According to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth Bernstein, around 40 percent of people in the US say they are lonely. Thirty years ago that number was halved, around 20%. However, feeling lonesome is not just an unpleasant emotion you need to learn to live with. In fact, loneliness actually re-arranges your genes and changes you from the inside out. Unsurprisingly, recent studies have shown this emotion is linked to anxiety and depression.
Feeling isolated from time to time is natural, but it is important to understand why and nip it in the bud before it becomes something deeper. This article will give you the rundown of why you feel lonely, how you feel lonely, and what to do if you feel lonely.
Holy Moly! So Many Ways to Be Lonely
In order to keep away the lonesome blues during the holiday season, it is important to understand why you are feeling this way. According to Psychology Today, there are 7 distinct types of loneliness. Here is a run-down.
#1. A New Situation – You are a new person in a new place. If you just switched jobs, moved to the city, or are the new person at school what you are feeling is new-situation loneliness.
#2. I am Different – If you feel as though you are different from the people around you, you may be experiencing this type of loneliness. Maybe everyone around you grew up together except you. It could be you feel deeply passionate about a social issue that no one else around you cares about.
#3. No Romantic Partner – Sometimes, simply not having a partner during the holidays can drag you down.
#4. No Animal– Maybe you deeply want a cat, but right now is just not the right time. Maybe seeing pictures of cats dressed up like Santa depresses you. This is no-animal loneliness in action.
#5 No Available Friends – This tends to happen when your friends and family make life changes. No one has time for you, and you feel lonely.
#6 Bad Friends – If you do not trust your friends, you may feel lonely. You can have a lot of fun with a lot of bad friends over the years. However, at the end of the day, you ultimately felt unfulfilled.
#7. No Warm Body – Maybe you are completely satisfied with your social life and your work-life balance. However, you miss the feeling of another person sharing your home. Living alone can be difficult sometimes, especially around the holidays.
We Were Born this Way
Well, about half of our loneliness can be attributed to our genetics. We know this due to studies on Dutch twin separated at birth. Unfortunately, this emotion is generational as well as heritable, especially for those less privileged.
As a result of Romania’s communist dictatorship’s ban on birth control, the 1980’s saw tons of children abandoned in orphanages. In these poorly run institutions, there were around 20 children per 1 nurse. When brain studies were given to the unloved and attention-deprived orphans, scientists discovered the children failed to develop a normal amount of grey matter. This means the children’s neural connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex were not strong. What is the result? According to New Republic, these people can be “moody, self-doubting, angry, pessimistic, shy, and hypersensitive to criticism”.
10 Tricks to Keep Loneliness at Bay
- Make Giving a Habit – Giving doesn’t necessarily mean money. This time of year especially, there are many opportunities to volunteer in the community.
- Find Like-minded People to Connect With – Try joining a Meetup.com group, a book club, or a workout class. Eventually, you will have a community.
- Stay Healthy – This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising. All of these things have been found to improve mood.
- Work on Existing Bonds – We now know intimate bonds are necessary to happiness. Work on fortifying your current friendships, whether long-distance or close-by.
- Learn from Your Experiences – Ask yourself what you can learn from your loneliness, and how you can put your new appreciation for connections into practice.
- Mindfulness – Identify your thoughts when you feel lonely. Many times you will have self-defeating thoughts about your state of mind. Realize these are just thoughts and do not attach any significance to them.
- Show Self-Compassion – Develop and nurture compassion, love, and acceptance of yourself. You can treat yourself to an act of kindness, or meditate on directing love toward yourself. In addition, you can practice self-soothing techniques.
- Get Comfortable with Yourself – It sounds cliché, but in order to beat loneliness, it is important to try and become comfortable alone. Sometimes people get down about doing fun activities alone. However, if you learn to work through the self-conscious thoughts you can actually start enjoying time with yourself!
- Get that Pet –Sometimes, you just have to go for what you want in the pursuit of happiness!
- Plan Ahead – If you know you get lonely during the holiday season, make a plan ahead of time. List some things that make you happy or that you want to try. Then, bust out this list when you are feeling alone!
When dealing with feelings of isolation during the holiday season, it is important to remember you are not alone. According to USA Today, 20 percent to 50 percent of people in industrialized nations experience loneliness. So if you are feeling blue this holiday season, cut yourself some slack and practice some of my tips. However, if your loneliness has progressed to anxiety or depression it would be wise to see a therapist for help.