Don't surrender to something about it

Lonliness (Illustrative) (photo credit: TNS)
Lonliness (Illustrative)
(photo credit: TNS)
 Loneliness affects millions of people from all walks of life. Yet despite how common it is, few people are fully aware of how dramatic its impact is on our lives. Hundreds of research studies attest to the fact that loneliness is a very destructive force. Like alcoholism, smoking and overeating, loneliness has a detrimental effect on an individual’s physical health. In addition, loneliness may lead to sleep problems, disturbed appetite, depression or even suicidal behavior (Wood, J. 2017).
Many of my clients come to therapy to get help with their loneliness. I once treated an elderly women whose main complaint was feeling terribly alone after her husband was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. At times it got so bad her husband did not even remember who she was, even though they had shared 60 years of marriage and raised a family together. Her children were all married and were busy with work and their own families. Although she had some friends, she spent the bulk of her time taking care of her husband rather than paying attention to her own emotional and physical needs.
In another case, a couple turned to me because both the husband and wife were feeling very lonely in their marriage. The true culprit was that they did not know how to communicate with each other. They were successful in their careers, but when it came to telling each other how they felt, there was a severe communication deficiency.
Very often, loneliness follows the break-up of a relationship, whether after marriage or after dating someone. While it is normal to feel depressed after going through such an experience, the serious concern starts when a person cannot move beyond his or her feelings of loss. Too often, people get stuck and come to therapy complaining about feelings of loneliness which are affecting many aspects of their lives.
What can be done?
It is important to investigate your attitude toward doing something about loneliness. Feeling lonely is a normal feeling; it does not mean that something is wrong with you. Accept that wanting and needing friends is normal and healthy, not a sign of weakness and dependency.
Do not confuse solitude with loneliness. Everyone wants to spend some time by themselves at times. However, when this becomes excessive, it can lead to loneliness and unhappiness.
Be yourself. In her 2012 book, Freedom from Loneliness: 52 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely, Jennifer Page notes that when you go out, you stop thinking about yourself and trying to be perfect. Being authentic is more likely to help you make friends. Page also notes that many people give up being authentic and replace it with trying to play a certain role they believe is expected. If you are always trying to mirror what you believe others expect of you, you’re really giving up being who you are and this can cause loneliness. So do not be afraid to be yourself and spontaneous in your social relationships.
Take a break from your mobile phone. My wife and I recently attended a fund-raising event at a wonderful venue. We were sitting around a table with about eight other people. Every one of them was looking at their mobile phones either texting or reading something. What they were not doing was talking to others seated around the table. This behavior is so common in today’s hi-tech social-media world. People seem to get more gratification from staring at their mobile phones than they do from interacting with others. It is not surprising that social scientists have attributed a growing amount of social alienation and loneliness to over-involvement with online social media and cellphone use.
Building social networks at work can be helpful. People spend a good deal of time at work. Find some time to talk to your colleagues about non-work topics like sports, vacations or movies. These small interactive communications can help you feel more connected to others and give you an opportunity to practice the social communication skills that help you make friends.
Join an activity. I often suggest to lonely clients that they get out and join an activity they would enjoy. For instance, it could be a walking group, photography class, a reading club, biking group, art class or a choir. Participating in any group activity is the opposite of being alone and isolated. It works.
I always encourage retired and older clients to stay active, get together with friends and join activities and groups. Aging is a time when loneliness can strike because people are likely to suffer a loss of a spouse or friends. One of my older clients, a man in his 90s, would never miss his weekly bridge game. It made him use his brain and feel alive. However, most importantly, he felt socially connected. Loneliness is a blockade to a fulfilling life. After all, people need people. The need to be involved in social relationships is in our DNA, helps promote mental and physical health, and is even associated with longevity. So if you are lonely and cannot seem to get out of it, do something about it. Loneliness does not have to be a chronic problem. With the proper motivation and guidance you can overcome your loneliness.
The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana.;