a museum or a grocery store, even if you don’t have a specific plan about what you’ll do once you get there. And once you get there, see if you can follow your whims.
Watch a TV show you like (try to keep it to shows you find funny or uplifting)
Listen to a podcast
Listen to music
Make art, even if it’s just drawing stick figures or writing a haiku
Get a massage if you can afford it or can ask a friend. Bonus points for oxytocin!
Self-massage (it’s a real thing and you can look it up on Youtube)
Do yoga (you can look some up online if you can’t get out of the house for any reason)
Call or text a crisis line. You don’t have to be in an acute crisis to chat. Seriously, it’s not weird. Try it if you want. You can call or text Samaritans Suicide Hotline at 877-870-HOPE(4673) from any state.
Take a shower and, if you feel like it, cry.
Even though we all feel lonely sometimes, it can be hard to talk about it. If you want to help others feel more comfortable talking about loneliness, let us know in the comments if you try any of these, or if you have any strategies that you find helpful for when you’re feeling lonely. We’ll leave you some love if you do.