The simple answer to loneliness is surrounding yourself with other people, but that’s not always an option — or something you want. Here are some less-obvious ways to help you keep your alone time from making you feel lonely.
Keep Focused on the Present
Loneliness can creep up in anyone at seemingly random times, but it’s usually rooted in the past. You might be alone in this very moment, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely right now. Brock Hansen at Psych Central makes the dividing line simple:
Realise that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone. The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes painful scary feelings; therefore loneliness gets our attention.
Our brains get stuck in a loop, trying to make sense of why we feel the way we feel, and that just takes us down further and further. You think about happier times when you were surrounded by friends and loved ones, and you might even catch yourself wishing you could go back. These thoughts will only make you feel more lonely.
Instead, get your thoughts out of the past and focused on what’s happening right in front of you. Time is passing whether you feel lonely or not, so you might as well try to make the best of it. Embrace the moment and do something fun, productive, or engaging. Action of any kind — even just watching TV — will keep you from dwelling on the past and get you moving forward.
Identify Your Lonely Triggers and Counter Them
Feeling lonely can comes from the past, but there’s usually something in the present that sets off those thoughts to begin with. Adrienne Breaux at Apartment Therapy recommends identifying those triggers when you’re not already in a lonely spiral. When you’re in high spirits, try to recall what made you feel lonely the last time. Maybe it was a photo, an object, or even a song.
You can counter some triggers by removing them from your presence. Maybe you put the photo away in storage for a bit. Or maybe it’s time to ditch some of the sentimental items that have been bogging you down. Remove songs that make you sad from your playlists if you need to. You can also counter triggers with other triggers. Have a go-to activity for when you feel loneliness creeping up on you. Play a game, watch a movie, read your favourite book. Whatever it is that can shift the gears in your mind, always have it at the ready.
Triggers can be almost anything, even just certain times of day. For me, I personally used to feel lonely on Sunday evenings. My “Sunday Blues” would kick in when I realised weekend fun-times were over, and I would start to think about the things that made Sunday nights better in the past. Now I know Sundays can be rough for me, so I plan out my evenings to keep myself too occupied to ever feel lonely. I prepare for work, watch my current TV show, and try to wind down early.
Be Cautious with Social Media
It might seem like social media would be a helpful tool for making you feel connected with others, but it can easily backfire. Instead of logging in to Facebook and having a pleasant chat with all of your friends, you could end up seeing all the things everyone else is doing. This could trigger loneliness because you’ll wish you were doing those things, or that you had a relationship, or that you lived in a different place.
This works in a similar way to the “fear of missing out“, where you constantly want to be in the know of what’s happening with the people you know. It boils down to feeling insecure, and you can make it worse by seeing and reading certain things. Old photos of happier times, happy couples, friends and family that live far away, and other such things will make it a lot harder to snap out of it.
Think About All of the Perks
If you live alone, it can be really hard not to feel lonely, but you need to keep your mind on the perks. Living with someone always has ups and downs, and Howie Reith at Quora points out some of the things you don’t have to struggle with when you’re on your own:
- You go to the kitchen sink, and there aren’t someone else’s dishes in it.
- You go to do laundry, and you don’t have to wait for someone else’s clothes.
- When you invite friends over, you don’t need to ask permission.
- When you get your utilities bill, you aren’t paying for anyone else.
- No one ever eats your food.
The list goes on and on. Try making your own mental list of things you don’t have to worry about when you live alone, and remember it when you start to feel lonely. While you’re at it, think about all the things you can do because you’re alone. You can dance around naked while listening to embarrassing music. Or make a huge mess cooking dinner without feeling like a slob. You can even talk to yourself and no one would know. Find a way to appreciate the time you have to yourself and relish in all the things you can do. The next time you feel lonely, take a second to remember that not being alone comes with plenty of sacrifices too.
Use Your Time Productively and Get to Know Yourself
Solitude is the best time to get things done, so don’t waste it. There are plenty of people who can never find a moment alone, desperately seeking some time to get things done without any distractions. So think of your alone time as an opportunity for progress, not a curse.
You can become more self-sufficient, adventurous, or just get all of your crap together so you’re really ready for when you’re not alone in the future. Best of all, you can take the time to get to know yourself. You can be as introspective as you like, learning who you really are without others affecting your thoughts and actions. Think about it, how are you supposed to know who you really are if you’ve never actually spent any time alone with yourself? Consider what psychologist and author Wayne Dyer says: “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” You might find out that you like yourself a lot. If not, you’ll know why, and you’ll have the time to try and fix it.
Avoid Flaking Out on Plans
When you get invited to something, make an effort to go. Even if it’s just for a little bit. Some events can be too much to handle, but when you feel lonely, it’s easy to just sit around and pout. Sometimes we flake out on things because we think that nothing can pull us out of our funk. We think, “What’s the point? I’ll still be alone”, but you’d be surprised what a little company can do.
You’ll have a good time with friends or family, and you might get some clarity. That small amount of human interaction can remind you that you’re not as alone in this world as you think you are. And if you don’t want to wait for plans, make them yourself. Don’t ever be afraid to reach out to others when you feel lonely.