Welcome to our monthly article focused on Loneliness this month. Being alone and lonely are two different things as we discuss below. While some of us are craving solitude at this time of year, some of us are faced with the crippling despair of loneliness even as we are surrounded by friends and family. Building a deep connection to yourself, knowing who you are and what's important to you can be helpful in alleviating loneliness. You can have hundreds of friends on social media, in the office and a loving family yet still feel desperately lonely. It's about building a relationship to yourself and nurturing meaningful relationships that resonate with you.
The monk, Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term ‘interbeing’ to describe how nothing can exist alone. Everything lives in relation to all things yet at times we human beings can feel disconnected, lonely and isolated. As a child we can remember the state of being connected to everything and finding peace in just being. Yet we become more and more disconnected to that energy as we grow up and learn how to ‘adult’ in the world but many of us by the time we reach our late 30s or 40s feel something is missing, we feel disconnected, lost, unable to relate to the world around us and deep sense of discontentment, loneliness and not belonging.
The world has never been so connected and fragmented at the same time. Modern life means we live far away from our friends and families, spend long hours at work or traveling for work and living isolated from our neighbours and local communities. More and more our interactions with one another are being supplanted by machines, we can do almost everything with our devices from ordering food to our banking, when before there used to be a human being that you would interact with. Life has become more connected yet de-personalised at the same time and loneliness is on the rise.
Loneliness is an evolutionary signal that makes you feel fearful and unsafe which is a natural response to not having a community around to protect you back in the days when living in the wild was really unsafe. It’s these feelings of fear and lack of safety that increase the stress hormones cortisol in your body which creates inflammation and can manifest in other diseases in the body. Loneliness literally kills us if not by a predator finding us in the forest then at home alone.
Being Alone Vs Being Lonely
Yet being alone and being lonely are two different things. Being alone can feel depressing, sad and draining or it can feel peaceful, restorative or creative. So what is loneliness if it’s not defined by the number of people in your life or external factors?
Loneliness is nothing to do with the external world around us, it is to do with an internal state mind and the problem with that is that changing your internal state can be very difficult due to past conditioning, mental illnesses such as depression or other factors. A retired pensioner who lives alone could be very happy everyday reading books, tending to the garden and never feel lonley but a 30 year old woman who interacts with her colleagues in the office everyday and has family at home could be feeling desperately lonely despite the perceived levels of social interaction.
Quality over Quantity of Connections
What needs to be considered is the difference between what your desired level of social connection is and what your actual level of social interaction is. The relationships you have with those around you may mean nothing if the people around you can’t relate to you and are not on the same ‘wavelength.’ Finding your tribe is incredibly important, as is understanding that people change and evolve so the friends you had at 15 may not be great for you at 35. Many of us feel compelled to remain friends with people just because of the length of time you’ve known each other rather than look at the depth of that connection. Then there are people that you just meet and instantly click with and it feels like you’ve been friends forever. Having the sense of belonging, feeling accepted for who you are and an affinity to people you can relate to are key to building meaningful connections.
However, sometimes the problem lies with us, something has hurt us deeply in the past that we avoid intimacy and never become vulnerable protecting ourselves at all costs, creating shallow relationships and the feeling that something deeper is missing. We fear not being loved if we express our wants and needs or we fear being abandoned or hurt. Ironically, becoming vulnerable allows us to receive love and connect with others. Being who you truly are attracts your crowd, you may lose some connections along the way but those were meant to be lost. When we share with others who we truly are, not only does it help it us it attracts our kindred spirits and allows other people to be who they truly are too.
So what are the key things to do when the feeling of loneliness arises?
1) When things go wrong having support from friends, family or a trusted therapist are key so that you know that you’re not alone in dealing with whatever it is you’re faced with.
2) Creating a meaningful relationship with yourself and having a sense of connection to who you are and being present to the key relationships in your life. A regular yoga, meditation or HASIKO practice helps you with this.
3) Anyone can feel lonely but certain groups of people can feel lonely so finding people in a similar life situation for you to connect with is useful.
4) Being yourself attracts your crowd while trying to fit in with others can exacerbate loneliness.
5) Be open to connections and conversations on your daily routine, say hello and smile to those that you meet in your day, oftentimes we are the ones that are blocking our energy from a meaningful conversation.
6) Practice being as present as you can with everything around you and within you. Connecting to the present moment allows you to appreciate the beauty around you and also switch off your fight and flight mode of worrying. As a gift, we have created a 28 day journey of presence that will deepen your connection to the present moment