If anyone asked me four years ago, “Do you ever feel lonely?” I would have answered, “Most days.” One out of three New Zealander’s, that’s roughly 1.3 million people, say they have also felt lonely in the last month.
I was 11 when I began training full time to be a professional tennis player. This meant home school, long stints overseas, being surrounded by highly competitive girls and later on it included relationships and break ups too. My life style was a bit unusual and very often I felt lonely.
Many mornings I would wake up in a hotel room on the other side of the world alone, and feel such a deep sense of loneliness and reluctance to face the day. I often felt unmotivated and purposeless. In the more difficult times I coped with the loneliness I felt in ways that left me only feeling worse. I kept thinking to myself that I would feel better “when”. When I was more successful, when I was thinner or when I was more popular. But this was my illusion because no matter how well I did, or how many people there were around me, I continued to feel lonely because I still didn’t choose to accept myself.
Whilst one person can live alone in a remote corner of the world and feel incredibly content and in peace, millions of people today have plenty of friends and might even be in a relationship and yet still there is something missing and they feel lonely. Mother Theresa once said, "The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy, it is loneliness. The only cure for loneliness is love." Starting with the love you give yourself.
I was fortunate to have really great support and with guidance and practice I was able to understand more why I felt the way I did and let go of my loneliness to some degree. I still have lonely times of course, but that deep depressing feeling of being alone doesn’t rule my life as it once did, and when it surfaces I feel more equipped to shift it!
The following tips are kind of like my tools for shifting loneliness when it surfaces, and I'd like to share them with you. If you have more suggestions, we'd love to hear about them in the comments below! Sharing with others might be just the inspiration they need to feel lifted up and supported, so don’t hold back!
1. Be kind to yourself
I used to talk to myself in a really mean way! I would tell myself things like; I’m a loser for not having Saturday night plans like my friends, or that I was useless for feeling so lonely. This self judgement only made me feel worse. Instead, I began focussing on my beautiful qualities and not on judging myself if I did spend time alone. This helped me to have a Saturday night in and really enjoy being with myself!
2. Learn what triggers you
What triggers your loneliness? Experiences like a break up, feeling rejected by a friend or not succeeding in the way you want to can all bring loneliness to the surface. Recognising the cause of your loneliness allows you to work on it, to understand why it is you feel the way you do, and eventually to release it.
3. Talk to someone
There’s a saying that a difficulty shared is a difficulty halved. Talking about the loneliness you feel with a close friend, or a professional, can bring so much relief. For myself, sharing how I felt with another person gave me a fresh perspective and support in a time when I really needed it. Seeing that other people didn’t judge me made me realise I don’t need to judge myself either!
4. Commit to a routine
For me, the morning was the time of day I suffered the most. I just didn’t want to face the day. I made a morning routine and I found that being committed to this routine helped me to feel better and more motivated. It became the time of day just for me. Choose things in your routine that you enjoy, it matters less what it is and more that you commit to it each day. Often people feel lonely at night in bed too. This can be a great time to reflect on your day and be grateful for the beautiful things in your life. Check out our article on morning routines at the bottom of this page for more ideas!
5. Reduce habits and environments that don’t serve you
Some habits drag you down rather than lift you up. The more time you spend seeing what others are up to on Facebook and comparing yourself to it, or watching TV which has a really low energy and can drag you down, the more lonely you tend to feel. I started to realise that certain environments made me feel worse than others. For me, I felt more lonely the morning after drinking or partying. Alcohol is a depressant and being surrounded by people flirting and drinking made me feel worse. I know not everyone feels this way but if you recognise for yourself that certain people or places make you feel more lonely, let them go and replace them with supportive friends and environments instead.
6. Know how to respond
When I felt lonely in the past I was drawn to use my addictions, particularly food or technology, but this didn't serve me. Now I feel pretty clear about how to respond when I feel lonely. I like to meditate, or sit quietly and focus on my breathing. Afterwards I feel much quieter in my mind and the lonely feelings are less intense. You might prefer responding differently. Some simple ideas are exercise, yoga, doing something creative, listening to or playing music, meeting a friend or simply taking a bath.
7. My personal favourite
Ok, this might sound a bit far fetched to you. One of the things that helped me most to feel less lonely was realising that I am part of life. It’s not me in one corner and life in the other, we are part of each other. I looked out my window one morning at the beautiful, old trees and realised that just as the trees are part of nature and life, so am I. I looked up at the sky dotted with stars one night when I was feeling extremely alone and rejected and I realised I am part of this incredible universe too, I am not alone. It sounds a bit crazy, I know, but it really helped me so much, so I thought I would share it with you. It helped me to realise that I am not alone because I am connected to nature, to life, to God, to love; whatever word speaks to you, you are part of it!
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