Whether you’re lonely because of family drama, trauma, or some other reason, solitude can be hard to accept. If you can’t spend time with your loved ones, you might long for feelings of belonging, security, and warmth. You’re not imagining that this is uncomfortable – it’s hardwired into your body and brain!
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.
Yes, connection is a human need. However, 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. You can find ways to self-soothe or connect in creative way – ideas below.
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.
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!
Loneliness used to mean physical danger for humans, way back when. Address the feeling of danger by convincing your body that you’re completely safe. Paying special attention to your 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.
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:
If you’re your own family right now, navigating this wild world alone will be an emotional roller coaster. Tone down those strong emotions by addressing their evolutionary purposes: physical safety and human connection.
Supportiv’s peer support chats are here if you need a non-judgmental listening ear. And remember that loneliness is a sign your body is watching out for you – return the favor by taking care of yourself!
Written by: Jenna Cooper