Maggie: We discussed different types of loneliness in the first blog post on this topic, and in the second post we discussed the fact that many young people do not have the right people in their lives or the right contexts in which to share their feelings and thoughts. In this post, I think we should come up with a few things people can do to help themselves and others get through their lonely times.
John: My thoughts exactly.
Maggie: Okay, I’ll start because I have come up with some ideas.
John: I am so glad you have been thinking about this. Tell me some of your ideas.
Maggie: First, we need to understand that feeling lonely doesn’t make us weird or strange. It is easy to think that we are lonely because no one likes us, and no one likes us because we are weird. These types of ideas creep into our minds when we are alone and they cling to us like a fog. Sometimes it feels like we can’t get through the fog because it’s too thick. But we need to realize that these thoughts are not true. They are lies; big, huge lies.
John: I love your fog analogy and I think you are correct. We can’t let these self-defeating notions and feelings take over.
Maggie: That’s right. Feeling lonely is just that—feeling lonely. All those other negative thoughts that come with it are not true. It really helps once we understand that.
John: This is so insightful. Do you have any other ideas?
Maggie: Second, we need to take some kind of action to help deal with these feelings of loneliness, because if we don’t, they can turn into something bigger. But it is the realization that we need to take action that is the key, I think. Once we have this insight we can run down several different paths.
John: So true. Recognizing that we need to deal with our feelings is, in itself, a huge step. Can you tell me about some of the paths you mentioned?
Maggie: Well, this is where I got stuck. Every article I read said we should reach out to a friend and talk to her about our feelings of loneliness. But that advice ignores the problem. We feel like we don’t have any friends, which is why we feel lonely. If we had friends to reach out to, we wouldn’t have these feelings. So stupid.
John: I have never thought of the problem that way; but now that you said it, it makes sense to me. That advice is pretty silly by itself. I suppose most young adults feel the same way about talking to their parents?
Maggie: Very few of us can talk to our parents about these things. Many can’t because their parents don’t want to think of their children as one of “those kids”. Parents want to brag about the many friends their kids have; they don’t want to admit to themselves that their daughters are isolated and alone.
Let me tell you some of the funny parental advice that has been given to us over the years.
“Why don’t you go out and make some friends?” Yeah, right. If we could do that, we wouldn’t be lonely.
“Why don’t you join a sport or the band?” Do we look athletic or musical? Joining a sport or the band would just make us targets for more ridicule.
“Find some other people who are lonely and then neither of you will be lonely.” Really? Do we hold up a sign in the hallway saying “Looking for the lonely people who also need a friend”?
And here is my favorite: “Just be you and people will eventually see how wonderful you are.” So dumb.
John: I don’t mean to laugh, but that advice does seem pretty funny now that you said it out loud.
Maggie: It makes me laugh too.
Do you have any thoughts about actions we can take to help with loneliness, other than talking to a friend or parents?
John: Yes, I do. But first, let’s go back to the idea of talking to someone.
Most of us have someone in our lives that we trust and can talk to: a sister or brother or aunt or grandparent or teacher or counselor or wonderful-handsome-philosopher. There is usually someone around somewhere. The problem is finding that person and being courageous enough to open up to her. But if we do have someone, talking about our feelings can be a great help. Such a confidant can help us ask the right questions and gain insights that may relieve some of the lonely feelings.
Maggie: I agree with that. But like you said, the hard part is getting up the courage to admit that you are lonely. Seriously, how do you tell your grandma that no one ever invites you to coffee or to lunch or to a movie. It’s embarrassing and humiliating.
John: I know. But almost all of us have felt that way at some point in our lives, and most confidants will understand those feelings. And it really does help to talk about it.
Maggie: I know. But it is hard.
As you were talking I thought of another thing we should do.
John: Tell me about it.
Maggie: We should avoid isolating ourselves and get out into public spaces.
John: Can you expand upon this idea?
Maggie: When we feel lonely, it is easy to just sit in our rooms by ourselves. I think this isolation makes the feelings worse. To help, we should get out and be around other people. We can hang out with family members, go to a coffee shop, walk around a mall, or go to a bookstore. Even if we are not talking to others, just being around others helps the feelings.
John: Good idea. It also helps if we can engage strangers in a little small talk. Even just a little conversation can help ease some of the pain of loneliness.
Maggie: Do you have any other ideas?
John: Yes I do. And I think this next thought is really important.
We can volunteer to help others. This can take many different forms. For example, we can volunteer at a nursing home or a children’s hospital; we can help on a school project or at a school event; we can take care of dogs and cats at an animal shelter; or we can assist on a stream restoration. There are many different types of projects that need our help. Volunteering keeps our minds off our loneliness and gets us around other people which also assists with the lonely feelings.
Maggie: I hadn’t thought of that. I think that is a great idea.
John: The last thing we need to talk about is how to help others who are lonely. Our actions do not have to be energy-intensive; they can be very simple. But they should become a habit that we develop.
Maggie: Do you have any good examples?
John: Sure. This guy I work with calls a friend who suffers from loneliness and depression once a week to check in with him. Simple actions like a weekly call can become a meaningful part of someone’s life.
There are many other similar actions. Once a week we can eat lunch with someone who usually eats alone. We can set up weekly or monthly coffee dates; we can arrange monthly get-togethers at restaurants or book stores; and we can invite someone to come with our group of friends to a movie. The possibilities are only limited by our imaginations. And again, our actions do not have to be time or energy intensive; even the smallest of actions can have a profound effect.
Maggie: This seems so easy. Why don’t we all do this?
John: Well, most of us are pretty narcissistic (that means self-oriented or self-centered), so we haven’t developed the habit of helping others. But if we do, I think we would find that our lives are also changed for the better.
Maggie: I am going to start working on this right away by eating lunch once a week with one person who usually eats by herself.
John: You are a good person.