Feeling Lonely? What You Need to Know
Published on June 26, 2018
by Dr. Caitlin Gordon

Feeling Lonely? What You Need to Know

Published on June 26, 2018 by Dr. Caitlin Gordon

We don’t talk about loneliness enough. I mean we do in a removed abstract way, but how often do people you know discuss personally feeling lonely? It’s not “cool” to feel lonely. We associate loneliness with losers and outcasts. If we are feeling lonely, we think it means we don’t belong. And we are wired to value belonging over nearly everything.

My Relationship to Loneliness

girl being disappointed Similarly to my disassociation with shame and guilt, it’s rarely been convenient to feel lonely and so I haven’t felt it very much in the last few years. But along with opening myself up to the full breadth and depth of my human emotional experience and feeling things like shame and guilt, guess who showed up to the hard feelings party? Yes, loneliness.

You can be surrounded by friends and feel lonely. You can be laying next to someone you love and feel lonely. Loneliness isn’t only about being physically alone, it’s a feeling of isolation that stems from a lack of connection.

Loneliness can show up in big or small ways, for short moments or long years. Feeling like we aren’t being seen, heard, accepted, loved, understood, appreciated… all of this can lead to feeling lonely. We all experience disconnection. So there’s the irony: We’re connected in our shared experience of loneliness. We’re not alone in this feeling. We can empathize with each other.

What Feeling Lonely is Telling Us

One way loneliness sneaks in is when I haven’t been touched enough. I feel lonely when I need more physical touch. I feel it as non-specific craving first. The craving is for something that will fix the uneasy emptiness, the underlying emotion. If I don’t pay attention, I’ll try to fill it with food or social media.

The core feeling is a longing for connection. What I want is to feel that warm, reassuring, everything is OK feeling that you get after a meaningful conversation, a cuddle sesh, laughing, or holding hands with someone who gets you. I want to be reminded that my people care, that I matter, that someone’s got my back. Even when I have great friends and a loving family and so much support! Even then. Loneliness doesn’t discriminate.

How To Be with Feeling Lonely

Sometimes the cure is to create more connection externally— with people and animals. But when you have the external connections (and they’re ones that truly feed your need to be seen, heard, understood, appreciated, accepted, loved) then we are actually lonely for a better connection with ourselves. I don’t care how cheesy it sounds, you really can be your own best friend. When you develop a relationship with yourself where there is trust, love, and acceptance, then you can meet your loneliness with those resources.

When I feel lonely these days it’s my reminder to show up for myself. It’s my reminder that I know how to take good care of me, that I’ve got my own back, that I can create a safe container to feel my feelings, that I’m okay. And feeling lonely doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. It means we’re human, longing for connection.

Loneliness and Health

seated man bent over with hands clasped on subway trainWhile loneliness may be epidemic, it is not benign. Loneliness is a silent killer. We NEED connection to thrive. We need community for our health. Study after study proves that it is loneliness that will shorten our lifespan far quicker than lack of exercise or eating too many burgers.

Connection to other humans, support from our family and friends– these are the things that create resilience to stress. It is the buffer that allows us to live imperfect lifestyles with imperfect diets and exposure to countless toxins. Connection keeps us well.

Technology has enabled us to stay connected in one way but has also isolated us in many others. There is no substitute for sitting across from a friend and having a conversation in the flesh. Our nervous systems act like tuning forks and being around people who love and care for us creates coherence in our cells. This in-person chemistry is a requirement for a healthy body. We need daily human touch for proper neuron functioning.

What To Do When You’re Feeling Lonely (unsolicited life advice)

three friends hugging on the beachIf a long healthy life is important to you, take a moment to re-evaluate your priorities. So many of us are slaving away working 60 hour weeks to make bigger paychecks at the expense of having a social life or any time for our families. You can’t take your money with you when you die. You’re missing the point.

The point is connection. The point is your friends and family. Work to meet your basic needs and have enough security to enjoy your life and not more. Your job may not literally kill you, but having no time for friends will. Consider spending less time building your empire and more time building your community. Instead of spending your money on personal trainers, facials, and meal-delivery services, take your friends out to dinner. The people living to 100 with sharp minds and happy hearts are the ones in supportive tight-knit communities.

Make time to be touched. Do loving touch with your partner, your kids, your pets. Schedule acupuncture and massages. Hug your friends; risk it feeling a little awkward and hold on a little longer. Sign up for partner dance classes or contact improv. Get on MeetUp.com or other social networking sites to make friends with similar interests.

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