• Sahar Abdulaziz, MS

TABLE FOR ONE Loneliness or Alone?

On Sunday’s Sistah Chat Radio show on Pocono 96.7 FM, we discussed the differences between loneliness versus being alone by choice. While many people confuse the two terms, believing they are one in the same, the fact is, they are vastly different. Not only that but a sense of abandonment accompanies loneliness, –especially when there has been a clear expectation which has not been satisfied. This void develops into disappointment which cuts deep and can intensify if left to fester.

Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them. —Jodi Picoult

Sadly, if loneliness is left unattended, hopelessness can either set in or compound a preexisting depression or state of anxiety making it more complicated and dangerous to address. Therefore, loneliness is an emotion that should never be taken lightly or left for misinterpretation. Nor should isolation take the place of positive social interaction.

Is it possible to feel lonely in a crowd? Does happiness depend on constantly being in the company of others? And what is it that makes people the happiest in their life?

“Some people may point to fabulous fame and fortune. Yet hands down, surveys show that friends and family are the real prize. Even though our need to connect is innate, some of us always go home alone. You could have people around you throughout the day or even be in a lifelong marriage, and still experience a deep, pervasive loneliness. Unsurprisingly, isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one's mental and physical health.” –Psychology Today

Loneliness leaves one feeling disconnected to the world around them whereas being alone is a state of solitude, often with the power to reconnect and reclaim a person to their inner core, their internal peace, and quiet solitude. When a person seeks to be alone by choice, this state can often reinforce a sense of physical and mental freedom, which in turn can encourage one to take the time to explore the many emotions leading the heart astray. Many who actively seek out alone time, whether through meditation, long walks, purposeful prayer or stillness report feeling a sense of euphoria. The mind has had a chance to breathe, and perhaps the needed time and space allowed pressing issues or problems that were once close to being overwhelming now feel approachable and less intimidating. Conceivably the anxious feelings churning in the gut may have been quieted and put to rest through calm surroundings and proactive, positive strengthening. Maybe the twinge in the neck or the tightness in the muscles has eased, taking away with it a pounding headache now also gone. Through chosen alone time, the mind and body were given the chance to re-explore a place of cooperative unison and had come to an understanding. Decisions once intimidating are now less off-putting, and troubles that once felt insurmountable are now clearly attainable.

But where does loneliness stem from?

Loneliness is directed and reinforced by fear, disappointment, and by a place of internal pain. When a person enters into a world of isolation, –usually unwillingly, or at the least, escorted by depression and anxiety, they are in fact in great danger. Psychologist Shelly Slapion-Foote explains how many of her patients with depression or anxiety will also feel a sense of isolation. “When someone is feeling poorly, the last thing they want to do is be with others. The depressed patient is feeling like they have nothing of value to offer anyone and tend to isolate themselves away from family and friends. Persons affected keep work relationships to a bare minimum, and the spend much of their time ‘in their heads’, thinking about their troubles and how awful they feel. They think that no other person would even want to associate with them because they feel as if they have nothing to offer. They lose their sense if humor and they tend to think of themselves as useless losers.” [But You LOOK Just Fine, Abdulaziz & Sveilich]

As a result, and all too often a person who is feeling lonely will try to distract themselves by filling their time with people, places or things to do that might not be necessarily in their best interest. Many find themselves staring at a television screen for hours or lying in bed and unable to get up, –obsessing over every possible adverse outcome or perceived problem. Their time becomes consumed by a forced introspection encompassing every agonizing life problem, while automatically ruminating about what happened in the past, fixating about the future, while mercilessly beating oneself up about things in their life they have little to no control over. This recurring response will undoubtedly lead to anxiety and further isolation.

When someone is anxious,” says Dr. Slapion-Foote, “They become very focused on the thoughts and feelings that make them anxious. These ideas and feelings tend to make them feel even more anxious, and they seek out isolation so that their chances of ‘making fools out of themselves’ are minimized. They believe that their isolation somehow insulates them from their feelings of anxiety, which, of course, it does not.” The isolation of loneliness tends to skew the ability to make clear and concise choices. It clouds the mind, and in its place offers little regarding sound direction, and merely allows the anxious or depressed person to run negative thoughts around inside their heads which lead to more anxiety and depression and loneliness. Indeed… a vicious cycle.

While there is nothing wrong with solitude per say, “It’s easy to give into feelings of being different or less than, or simply wanting to avoid those unpleasant emotions such as fear and nervousness.” [BYLJF]. So what does one do to help counteract these feelings before they become insurmountable? Below are six tips from Gretchen Rubin, one of the “most thought-provoking and influential writers on habits and happiness.”

1. Know the difference between being lonely and being alone. “Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative.” [Gretchen Rubin]

2. Nurture others: Give of yourself. Do some volunteering or charity work. Use your skills to benefit others less fortunate or in need. Giving helps to lift and alleviate the stress of loneliness.

3. Keep a social circle as well as an intimate attachment. Not one or the other. Both are necessary for a healthy outlook.

4. Protect your sleep. “One of the most common indicators of loneliness is broken sleep — taking a long time to fall asleep, waking frequently, and feeling sleepy during the day. Sleep deprivation, under any circumstances, brings down people’s moods, makes them more likely to get sick, and dampens their energy, so it’s important to tackle this issue.” [Gretchen Rubin]

5. Listen to your Heart! Try to have an honest conversation with yourself about what exactly it is you think is missing from your life. Then try to find ways to answer this need as opposed to dulling the senses by filling your space and head with vacuous people and empty platitudes.

6. Find a purpose. Connect with people who share your likes and dislikes. Sounds obvious but not necessarily easy. Renew old friendships that you’ve allowed to collect dust. Pick up the phone, give a friend a phone call, invite somebody over, go out for a meal or a movie…just get out of the house. Take a walk, chat with neighbors…drag yourself out of your comfort zone. You may find that someone else is feeling just as lonely as you.

However you choose to break the cycle of loneliness and isolation, just remember this, it won’t be instantaneous. Give yourself time to adjust. Don’t expect to feel comfortable the minute you try something new. It takes time. It takes consistency. Just keep at it and in time you may eventually enjoy yourself and feel your efforts were worthwhile and fulfilling.

Most of all, remember, –you’re not alone.


But You LOOK Just Fine, Unmasking Depression, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder By Sahar Abdulaziz and Carol Sveilich

Psychology Today: Loneliness

Six Tips for Battling Loneliness.Gretchen Rubin.

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