Beating loneliness through meaningful connections
It’s safe to assume most of us have felt lonely at times. A lot of the time this is short-lived, we manage to come out the other end without much help. Sometimes, though, loneliness can take over, cut us off, and convince us we have no one, and this can be really hard to shake. Loneliness is an unpleasant feeling that comes from isolation and a lack of connectedness. It can be incredibly distressing and can lead to serious psychological issues such as Depression and Anxiety. One doesn’t have to be alone to feel lonely, it is possible to feel lonely while surrounded by people. Depression and anxiety are serious mental illnesses that require depression counselling and anxiety counselling to treat.
Why are general loneliness levels increasing?
In this digital society we are, on the one hand, increasingly connected to others through our phones. It is common to have hundreds or even thousands of friends on Facebook. And on the other hand, it has become harder to have real, meaningful connections with others because how many of these Facebook friends do we actually spend time with? So it’s understandable that loneliness is becoming an increasing problem in today’s society.
Loneliness can be a downward spiral. We feel disconnected and cut off from our friends and family, so we withdraw into ourselves. We start thinking others don’t really want us around, or that we didn’t like them anyway because they’re not our kind of people. Then we start declining social invites until people stop inviting us. We’re left feeling isolated and lost, not knowing how to re-connect with people that matter.
Prolonged loneliness has some real, significant costs. As humans are social creatures, our self-worth and confidence are often tied in with our social status. Loneliness, therefore, can really shake our confidence. We may feel we are not good enough. Adequate social support is also a major protective factor against mental illnesses, so losing this increases the risk of developing mental health concerns. The psychological distress of loneliness is so high that people will often do whatever they can to avoid feeling lonely. There are people of stay in dysfunctional relationships and friendships because they don’t want to be alone. Because they feel even a one-sided friendship is better than loneliness. We get stuck in these ineffective relationship patterns and miss out on the chance to have meaningful connections, all because we don’t want to feel lonely.
Well, the antidote to loneliness is connectedness. When you’ve been lonely for a long period of time, your mind may convince you there is no one out there you connect with. So, start with yourself. Re-connect with your own values. What do you stand for in this world? If you were being your ideal self, what would that look like? See if you can do things that bring you closer to this ideal version of yourself. For some people, this might involve taking up dance classes or climbing a mountain. For others, this might mean cleaning up their home or taking the dog for a walk. Start with small, achievable steps to take you closer to your ideal self. Once you are in touch with your values, you might notice that your mind doesn’t beat you up as much as it did before. Connecting with who you are should help you feel more confident in yourself, and once you feel this, you can start to reach out to others. Again, start small – maybe it’s a phone call or a quick message to an old friend, or organising a playdate for your kids or pets. Yes this is hard, but what’s the alternative?
In my practice I often see clients presenting with Depression or Anxiety where the cause is loneliness. I work with my therapy dog Noodle and it continues to amaze me to see how a cuddle from him can change their entire day. Because that sense of connectedness they feel with him in that brief moment gives them hope that they can feel connected with others. This hope is a big motivator in helping people to start working on their values and reaching out to others.
Jingal Ghelani is also The Psych Professionals Animal Therapist and works with her dogs Bean and Noodle at both our Loganholme and Capalaba practices. We have more information on Animal Assisted Therapy on our website.