Loneliness is often equated with being alone, but it goes much deeper than solitude. Solitude can, in fact, feel rejuvenating, while loneliness deepens feelings of depression and hopelessness. Loneliness is the absence of connection to others, significant attachments, or meaningful relationships. Humans are social creatures and require attachment from infancy to thrive. The need for bonding and attachment never leaves us. When we have an absence of connection to others or the absence of those we are attached to, the resulting feeling is what we call loneliness. Loneliness includes feelings of isolation, a sense that something important is missing, emptiness, and an aching desire for connection.
Any disruption in connection can result in feelings of loneliness. Possible disruptions include a significant loss through death or estrangement, separation through distance or other means, or an inability to form connections or develop relationships. For the latter, someone who has difficulty with trust or other issues around attachment and bonding can feel lonely in a crowded room. Most recently, COVID-19 has been a major disruption to connection, as individuals are forced to isolate and distance themselves.
Since the remedy for loneliness is making connections, finding things to do that give your life meaning and help build relationships will help ameliorate feelings of loneliness, such as:
- Volunteer. There are myriad ways to volunteer through community service organizations, churches and synagogues, and animal rescue organizations. As an example, you could find a struggling family through a church or social service organization who you can help. Help can take many forms, not just financial assistance. You could rally neighbors to donate items for you to bring to the family (another place of possible connection). You could have a socially-distanced bake sale and give the proceeds (and leftovers) to the family. You could help the children with schoolwork over a virtual platform, or once school is out, you could read to them via the same platform. You could help them with projects around the house such as yard cleanup or minor repairs.
- Connect to an online community. You could find a role-playing game online that you could enjoy and connect to the people playing the game. If you don’t enjoy RPG’s, look into joining a group on social media centered around a topic of interest to you. For example, if you love to read, join a reader’s group online and interact with others who have similar interests. Groups centered around movies or music or other topics of interest offer the same kind of opportunities. It’s interesting to note that strong, meaningful connections can be developed, even virtually.
- Do something nice for others. For example, you could take a jug of hot cocoa and some cookies to a neighbor’s house or apartment, set up chairs in the driveway or parking lot (6 feet apart, of course) and share a nice cup of hot chocolate with them. Don’t forget the marshmallows! You could offer to pet sit or collect the mail for neighbors who are going out of town, and through your service to them, make a connection with them. You could take donuts or cookies to work one morning, or if you are working virtually, you could create a special online event for your office like virtual team trivia party.
- Adopt a pet. Pets are wonderful companions and can be very therapeutic. If you can’t have a pet due to your living situation, or can’t afford a pet, volunteer your time at an animal shelter. Those animals need a lot of love, too, and both you and they would benefit from your time together.
- Mend fences. If you are estranged from a friend or loved one, you could reach out to heal the relationship and reconnect. We understand that some relationships are irreconcilable, and that some violations are so egregious that it would be harmful to reconnect. But for those that ended with a harsh word or hurt feelings which have now passed, what would it cost you to reach out and say, “I’ve really missed you. What can we do to reconnect?” If you were the one who said the harsh words, say, “I’m sorry.” It risks nothing but your pride and could restore some very valuable connections.
As Karl Menninger said, “Love cures people – both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” Be one who offers love and “risk” curing yourself and those around you.