The Montfort Group

How to Deal With Emotional Loneliness

Are you lonely? If you, like me, enjoy dinners with friends, group fitness, and just being around people, the last 18 months have probably left you feeling sad and disconnected. Even though we have options to stay in touch, the isolation forced upon us by the global pandemic has many of us craving physical and emotional closeness with others.

Human beings are wired for connection, and we need it to survive and thrive. Cultivating connections in relationships with ourselves and others can help combat loneliness along with these six prevention techniques

How to Recognize Loneliness

Being lonely is not the same as being alone. Occasional moments of solitude can help spur creativity, refuel energy, and restore balance in our lives. At the same time, we could be surrounded by people or share life with a partner and feel emotionally cut off and longing for connection.

Loneliness is an emotion, a felt sense of being disconnected and lacking intimacy, and as such shows up differently for different people. 

We are used to associating loneliness with depression, sadness, and lack of motivation. However, it can also look like social anxiety, fear of judgment, and harsh self-criticism. For some, loneliness manifests as excessive alcohol and substance use, tolerating unhealthy relationships, or over-functioning and chronic overachieving. The irony here is that some of the things we do to alleviate the emotional pain of loneliness pull us further away from the connections we seek.

Six Prevention Techniques

Take action. Create a list of activities you enjoy; pick 3 to 5 that you can safely engage in over a month. It’s always helpful to keep them realistic and straightforward. This could be joining an online interest group, starting a new hobby, volunteering, or scheduling a weekly meet-up with the people who energize you. If you like to work out with a group but don’t feel quite ready to return to the gym, you can find outdoor exercise activities in your local community. My neighborhood, for example, has a few walking and running groups and a pop-up lawn yoga class.

Chat up, strangers. Research shows that even brief positive interactions, like small talk and a smile, can help elevate the mood and improve social and emotional wellbeing. So next time you are in the drive-thru or at the checkout line, look up from your smartphone and engage with the person in front of you; greet your neighbor; flash a smile at someone walking by. You might find you feel happier and more connected afterward. It wouldn’t take more than a few seconds to revel in those daily “glimmers” and create long-lasting positive neural connections in your brain.

Unplug from social media. Social media is a great way to connect with people all over the globe and keep track of social events but only in moderation. When we immerse ourselves in other people’s worlds and compare our daily routine to the highlight reels of their lives, we can feel depressed and inadequate. FOMO (fear of missing out) exacerbates the sense of our lives lacking. Another risk of extensive social media use is a common tendency of users to seek validation and tie self-worth to the number of likes they receive. We are all showing up at the same space to fill a void, create a social network, and end up feeling even more disconnected and alone. University of Pennsylvania experts recommend limiting social media consumption to 30 min per day.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”― Rumi

While there are specific things you can do to make up for the real-life face-to-face interactions you’ve been missing, most of the work in overcoming emotional loneliness happens within. It’s tough to cultivate meaningful connections if we are unclear about how we feel, what we need, and what gets in the way of relating to others.

Baltimore therapist Hannah Rose, LCPC, recommends taking inventory of the people and situations when we feel most connected and most disconnected to identify barriers. She suggests that one of the most significant blocks to meaningful connection is a lack of authenticity. 

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” – Brené Brown

Be you. Often we hide how we really feel and think because we carry shame and/ or fear judgment and rejection. Spend some time connecting with your true self and explore what is holding you back from showing up as you in relationships. What can help you feel safer? Authenticity requires us to practice vulnerability with ourselves and others, and it’s challenging but empowering. Unfortunately, making a commitment to authenticity may mean losing some people from our lives.

Practice assertiveness. Revisit priorities, clarify values, identify needs and emotions and communicate them all to those who matter.

Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with loving care and compassion. It’s important to remind yourself that feeling deprived of connection, longing for companionship and intimacy is NOT a reflection on you. It is NOT a measure of your worth or how deserving you are of love and affection. It is a universal human need for relationships where we feel seen, respected, valued, and understood.

Gergana Markov, MBA, MS, LPC

Gergana Markov, MBA, MS, LPC

I am a National Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas. I received my Masters of Science in Counseling from Southern Methodist University and also hold a Masters in Business Administration from Georgia State University. I had a successful career in real estate acquisitions, corporate marketing, and advertising prior to becoming a counselor. My clinical training and experiences include counseling individuals, couples, and groups in various treatment settings, including private practice, community clinics, and hospitals. I am an EMDR trained therapist and utilize trauma-informed interventions in my practice. Additionally, I have specialized training in parent-child dynamics, gender and sexuality issues, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Safe Conversations for couples and communities. I am also a passionate LGBTQ+ ally.

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