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A Way Out of Loneliness
Human beings are social creatures. We thrive when we have satisfying relationships. Life today tends to be very busy, and many of us do not have the benefits of the leisure time or the social institutions that used to get us meeting with people on a regular basis. With the rise of television and the internet, many people are pursuing more solitary or virtual socialising, meaning that our time for face to face socialising is decreasing.
These social changes, among other things, are meaning that people are becoming increasingly disconnected from one another, and many people find themselves in circumstances in which they feel quite lonely. Loneliness does not only affect people who spend a lot of time alone; people can feel lonely even when they are surrounded by other people. Research suggests that the quality of our social interactions is much more important than the quantity of those interactions. A large body of research has revealed that loneliness can be very destructive for people. Loneliness is a risk factor for mental illness, physical illness and premature cognitive decline.
Given the health hazards that loneliness can involve, I prepared this practical guide to help people to begin to chart a way out of loneliness. If the suggestions in this guide feel too overwhelming, then it may benefit you to seek assistance from a skilled therapist to work through your difficulties with loneliness.
Why Are You Considering a Change to Your Social Life?
Although all humans need some social contacts, not everybody needs the same amount of socialising. Some people are most comfortable interacting with one other person at a time, and don't like big groups. Some people prefer to have only a few close friends, and are satisfied with a small group of close people. Others require a lot more socialising, and want a big group of friends. These differences are normal, and it's worth getting to know yourself, and working with your own preferences. You don't need to force a change in your natural preferences- you may instead need to learn to accept yourself as you are. Are you seeking more social contact because of your desires, or someone else's? It's a good idea to understand your reasons for wanting more people in your life.
Make a list of your reasons for wanting to meet new people. Consider whether these reasons are worth making challenging changes to your life.
Why Are You Lonely?
There are many reasons that people become lonely, and your own reasons may be unique. If you can understand some of the reasons that you've become lonely, then you will be in a better position to solve the problem. Do you know why you became lonely? Have you always felt lonely, or is this a relatively new thing? Can you link your loneliness to anything in particular?
Here are some common reasons that people get lonely – do any of these apply to you?
- moving to a new place
- getting so busy with work or family that other relationships fall away
- relationship breakdown; a break up means you need to re-organise your social circle
- being shy; feeling anxious when opportunities to socialise present themselves
- low self esteem; feeling unworthy of time and attention from others
- internal change; an important change within you has made you realise that your relationships or lifestyle need to change as well
Make a list of the obstacles to resolving your loneliness as you see them. This will help you to decide whether you need help with this, or whether you can get started on your own.
How Do You Expand Your Social Circle?
It's very possible to expand your social circle. You may need some help to take some practical steps to get on your way, which you can decide after exploring the options below.
When you think about doing things to meet new people, do you notice any thoughts or thought patterns that slow you down or stop you?
- Are you thinking negatively about your abilities in social situations? If you are, then doing some work on social anxiety may assist you. Have a look at these self help materials: (http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_ID=40).
- Are you thinking negatively about yourself in general? If you are, then doing some work to improve your self esteem may help. Have a look at these self help materials: (http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_ID=47)
- If those workbooks don't resolve the problem, then working through your difficulties with a skilled therapist may help to get you unstuck.
- Are you able to suspend judgements about other people, and give them a chance to show you their qualities? It can be helpful to meet several people, take some time to get to know them, and then decide who you would like to be closer to.
- Are you able to be patient and persevere? The more realistic threads you put out, the more people you will meet, the more likely you are to pull in the ones who are best suited to you.
Do you know what steps you might take to expand your social circle? The questions below may help you to draw up a plan.
- Think about the people you already have contact with. Is there anyone already in your circle that you would like to see more of? Make a list of people you already know who could become closer friends, or who could link you to their friends.
- If you need to expand beyond the people you know, who are you looking for? Romantic partners? Friends? What ages? Make a list of the types you are hoping to meet.
- What are your values? Where are like-minded people likely to spend time?
- Develop a list of activities that you are already interested in that can include a social component.
- Try something new that you can do in a group. If you are uncertain of what activities might interest you, have a look at the list of pleasant activities in Module 2 of this workbook (http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_ID=37).
- Be open to new experiences that are offered to you.
- Could you join an activity, an organisation, volunteer or change your work to give you greater contact with other people?
- Could changing your living arrangement improve your chances of meeting people?
- Do you have time right now for socialising? Make sure you create room in your life for this project.
- Make concrete and specific plans with people and activities. Make sure you remember to go when you've planned to.
- Choose a suitable place for the social event.
- Make sure that you think about how to feel as comfortable as possible. Do you need someone to go with you at first? Do you need to get some information so you know what to expect?
- With a broad list of possibilities.
- By getting people's contact information, initiating activities, and making specific plans.
- By reading or watching something interesting so you have something to chat about when you meet up.
- With an open mind- the people you approach may be busy or shy, and it may take a bit of time to organise things.
- With a plan to keep up any new contacts you make; friendships require a bit of effort from all sides to maintain contact.
- By trying to accept every invitation you get to do something- the more you do, the more people you will get to know.
- With a commitment to trying again if things don't work out.
A Way Out of Loneliness
If you want to be less lonely, you will have to put in some time, thought and effort to increase your social circle, and focus on developing a few high quality relationships. If you work through any barriers you have in your thinking patterns, focus on the goal, and work through your obstacles, you will eventually find some social contacts- everybody wants at least a few friends- you are not alone!
For More Information
Here are some sites in Brisbane that can help you to meet people:
Cacioppo, JT & Patrick, W (2009) Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. USA: W W Norton & Company.
Masi, C. M.; Chen, H.-Y.; Hawkley, L. C.; Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). "A Meta-Analysis of Interventions to Reduce Loneliness". Personality and Social Psychology Review 15 (3): 219–66.