Medicine for Loneliness
Over the past year and a half, there have been innumerable changes in our world. Everything from how we do our work everyday to how we prepare to buy groceries has been altered due to the pandemic.
A major change in the life of most people revolves around our connection and interactions with others. It is difficult to consider that for months it was recommended that we avoid physical contact with others and were encouraged to stay inside your home. Now that we are coming to the other side- how has this affected us? Are we, as a society, experiencing a social recession?
Since opening my office to in-person sessions again, my caseload has more than doubled. People are coming forward motivated and intensely serious about seeking therapy where they can sit in a room with another person, even with a mask on. While I believe some of that is based on my reputation as a therapist, it is more so that people are seeking connection.
Right now, a lot of people are experiencing a pandemic of loneliness and loss of connection.
The resolution to this issue is clear- talk to people and be around people who care about you. Shouldn’t it be that simple? Well, the resolution to weight loss is also eating healthy and exercising regularly, but some stiff struggle with this.
Similarly to physical health, mental health has many moving parts and no “one size fits all” solution. A person must account their culture, pre-existing conditions, familial mental health, environment, and so on into how to solve their problems; however, there are practices that can complement the exercise of improving connection and decreasing feelings of loneliness.
The medicine to treat loneliness is not simply physical proximity, but emotional presence and connection. In a society where people have been moving and working and going almost constantly, a conversation where both parties are attentive and actively listening is immeasurable.
While this method is not applicable in all conversations, it can be implemented in daily life. These are simplified measures that I have introduced to my clients in the recent weeks:
When talking to another person, ensure that you’re listening to them as opposed to simply responding. Listening requires attention and consciousness, while responding does not.
Focus on quality over quantity. If you can call someone and have a genuine conversation for five minutes and have them be fully present, this will have a greater impact than a distracted discussion for an hour.
Eliminate distractions and verbalize the desire to be fully present for the discussion An example of what this could look like is “I’ve really been looking forward to seeing you, would you mind if we put our phones on silent while we’re together?” Creating intimacy allows for increased connection.
Don’t be afraid of small talk! It is so common that people say that they hate small talk, but with how isolated we have become over the past year, why not? If you have the option to have a quick conversation with someone in the grocery store line or in the breakroom, what is the harm in taking it? Keep the conversation neutral, listen and attune to this discussion, maybe identify something in the environment that provides a topic for a brief discussion. Not everyone will be open to these short bouts of connectivity, but you may be surprised how having a genuine conversation with a stranger can impact your mood. Nothing brightens my fiance’s day more than having strangers connect with him over his Gurren Lagann hat.
Accept what people are able to give and recognize when someone is doing their best for you. Just like you have to take time to learn better communication, they may be on a similar journey.
There is no medicine to cure loneliness, unfortunately.If there was the human experience would probably have much better reviews. That doesn’t mean that there is no hope or means of treating this feeling. Give yourself some grace and open your mind to trying things a new way.