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Dealing with Loneliness

What works in tackling loneliness?
Feelings of loneliness don’t have to be a constant call for action, but you will need to give yourself a push to get back into the thick of life and reengage with others to start feeling better. These strategies for fighting depression and loneliness can help:

 Make a plan. There are two basic types of loneliness. Acute loneliness results from losing a loved one or moving to a new place, for example. In these situations, chances are you know at some level that you’ll have to go through a period of adjustment to get through this feeling of loneliness. The other type of loneliness is the chronic subjective type, which strikes despite your existing relationships. Both require a plan of action. One strategy is making a point to meet people who have similar interests. Volunteering and exploring a hobby are both great ways to meet kindred spirits.

• Selection: Selecting social activities — and the people that come with them — that are of interest to you in the first place can make it a lot easier to connect with others since those people already share an interest. If running or reading is something you enjoy, join a running group or a book club.Do something. If you’re feeling lonely and want to change it, any small step you take — even striking up a casual, friendly conversation with the mail carrier — is a good move.

• Explore your faith. There are only a few strategies that are proven to successfully protect against loneliness, and this is one of them. “People who have a personal relationship with their God or a higher power tend to do well. There are a lot of factors at work here, one of them being that faith communities provide many opportunities for positive social encounters. You don’t have to have a close friend in the community to get the benefit, just feeling that you belong in the group is enough. In addition, faith can help you accept the things in life you can’t control.

 Bond with a dog. “Pets, especially dogs, are protective against loneliness. There are many reasons why this strategy works: Dogs get you out and about, they’re naturally social creatures, and you’ll have a living being to care about. If you’re not in a position to own a dog, find ways to help care for other people’s dogs or volunteer to help dogs at a shelter that need loving attention. Other pets, such as cats and fish, can also help ease loneliness.

 Have realistic standards. “Loneliness is a mismatch between your ideal and what you actually have. Part of the solution may be to accept that you can have fun and light conversation with a variety of people and that it’s okay if they don’t become lifelong confidantes. Also, reflect on whether you have any unrealistic standards that are making it hard to connect with others and stop feeling lonely, such as expecting too much from a new friendship too quickly or relying on another person too much.

• Think beyond yourself. Depression can make you feel very self-focused, meaning that everything is all about you. But remind yourself that if you ask a co-worker to join you for lunch and the person can’t make it, you shouldn’t automatically assume that he or she has rejected you. The person might have a previous lunch date or too much work to leave his or her desk.

• Reach out to a lonely person. You may get an emotional boost from befriending someone else who’s lonely. Some people may view loneliness as contagious, and therefore lonely people often become even more isolated. “We believe there is a responsibility in the community to reach out to people who are suffering. In doing so, you can help others and yourself, too. Examples include volunteering for an organization that helps elderly people or visiting a neighbor who’s lost a spouse.

• Call, don’t post. Social networks are fun and can provide an essential social outlet for some people, face-to-face or over the phone. Use a pal’s post as an excuse to call and talk about it instead of posting a comment back.

• Make time for relationships. Everyone is busy, but relationships won’t wait until you’ve finished your Ph.D., raised your kids, snagged the next big promotion, or moved to your ideal city. Build them now.

Talk to a trusted friend or relative. Get some feedback and ideas, as well as a sympathetic ear, from a family member or friend with whom you trust your thoughts and feelings. This person could have some ideas about groups you might want to join to meet positive people.

• Meditate. “Mindfulness teaches us that we are more than who we think we are. Developing a meditation practice can help you identify and release some of the thoughts that could be keeping you feeling lonely and undermining your efforts to meet new people.

• Expect the best: If you enter a social activity expecting to be ignored or thinking that people won’t be friendly, it’s easy to turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, expecting warmth and connection makes it easier to project that same warmth — which is then more likely to be reciprocated. Along the same lines, it’s important to be understanding if someone seems like they’re blowing you off — that person may be having a bad day or may be struggling with something else on their own. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. “Social relationships are fundamental to our thriving. The fact that loneliness feels so uncomfortable is a reminder to pay attention to and nurture these relationships that can further your happiness. 

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