Due to the parameters of a Covid holiday season, I know many are navigating loneliness. But this is also nothing new.
Even before Covid, nearly 50% of Americans surveyed said they experienced loneliness. So, I want to share some things that I hope can validate your experience and lead you towards solutions.
Loneliness is considered a social pain---it’s the social equivalent to physical pain. That means that it is experienced as ACTUAL pain in our brains and bodies.
It triggers a neurological response---literally triggering the same pathways in the brain as physical pain.
“Because being connected is so important to us as a species, researchers think the attachment system may have piggybacked onto the physical pain system over the course of our evolutionary history, borrowing the pain signal to highlight when we are socially disconnected.” (Naomi Eisenberger; professor of social psychology at UCLA)
So, this is all to say that if you are hurting from loneliness, right now, your pain is valid and real. Do not minimize or dismiss it, thinking "it's no big deal" or "others have it worse." Your pain deserves acknowledgement.
Once acknowledged, recognize that loneliness, like any other internal state, is an indication of an unmet need. Just like physical pain, the social pain of loneliness is a warning to the body that we need to seek care. It’s beneficial to perceive these feelings as an alarm bell rather than to judge the feelings themselves. This approach helps us more actively move towards solutions.
Your solutions will need to be customized to you, but may include:
Service to your community (formal or informal volunteering)
Trying a new activity
Spending time in nature
Spending time with animals
Walking in public places---like a park, trail, etc.
Connecting on social media
Deepening existing relationships
Nurturing practices (baths, firepit, warm tea)
The bottom line is you are not alone, even when it feels that way. As we move towards the solstice, we are invited inwards, which can be a very lonely place. If you have it in you, reach out to someone else in your life who you sense is feeling lonely. We need each other.