Troubleshooting Loneliness

Whether you’re alone because of family drama, trauma, or simply because the universe never gave you an Aunt Carol or Uncle Pete, solitude can be hard to accept. If you can’t spend time with your family, you’re bound to long for feelings of belonging, security, and warmth. You’re not imagining that this is uncomfortable – it’s hardwired into your body and brain! 

Can’t Think Your Way Out

Being included was a life or death matter to humanity’s ancestors, who couldn’t survive predators and harsh conditions without others around. It’s no coincidence that we feel especially bad when we’re not actively part of a group! Even though we humans don’t need each other in the same way as in the past, our limbic system, or ‘lizard brain,’ doesn’t get that message. We can’t just think our way out of the feeling.

When we don’t feel socially connected, the limbic system douses us with stress hormones and withholds feel-good chemicals. The feelings and symptoms of loneliness are a neurological effort to get you back with the group, so you’ll be protected and safe. But, since loneliness isn’t actually dangerous to humans anymore, we have to address the feeling by convincing our bodies that we’re completely safe. Paying special attention to our physical comfort will tone down the evolutionary drive not to be alone. This could mean turning the heater up, eating regular nourishing meals, sleeping enough, or putting on a cozy hoodie.

Even if you can’t connect in the traditional way, at a big gathering, or with lots of caring relatives, you can still find belonging in the world. After taking steps to self-soothe your loneliness, finding some alternative ways to connect will compound the effect.

Share Loneliness

Make a list of friends you haven’t spoken to in a long time, or ones you think might also be alone right now. Check in with them: a random call, email, text, or hand-written snail mail can brighten both your day and theirs. Even if it’s not exactly what you hoped for, it’ll feel better to be alone, together.

Fill A Void

Think of people you know who’ve suffered loss or big challenges this year. Right after a big, difficult life event, most people receive an outpouring of support – but that support tends to run dry after a while, as friends forget or become preoccupied. Be the one who remembers!

Use The Extra Time

It may help you take advantage of the solitude, to build your relationship with yourself. There’s bound to be a project you’ve been putting off, that’d make your life much better. Anything to make yourself proud and happy, and especially things that are hard to do with others:

  • Update your social media presence.
  • Fix something around the house.
  • Go on a solo trip. Whether it’s crossing the country, or checking out that famous hiking trail a couple hours away, now’s your chance! Bring the necessities, and enjoy the simplicity of traveling alone.
  • Learn a new skill. Put all of your attention into it, without worrying about embarrassment or repercussions. Haven’t learned to make pancakes? You could buy three whole bags of flour and experiment ’till you get them right –  nobody’s there to judge!

If you’re your own family right now, navigating this crazy world alone will be an emotional roller coaster. Tone down those strong emotions by addressing their evolutionary purposes: physical safety and human connection. And remember that the emotions are a sign your body is watching out for you – return the favor by taking care of yourself!

Written by: Jenna Cooper and Christina Beck

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