The earliest primates lived in tightly knit social groups whose members depended on each other for survival. The need for community and close connections proved so beneficial that it persisted through millennia of evolution through today. Even if you have an introverted personality and prefer spending time on solitary pursuits, you can still crave others’ company. In observation of Mental Health Month, what are some healthy ways to cope when you feel lonely?
Loneliness Is on the Rise
Up to half of Americans report “sometimes or always” feeling isolated or left out. One reason is that making friends as an adult is challenging. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to our national epidemic of solitude by forcing the closure or cancellation of businesses, schools, and in-person gatherings.
Chronic loneliness can severely affect your mental and physical well-being by making you more likely to have a negative outlook on life. When you are lonely, you may also notice you feel overly pessimistic and self-critical. Additionally, you might misinterpret other people’s actions as threatening or hostile.
The Relationship Between Loneliness and Mental Illness
Studies on social engagement and mental health show an unmistakable link between isolation and mental illnesses. Unfortunately, there is often a self-perpetuating cycle – people who feel disconnected from society are correspondingly less inclined to seek help, which may worsen their symptoms.
Loneliness links to poor mental health outcomes like these.
- Depression: There is a proven connection between loneliness and depression. If you’re depressed, you may pull away from family and friends because you believe you don’t deserve to be happy. As a result, your cynical internal monologue can intensify, and could eventually become severe enough to inspire suicidal thinking.
- Anxiety: If you struggle with anxiety, the idea of forging and maintaining friendships might feel overwhelming. In the absence of a robust support system, your overall anxiety levels could become more severe, potentially causing issues like panic attacks and agoraphobia.
- Substance use disorders: Loneliness is prevalent among people who misuse drugs or alcohol. If you rely on these substances to cope with complex emotions, you could develop a physical or psychological dependency. Secrecy, dishonesty, and isolation will eventually become essential to maintaining a drinking or drug habit.
Techniques for Managing Loneliness
Making new, meaningful connections isn’t easy, but having strategies to combat loneliness is essential. Here are some approaches you can try.
- Volunteer: If you are disconnected from your community, you may feel like your life lacks purpose. Giving back to your community can give you opportunities to meet like-minded people while contributing to something larger than yourself.
- Focus on self-care: Loneliness is also a contributor to stress. Everyday obstacles will likely take a more significant emotional toll on people who don’t have a solid social support network. Try journaling, meditating, exercising, yoga, painting, or any other favorite healthy stress reduction hobby.
- Change your mindset: Because loneliness can lead to negative thought patterns, you may expect that every social interaction will fail. Try to challenge some of your pessimistic expectations surrounding relationships.
- Focus on quality instead of quantity: It’s unrealistic to assume that every interaction will lead to a friendship, or that you need to maintain relationships that don’t benefit you. It is OK to only have a few robust relationships than many friends who do not understand or support you.
- Turn to your sober support network: If you’re worried that your loneliness is putting your sobriety at risk, reach out to your sponsor or attend a meeting. There are always people ready to help when you need it most.
Talk to Someone Who Understands
At the Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers, we help people heal from the disease of addiction with proven treatment methods and an empathetic, respectful approach. We understand how isolating it can be to maintain a substance use disorder and how prolonged drug and alcohol abuse undermines relationships. Speaking with someone about recovery is your first step to achieving sustained sobriety. Our team is available 24/7 to provide a complimentary addiction evaluation.