Isolation is an age-old feeling, be it from grief, illness, age, or social issues. But these days we are experiencing a full-on loneliness epidemic — and it can be both a cause and an effect of profound pain. According to a recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association, two-thirds of adults agree social media usage is related to feelings of loneliness, poor self-esteem, and social isolation and anxiety.
There’s a big difference between being lonely and being alone, the latter of which can actually be nourishing. Give yourself some self-care by considering trying some of the following suggestions, with or without other people:
1. Embrace JOMO. Mindy Kaling’s book title, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?,” speaks to some of our most paranoid social sensitivities. By this point, we’re all familiar with the term FOMO – fear of missing out; the conviction that Instagram and Facebook are indeed mirroring reality and everyone you know is having the most fabulous time while you sit at home alone. But what if you took control of that feeling and embraced its cousin, JOMO? Never heard of it? It stands for “Joy of Missing Out”; essentially, pleasure gained from enjoying one’s current activities without worrying that other people are leading more fulfilled lives. And it can be incredibly beneficial to your mental health. JOMO isn’t about completely cutting out social media and technology from your life but rather finding the balance between the two. Start small (go on a hike, listen to some music, do a crossword puzzle) and go from there.
2. Fire up the bat signal. In an ideal world, our relatives, friends, coworkers would inherently know when we were going through a tough time and automatically provide the perfect support. But people are busy, consumed with their own responsibilities and burdens, and sometimes need a little nudge. As hard as it can be to ask for help, consider doing so. Call, text, or email someone who in the past has made you laugh, been up for a fun activity, or proved to be a solid conversationalist — even if they aren’t calling you. You might be pleasantly surprised by who shows up. These are your people.
3. Find the right therapist. You don’t have to tackle loneliness alone. Research local therapy options and organizations that sound like they could be a good fit for speaking your mind and feeling heard, helped, and gaining some valuable coping mechanisms. Consider what might work best for you, be it one-on-one to within a group, be it psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral or trauma-informed.
4. Adopt a friend. Who says humans are the only beings who can provide meaningful companionship? Consider adopting a pet – any pet that makes you smile will do! The act of caring for another living being and the emotional connection that forms on both sides can actually prolong our lives, not to mention that some of the perks of pet ownership are the numerous ways in which to meet other people (though, if we’re being honest here, sometimes our animals are more preferable to hang out with than humans!)
5. Go outside (with or without that pet). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans age 15 and up spend more than half of their five daily average hours of leisure time watching TV. We love a good Netflix binge as much as the next person. But we also realize that this screen time can be the pop culture equivalent of candy — enjoyable, but too much of it just isn’t good for you...plant a flower, search for shapes in the clouds, gaze at a body of water, or just take a spin around the block during your lunch hour. Research shows being alone in nature can have a therapeutic effect, calming effect on the mind, allowing us the space in which to think about our priorities and goals, and making us feel connected to the world as opposed to isolated from it. When was the last time you felt that way after binge-ing on “Breaking Bad”?
6. Get online. Yes, we realize this is seemingly hypocritical advice given all of the above! Screens indeed has many downsides. But they also offer up endless ways to connect with a virtual community — one in which you can feel like a member even if you don’t comment frequently, and also get access to a variety of mindsets, wisdom and other life experiences. Do some research on some groups – both public and closed ones — that bring people together who are moving through a difficult stage like divorce, illness or grief (such as the Facebook Modern Loss one). You just might end up forming a meaningful digital or IRL friendship with someone you meet there. (And remember to go easy on yourself: there’s no one-size-fits-all to any online support group.)
This article was authored by Modern Loss, which offers candid conversation about grief and meaningful community throughout the long arc of loss. Learn more at modernloss.com and the book Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome.