What to do when you're lonely

What to do when you’re lonely

Do you ever feel lonely? Does your loneliness surprise you?

It surprises me.

But apparently, I’m normal, so that’s a relief, in a pathetic self-absorbed sort of way.

A Harris Poll, conducted for the American Osteopathic Association, found that a third of Americans feel lonely every week and almost three-fourths feel lonely on a regular basis.

How can a person feel alone in a busy world humming with continual feedback and incessant noise? How can someone with a schedule packed full of lunches, meetings, events, and dinner parties feel alone?

Loneliness is more a sensation of isolation, of not belonging, than of actually being by yourself (which is often a welcome treat). Loneliness can make you feel invisible, undetected, unimportant, or un-missed, even when those feelings aren’t true. Even within a crowd, a class, a family, or an exploding twitter feed, a lonely person will feel unconnected.

The solution to loneliness is face-to-face contact with people who are alert and engaged, not buried in their cell phones. Although face-timing a loved one might be an improvement on connecting via text, face-to-face phone conversations still won’t satisfy the longing of actually being physically close to someone who cares for you.

Humans crave touch. And the right kind of touch dispels loneliness. (Perhaps that’s why inappropriate touching is such a deep emotional violation?)

Newborns deprived of physical and emotional bonding experience an over-development of the stress hormone cortisol, which predisposes them to behavioral and genetic disorders as they grow up. Married couples who stop having sex experience a drop in all the feel-good hormones (like endorphins and oxytocin), which could lead their relationship into emotional distance, anxiety, depression, and/or infidelity.

But a hug, handshake, or fist bump creates connectivity between friends and strangers alike, helping to calm nerves, soften anger, and alleviate pain. (It’s why your mom made you hug your sister after a fight.)

Here are a couple quick tips for dispelling loneliness:

  • Set face-to-face appointments and dates. Stop texting and emailing everything you need to say. Agree to meet in person when you can, especially when you need to discuss important topics. You’ll avoid a lot of miscommunication and misread emotions.
  • Touch someone. (Appropriately, of course.) Give yourself an opportunity to shake hands, high-five, or hug hello. Touch is a powerful connector for emotional and physical health.
  • Participate in group activities, like clubs, sports, classes, and study groups. You’ll get better at whatever you’re doing.
  • Plan regular date nights with your significant other. Even if you live together or work together, magic happens when you leave your routine and give yourself permission to date and flirt with one another. FYI: flirting releases positive hormones into your body.
  • Reach out to lonely people. Everyone needs a friend. Instead of waiting for someone to invite you to something, invite someone else. Begin seeking out lonely people. When you welcome others, you will find that you’re curing loneliness for everyone.
  • Serve someone in need. Stepping into another person’s shoes for a few minutes will change your perspective about yourself. Your life probably isn’t as isolated as you think it is. When you reach out, you cause your body to increase making the “happy hormones” serotonin and oxytocin and the neurotransmitter dopamine. Physiologically, you will feel better when you’re compassionate towards others.

Remember that a human only needs 3-5 intimate friends. These few individuals matter most. According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, regardless of the enormity of your social connections, your relationships will naturally sort themselves into friendship layers of 5, 15, 50, and 150. At the most, humans rarely interact personally with more than 150 people.

Loneliness, I believe, is best solved by making time for those closest to you, rather than focusing on all the people you don’t know so well but wish you did.

Remember, crowds don’t cure loneliness. Intentional interaction with a few people does.

Sources:

  1. Mary Brophy Marcus, “Feeling lonely? So are a lot of other people, survey finds,” CBS News, Oct. 12, 2016, www.cbsnews.com
  2. Daniel Wallen, “5 Ways physical touch helps your relationship,” Life Hack, www.lifehack.org
  3. Paige Fowler, “7 Things that happen when you stop having sex,” Prevention, July 29, 2015, www.prevention.com
  4. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., “How many friends do you need?” Psych Central, www.Psychcentral.com
  5. Dr. Susan Biali, “How to boost your happy hormones,” Readers Digest Best Health Magazine, www.besthealthmag.ca
  6. Katherine Harmon, “How important is physical contact with your infant?” Scientific American, May 6, 2010, www.scientificamerican.com
  7. Madeleine M. Castellanos, MD, “Good in Bed,” Share Care, www.sharecare.com

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