Dealing with Isolation – Loneliness

Being isolated or feeling isolated, for any period of time can create all sorts of emotions inside us, some really common ones are fear, anxiety and loneliness.

In this blog we will look at:

  • What is Loneliness?
  • Are there Bad Emotions?
  • What can I do about my Loneliness?

What is Loneliness?

So if we want to look at how we can deal with isolation or certainly feeling isolated, it makes sense to look at loneliness.

There’s a huge common misconception about loneliness, and that is that we get it when we are alone. Now I can here you saying, “how is that a misconception? Of course we feel lonely when we’re alone!”

So what do I mean by this? Well what if I was to say that we can feel alone in a crowd of people. We can feel alone in a busy bar or nightclub. We can feel alone at work in a crowded office. Would you agree with me?

Loneliness isn’t always about being alone, you can be lonely in a crowd. Loneliness is about not having enough meaningful interactions for our needs to be met.

These situations are very common with people that suffer from depression. I can certainly say I have felt lonely on nights out and at work when I was suffering with depression.

I’m hoping that you are nodding your head in agreement now 🙂 So you get my point?

Loneliness isn’t about being alone and isolated, though we can feel loneliness when we are alone. Loneliness is about a lack of meaningful interactions. If we aren’t getting our needs met through worthwhile connections, then we will start to feel lonely.

Are there Bad Emotions?

I recently watched a talk by Dr. Susan David who is a founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School and an Instructor in Psychology at Harvard University. She holds Bachelors, Honours, two Masters Degrees, and a PhD in Psychology! – So she really knows her stuff 🙂

And Dr. Susan David talks about something she calls Emotional Agility.

So what is emotional agility?

Emotional Agility is an individual’s ability to experience their thoughts and emotions and events in a way that doesn’t drive them in negative ways, but instead encourages them to reveal the best of themselves.”

Dr. Susan David.

OK, lets look at what this means and how this answers the question, “are there bad emotions?”

So society and our culture has basically labelled some emotions as good and some emotions as bad. Or another way to look at this is that we believe that some emotions are positive and some are negative.

The negative ones include things like fear, anxiety and loneliness. These are generally frowned upon. But what if I told you they are simply emotions. They are just our way of telling ourselves we need something, or one or more of our needs are not being met.

So back to society for a moment. When someone is suffering with cancer for example, we as a society tell them to “stay positive, don’t get down and you’ll get through this.” Again, and this happened to me a lot, if someone is suffering with depression and anxiety, we tell them to “stay positive and you’ll get through this.” You may have said this yourself. If so, don’t feel bad about this, it was coming from a good place.

We should think positive and attach to our positive emotions, but this doesn’t mean we should bottle up and not deal with the so called “bad emotions”. They are just as important.

But by doing this, we are saying that the “positive emotions” are good and to do away with the “negative” ones.

I for one can vouch for the dangers of this. When I was at my lowest with depression and anxiety, there were many many reasons for it. One of the big ones was that I attached all the cliche stigmas to myself.

This led me to bottle up my “negative” emotions and also to brush them aside. Which meant that I never dealt with them. This led to the huge pressure cooker that was my head reaching the point where I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

So the point I’m trying to make here, is that if as a society, we label some emotions as “negative”, then we make it OK to not deal with them and to push them aside.

Dr. Susan David states, and this is a huge part of mindfulness practice, that we should recognise our emotions for what they are, they are not good or bad, they are just emotions, they are all important and most importantly, they do not define us, we are not our emotions!

So lets look at this in a bit more detail.

What Can I Do About My Loneliness?

OK, during lock downs and self isolation, it is natural to feel fear. The situation is ambiguous in that we don’t know what’s going on or how long it will take? Who does or doesn’t have Coronavirus? What’s going to happen with my job? Where is my money going to come from?

This fear and ambiguity can naturally lead to anxiety.

What we do next is, and Dr. Susan David says this is a natural cognitive function, our minds tries to fill in the blanks.

So we may go online to find out more, it’s highly likely we will go onto social media which can be very dangerous to find out information, or we will sit there and run over what might happen – and this is usually worst case scenario!

I think you’ll agree that all these actions lead to making the anxiety and fear worse, not better!

So what can or should we do?

Well, rather than mindlessly getting stuck into Facebook or twitter, ask yourself, when you’re feeling fear or anxiety, is going online what you need? Is that what those emotions you’re feeling, telling you to do?

I mentioned earlier that what if our emotions aren’t good or bad, they are simply emotions, and what if they were telling us something, such as certain needs are not being met.

We should try to recognise that we are not our emotions, they are simply emotions and we should try and work out what they are telling us, what we need to do in order to deal with them.

So if you are feeling fearful and anxious, from being isolated and lonely, it’s highly likely that you are not having meaningful interactions. Be compassionate and kind to yourself. This is totally natural and I can say with certainty you are not alone.

It may be that you are isolated with one or more loved ones, so you say to yourself, this can’t be right that I feel this way, as that means I’m not having meaningful connections with my loved ones I’m isolated with!

Again, be kind to yourself. You are likely to be having meaningful connections with the one or more loved ones you’re isolated with, but for your personal needs, that’s not enough.

So be compassionate with yourself, don’t judge yourself. Think of someone else you can contact. Text them, email them, phone them, video call them. Maybe someone you’ve not spoken with for ages and keep putting off. Maybe someone you fell out with over something stupid, it may be the case you cant even remember why you fell out in the first place 🙂

Stay connected, have meaningful interactions, be happy 🙂

So to sum up, loneliness isn’t about being alone, it’s about not having enough meaningful connections. Fear and anxiety during isolation are completely natural emotions to have, they’re not bad and we shouldn’t push them away or bottle them up. We should face them and ask, what are my emotions telling me I need?

And finally, remember that you are not your emotions, try to recognise them as simply emotions, your way of telling you something is happening. If it helps, look at it this way.

Next time you are feeling afraid, instead of saying “I am afraid”, say “I am feeling afraid, what is this feeling telling me?”

Stay connected and look after yourselves.

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