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Tips to overcome loneliness when it knocks at your door

We all experience loneliness at some point in life. Expats in particular may be confronted with it more often, due to the inevitable changes and goodbyes of being a global nomad. Vivian shines a light on loneliness and offers some practical ways to overcome it.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person experiences a powerful feeling of emptiness and isolation.

Loneliness is a universal human emotion, yet it is both complex and unique to each individual. Our experience may differ:

"Loneliness is not about being alone, it is the feeling that no one cares"

"Loneliness is not having a tribe, whether social or professional, who I can connect with over shared values"

"As much as I love living around and exploring the world, there are times when I long for one place to call home, one place where all the people I love are at least relatively close to me"

"I think I was born with this feeling of loneliness, which I feel even when I am around my family or friends or colleagues"

What leads to loneliness?

Many factors can cause a sense of loneliness. For example, according to research by psychologist and neuroscientist John Cacioppo, loneliness may strongly be connected to genetics.

Expats won’t be surprised to hear that situational factors, like geographical isolation or moving to a new location, can contribute to loneliness, as can relationship break-ups, the death of someone significant in their lives, or having difficulty making friends in a new location.

The path to finding the right relationship or life partner can feel lonely at times - and we can also feel lonely in a relationship when our needs change or are not being met. We can also feel lonely as we transition into a new stage of life (e.g. empty nest).

We can become deeply lonely if we feel we cannot reveal our true selves, whether to our family or in society. Or if we struggle to let others in and tend to put up a wall to protect ourselves...

Loneliness can also come hand in hand with depression and may be more frequent if we struggle with low self-esteem.

How long will I feel this way?

When loneliness is situational, it is usually temporary. As we heal from a loss or take steps to connect with a new place or new people, the loneliness starts to dissipate.

Where deeper issues exist - for example, if we can’t be alone at all - we may feel like loneliness is a more constant part of our lives, a recurring theme.

No matter the reason for our loneliness, or how long we've been feeling this way, there are steps we can take to begin to feel better, day by day.

How to overcome loneliness

We turn to John Cacioppo for some trusted tips (and add a few of our own):

Make changes

Recognise that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. Loneliness can have negative effects on our lives, both physically (e.g. fatigue, headaches and other psychosomatic symptoms) and mentally (e.g. feeling helpless or sad).

Consider doing community service or another enjoyable activity - both present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships.

Quality relationships

Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and values. Also, commit to learning from those with different values. Instead of feeling lonely around them, perhaps be curious about how they view the world.

Expect the best

Lonely people often expect rejection. Try to commit to focusing on positive thoughts and attitudes. Choose to believe it... it is about choice.

Consider seeking professional support

When working with an experienced psychologist, we can learn new approaches, relationship and communication skills, and specific techniques to help us cope with our difficult emotions. We will also have a safe place to express our thoughts and feelings, find solutions, and feel happier. Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, may also be appealing to animal lovers.

Try relaxation and stress relief techniques 

These may include specific ways of breathing, muscle relaxation training, guided mental imagery, or soothing self-talk. "Associating these relaxation techniques with being alone can help you deal with, and overcome [these] feelings," says Cacioppo.

Acknowledge & take action

Loneliness is one of the most difficult emotions to experience. Acknowledging it and reaching out for the right support can do wonders. Remember, feeling lonely doesn’t have to be permanent. This too shall pass...
 

Which of these tips did you find most helpful? What would you add to this list? 

Vivian

Author

Vivian Chiona

Vivian Chiona is the founder and director of Expat Nest (www.expatnest.com), which provides emotional support to expats and their families through online counseling services. A bicultural, multilingual expat with family...

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