Loneliness can be the saddest of ironies. The challenges life brings means that we are all inevitably susceptible to it at some stage, regardless of how popular we may seem or how busy our schedule is. Some say it is a social pandemic of our time. And yet, most people experience it in silence and those that are suffering work and live side by side but remain invisible to each other.
Personally, the sensation of loneliness has consumed me at very different stages in my life. The problem was that the most effective solutions for it, namely talking and socialising, were usually out of reach. Friends, family, support groups or even therapy were not available to me and therefore causing the loneliness in the first place.
How can you “talk it over” or “open up” if you feel you have no one to talk with, or that will understand where you’re coming from? What if you’re living far from home, or struggling financially? How can you find solace in phone calls alone if you’re prevented from travelling to see your loved ones when you need them?
Being surrounded by people is also no guarantee against loneliness. My best efforts to talk it through with someone else did not always work. I remember trying to talk to a friend on one occasion but it proved impossible as they were overwhelmed with their own issues. Another time, I tried to speak to my doctor and struggled to articulate myself. And so the loneliness continued.
Writing now from a different mental space, I want to share what helped me in my loneliest times in the hope that I might assist someone feeling the same isolation. These actions enabled me to have the courage to either start connecting with others again or to move beyond the loneliness to a place of contentment.
One action that has always lifted my spirits and provided a fresh perspective to my thoughts is volunteer work. A recent study in the US and Canada found that people volunteering or supporting others during the Covid-19 pandemic had higher positive emotions and were happier with their relationships on the days when they helped others compared to the days when they did not engage in these activities.
Consider whether you might be in a position to offer help to someone in need. For example, perhaps you know of a neighbour living alone, a single parent, a homeless shelter or youth club that would appreciate some assistance. Alternatively, you can search for websites of organisations that require support online.
I could recount many stories of how creativity has saved me at different times, including the occasions when I moved abroad without any contacts or lacked money to always meet friends.
Poetry, cooking, drawing, painting, collage making, photography, film making, writing, knitting, dancing… the possibilities are endless and the benefits can be immediate. If you’re not sure how to start something creative, you could always begin with a journal and write or doodle your thoughts down to see where it leads you.
A study published in 2020 found that wisdom may protect against loneliness and provide a potential intervention against it. Though I never labelled it as ‘wisdom’, I realise that a lot of my reading is an attempt to make sense of life and its complexity. I would not call myself wise, but I believe that some lessons learned through reading have helped me to gain resilience and hope.
Maybe you can increase the time you devote to reading or perhaps try authors that are known for tackling issues such as mental health or mindfulness. You will be surprised how many discoveries you can make if you simply search online for ‘wise’ books and authors.
While the sensation of loneliness can sometimes feel all-consuming, it is important to remember that it is not forever and the circumstances creating it will most certainly pass. Until that day comes, exercising your kindness, your creativity or your curiosity may be just what you need to see you through.