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Moving from ‘loneliness’ to ‘aloneness’

 Moving from 'loneliness' to 'aloneness'

Loneliness

Isolation and rates of loneliness have been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic arose in 2019. Feelings of loneliness come about when our social cup is not filled. This means our need for meaningful interactions with others is not at the quality or quantity we need to feel connected and valued. As human beings, we seek meaningful relationships and social connectedness to fuel our quality of life, however this can look and mean different things to different people. Some people may only need a splash of connection in their cup to feel socially fulfilled, whereas others may need a gallon of social connection in order to keep away feelings of loneliness. When our own, individual social cups are not consistently being filled we experience increased levels of vulnerability which impacts our mental and physical health. Loneliness may present as increased tiredness, low mood, changes in sleep, and a decrease in energy and motivation. Loneliness can sometimes feel like a snowball, the more lonely we feel the deeper our isolation becomes as we begin to take this on as an identity. It is important to remain aware of our thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms in order to take action or seek support as early as possible.

Comfortable in our own company

Although as human beings we seek social interaction, spending time alone and being comfortable with our 'aloneness' can have benefits for our mental health. Indeed, this may involve a process of shifting our mindsets from feeling lonely, to becoming comfortable with being alone. Spending time by ourselves can increase our awareness of our qualities and unique characteristics. This can also increase our understanding of what we truly enjoy as there is no social pressure to participate in an activity nor is there a reason to compromise our own desires for the sake of others.

Often spending time alone is something many people aim to avoid as feelings of loneliness are uncomfortable and often lead to a decrease in confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. However, this begs the question, why do the external forces of other people dictate the way we feel about ourselves? Yes as human beings we are social creatures but as individuals we are the experts in our own lives so why should being constantly connected with others have such a sway on our self-worth?

Being alone increases our ability to become in-tune with what we truly value, indeed spending time by our-selves means we can get to know our-selves better. This does not mean social connectedness is not important, this just means we need to be more comfortable in our own company and increasing our acceptance of our internal self. As we become more self-aware, the way we express ourselves changes, we have a greater awareness of our boundaries, what truly brings us happiness and allows us to grow as individuals. In short, if we are dependent on others as our soul sources of happiness and comfort, when barriers arise that impact that social connection (such as COVID-19) we are less likely to remain resilient and cope with the isolation. This links to the idea of cultivating/ creating happiness and meaning within ourselves.

Learning to appreciate our time alone can increase our ability to live "in the moment" as we are valuing our time alone and spending less time looking into the future for our next opportunity for a social connection. In terms of personal development, there is much to be gained through trusting your inner voice as your primary tool for guidance. This helps shape our worldview to see our-selves as a complete person; we do not need another person to fill our sense of identity.

If you do experience feelings of loneliness it might be helpful to think internally about what might be lacking. Reflecting on this may help us access the creative and authentic aspects of ourselves. We can reflect and explore ourselves through creative avenues such as journaling, music, technical skills, art and movement. Getting creative is an exploratory process, starting a new project that requires creative thinking can make us feel productive whilst also getting to know ourselves through creative expression.

Ideas to increase connection (with ourselves and others)

Becoming comfortable with our own company is a journey and something that needs to be practiced and deeply explored. During this exploration, it is normal to continue to feel feelings of loneliness from time to time. Indeed, these feelings can be difficult to avoid during a pandemic even if you are able to become your own best-friend. At the end of the day, we all have social cups that do need to be filled.

Given the state of the world and the impact COVID-19 has had on our ability to connect with others the same way we may have in the past, it is important to be creative to maintain or develop social connections in addition to becoming comfortable with our time spent alone. This will support our mental health and reduce feelings of loneliness. Here are some quick ideas that might be useful if feelings of loneliness are experienced:

Start a project or learn something new: keeping busy with activities and projects that have meaning to us is a great way to reduce our feelings of loneliness when we are by ourselves. Keeping our brains occupied through art, puzzles, brain teasers, building, creating or learning can support us to feel fulfilled and productive. This could be as simple as starting a colouring in book, cooking a new meal or looking into an online course in an area that interests you.

Developing routine: having a routine provides clarity and direction during the day. Planning time for movement, reflection (journaling) and mindfulness and increase predictability and our connection to our own mind and body. On the LETSS website there are resources that support the development of a routine, daily/ weekly planners, journaling and mindfulness ideas to support the development of a healthy routine.

Volunteering: putting ourselves out there to volunteer has many positive impacts for our wellbeing. Volunteering, particularly for a meaningful cause, can provide a sense of purpose and achievement, while also connecting us with others who have similar interests. Yeung et al. (2018) suggests activities such as volunteering that involve helping others increases reward systems in our brain, thus increasing the production of our feel-good hormones (Dopamine and Serotonin). In short, helping others or the community through volunteering is a big help for mental health and social connectedness! There are many opportunities for in person and remote volunteering through GoVolunteer.com.au if this is something you want to explore.

Organised scheduled times for social connections: reaching out to friends and family is an obvious one, however calling a friend up on a whim can be an anxiety provoking process, particularly if we have been feeling socially isolated. Scheduling in a regular time to check in and catch up with a friend can reduce anxiety around this process and increase personal accountability to ensure the interaction actually happens. This could even involve asking a friend to call you, again to reduce the anticipation that may come with initiating a call. A service such as Friendline (08 7078 6229) open 10am – 8pm 7 days a week, can also be a good resource to use if you find yourself unsure who to call for a meaningful chat.

Become involved in online gaming communities: if you are already interested in gaming, seeking out online games that promote social interaction, teamwork and communication to achieve a desired goal is suggested to have some positive impacts on reducing feelings of loneliness. A study by Cheng et al. (2018) Noted this interaction style does not mimic or replace existing social networks, however can have benefits for supporting mental health and social connectedness. Some options for online games that incorporate teamwork and involve connecting with others that enjoy gaming include DDraceNetwork, Bro Falls and Dota 2, however there are many free games available on multiple platforms that allow you to connect with others!

DDraceNetwork https://store.steampowered.com/app/412220/DDraceNetwork/

Bro Falls https://store.steampowered.com/app/1590320/Bro_Falls/

Dota 2 https://store.steampowered.com/app/570/Dota_2/

Online groups: During the time of the pandemic social media has become a powerful tool in connecting likeminded people and communities. There have been studies that suggest that 'active' engagement in social media posts and message boards have led to decreases in depressive symptoms and loneliness. However, studies have also found that 'passive' scrolling on social media lead to an increase in depressive symptoms and loneliness. In a nutshell, if you choose to seek social connection through social media and online groups, be proactive with your online interactions with others, if you catch yourself mindlessly scrolling, take a break and do something you enjoy. A good resource could be a service such as SANE that provides peer support via an online forum where you can remain anonymous and connect with others that may have similar experiences https://www.sane.org/peer-support.

We know sometimes feelings of loneliness can become overwhelming and cause us significant distress. If these feelings become too much there are services available to support you in times of need:

Lived Experience Telephone Support Service (LETSS) (5pm-11:30pm 7 days) – 1300 013 755 or webchat at letss.org.au

Life Line (24/7) – 13 11 14 or webchat https://www.lifeline.org.au/crisis-chat/

Beyond Blue (24/7) - 1300 22 4636 or webchat (1pm – 12am 7 days) https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/get-immediate-support

Mental Health Triage Service (24/7) - 13 14 65

For Emergencies please call 000

Image from Unsplash by @Alexmedia 

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We would like to Acknowledge that the land we provide a service on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their Country. We also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.        

 

 
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