You’re stuck in a perennial state of inner-reflection – wondering about the future, thinking about the past, imagining conversations you dream of having, with people you wished you could talk to – whilst all the while completely shutting out the potential of making it into a tangible reality.
Perhaps, it’s safer in your own little world? For a bit, yes. We all need time to decompress our minds. It gives us a chance to free up emotional space again, ready to re-invite others back in. But there is an invisible line we shouldn’t cross. If we do, we get stuck, surrounded by a metaphorical sea, on the island of loneliness.
That’s the weirdest and most ironic part of being lonely. Inside, you know that the best way to feel better is to actually get off that island. There is no life on this barren land. However, everything now looks so far away beyond that dark blue ocean, and swimming across that great aquamarine mass when you have such little strength left really feels like the last thing you want to do.
Did you know that this very feeling can be seen? A team of scientists have now discovered what loneliness actually looks like in the brain using Magnetic Resonance Imaging. As it turns out, those who experience loneliness have stronger connections in their default networking systems (the parts in charge of reminiscing, imagination, future planning etc.,) greater grey matter surrounding this and a better-preserved fornix (a bundle of nerve fibres responsible for carrying signals from the hippocampus to the default network.) Now, this all sounds quite interesting, until you also discover that loneliness is commonly associated with cognitive decline. Therefore, as important as it is to engage with these techniques at times, it is equally important that we do not succumb our entire selves to introspection.
Below are 9 survival tips, highlighting ways to use these very networking systems in such a way that they will contribute to strengthening your mindset for when the feeling of loneliness strikes.
9 SURVIVAL TIPS
- Look back: This is okay, providing it is not prolonged. Sometimes, we need to look back in order to move forward. As counterproductive as that may seem, reflection is almost tantamount to retracing your steps – at what point did I start to feel this way? It’s also a good technique when recalling the moments that brought you fulfilment. Revise them both and see if you can work out ways to enhance your current situation.
- Enjoy Your Own Company: A life spent constantly at work or surrounded by big families can often leave people unsure of what to do when all of that has been stripped away. Suddenly, time no longer ticks forward, but simply remains stationary, and your mind can struggle with ways on how to fill it. This is, however, a great time to get to know yourself again. Recollect hobbies you used to enjoy – can they be taken up again? Or, is there anything you’ve really wanted to do but never had the chance? People, work, events etc., may not always be around, so it’s good to learn what other activities you also enjoy when flying solo.
- Go on a Digitox: Technology can definitely be connecting, but it can also render people feeling equally disconnected. Other people’s lives always look so interesting, fun and perfect online. But that’s only a literal snapshot of their reality. No one is going to want to advertise the negative aspects, as a rule. And this intent focus on social media can have a detrimental impact on your mental wellbeing. We cannot live every life imaginable, so it’s worth making the best of your own, outside your phone.
- Be Productive: Both with projects and people. Our purpose is found in what we are passionate about, so use this time to talk to your friends, learn a new skill or simply go for a morning stroll to watch the sunrise. It doesn’t matter how many things you do in a day, as long as you do something. As hard as it may be to begin with, come the end of it, you will feel so proud of yourself for fulfilling that promise.
- Help Out: Perhaps this could be a solo mission (such as litter picking, to help clear up your neighbourhood) for a friend in need (helping them move house, for example) or for a charitable organisation (like, giving blood). Whatever you choose, doing something altruistic carries both physical and emotional perks. Volunteering contributes to feeling socially connected, by not only the interaction with others but by focusing on a world outside your own. It’s also a way of proving to yourself that your presence has a positive impact. This, therefore, reinforces the action in the future, continuing the positive cycle. If this can’t be achieved in the physical, then maybe try your hand online/by phone? Whilst mindless social media trawling may not be the best idea, providing help or showing kindness to others, by offering them some insight on something you know well, is very rewarding. Take this blog, for example, has it helped you..?
- Show Others That You Care: People’s lives can get busy. Modern-day living seems to have surplus demands on us all. But it’s important to still make time to catch up with those that matter to you. Write on your calendar who you need to call and make notes on what about (if you feel like the right words may escape you. Or, that you may forget something important that you want to share). Be the kind of friend you would love to have.
- Show YOURSELF That You Care: It’s easy to succumb to bad habits when you’re feeling low – not eating well, for example. It’s also important to note that, although showing others that you care is an absolute must, doing it too often can leave you feeling burnt out. Strike a healthy balance. As much as others are important, so are you! So take some time to cook a tasty meal, pamper yourself, watch your favourite film, revisit a nostalgic album, do some exercise etc. Our physical and mental wellbeing are very much interconnected, which is why moving your body is as imperative as moving your mind. Recognise what you are capable of offering and do not be afraid to take time for yourself. Having “me” time is a good thing!
- Empower Yourself: Prove to yourself that you can do something you never believed you could. This could be as small as going out on your own somewhere new, to as big as running a marathon. Whatever you choose, pat yourself on the back no matter how far you get. It’s all about taking steps in the right direction.
- Remind Yourself That Things Get Better: For every cloud, there is a silver lining. You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain. The storms will pass. There are many good weather analogies that represent the truth in this sentiment, it seems. Keeping that notion in mind, life really is very much like the seasons – ever-changing. So, just like when the beauty of spring emerges, enjoy the blissful times it presents. And know that with every tough part that may one day follow – such as the cold and dark winters – you will grow ever-more prepared and ever-more resilient.
Hopefully, these tips will provide you with the tools to initiate a positive change in your current circumstance. However, should you feel that these tips are not working, then do not be afraid to ask others for help. Feeling low is one matter, but if your thoughts are turning inward then that is another.
Have hope and remember that, no matter how far away from perfect things may seem right now, there will be light at the end of the tunnel.