Loneliness is obviously becoming one of the main public health challenges of our time. New studies are showing the devastating effects loneliness can have on our health. Recently, governments started to seriously tackle the problem of loneliness, notably with the UK announcing in 2018 the creation of a Ministry of Loneliness.
At this point, we have to keep in mind the distinction between solitude and loneliness. While solitude is the mere fact of being alone, loneliness on the other hand is accompanied with negative feelings like sadness and isolation.
There are numerous reasons that could lead to chronic loneliness. Depression for example can lead to isolation and loneliness, but also loneliness can lead to depression. The loss of a parent or a partner, low self-esteem or anxieties can lead to isolation and loneliness. Of course, for every situation, there has to be a particular therapeutic approach. But broadly speaking, loneliness can be healed following these five steps.
1. Accepting the feeling of loneliness
It might sound surprising, but most of the time, lonely people will focus on their sadness, anxieties and depression, rather than just recognizing and accepting the fact that they feel lonely. First of all, one has to recognize the situation, and accept the fact that loneliness is necessarily part of our life.
2. Avoiding continuous and unhealthy distractions
The feeling of loneliness can quickly become unbearable. That is why we seek all kinds of distractions to not to face the void of our existence. Those distractions are generally just a cover, and short-term pleasures and relief. They can consist in many kinds of escapes like alcohol, drugs, meaningless friendships, toxic relationships, workaholism, over-consumerism, smartphone addiction, excessive screen consumption etc. All those are only a way to distract oneself and to kill the time. Avoiding those distractions will help you to face the real problem, and to focus on solving it.
3. Understanding the feeling of loneliness
Once we decide to accept our situation and to face it courageously, we can have the time to explore our feelings in depth. We are social beings and we live surrounded by people; yet, we crave social connections and we feel disconnected. Why is that the case?
Why are some people alone but do not feel lonely, while others are not alone but feel lonely?
What are exactly the deep roots of our feelings of loneliness?
In order to gain a better understanding of our situation, those questions have to be investigated.
4. Transform loneliness into an opportunity for healing
At this level, we have to acknowledge that even if we experience solitude, our feeling of loneliness is related to our thoughts and our habits. With a different psychological state, our loneliness can be transformed into moments of solitude where we can work on special projects. Then solitude becomes an opportunity for training and personal growth. This involves of course a training in mindfulness practices and a clear view on our life perspectives.
5. Connection with others
When we develop a right view of the world, we can easily see how we are all interdependent. We suddenly understand that we are not the only ones who are in a situation of loneliness, but that it is a common human condition. Our motivation becomes directed towards others, in order to relieve the loneliness everyone can feel. The more we turn our concerns towards others, the more we feel connected and happy. The best way to heal our own loneliness is to focus on healing the loneliness of others.