Reprinted with the kind permission of Toni Bernhard.
Here are 10 ways to ease the pain of loneliness.
Although my writing often focuses on chronic illness, anyone can feel the pain of loneliness. I hope the tips in this article will be helpful for everyone:
1. Don’t blame yourself in any way, shape, or form.
Trust me, it will only make you feel worse. Blaming yourself for how you feel is never skillful, productive, or kind. A host of causes and conditions have come together in your life to create this painful feeling. It’s not your fault.
2. Seek relief from a non-human “friend.”
There are lots of possibilities—a pet, comfort food, a favorite book or a nature show on TV, or even just sitting outside for a while. We can find solace in many things that ease the pain of loneliness. Experiment and see what helps you feel better.
3. Connect with a human friend if you can.
Think of someone who is always supportive or who simply makes you laugh, and give that person a call or send them an email. You may resist doing this at first because it can be hard to reach out to others when you’re feeling lonely. In my experience, however, it’s worth giving myself the little extra push that’s needed to contact someone I can count on.
4. Do something creative, no matter how simple.
It need not be earth-shatteringly creative. Try a coloring book or a jigsaw puzzle, make a collage, or experiment with needlework of some kind. Or think outside the box and come up with something that is fun and soothing for you to do.
5. Help someone in need.
Helping others eases loneliness because it makes us be less self-focused. It could be an elderly neighbor or someone on a social-media site who might benefit from a supportive comment.
6. Call to mind others who are feeling lonely and send them kind and compassionate thoughts.
Wishing well to others who are lonely creates a special connection between the two of you. Even more, when you realize that you’re not alone in your loneliness, you’ll feel less lonely. At least, that’s how this little practice works for me.
7. Visualize some place you’d like to be—a fun gathering, the seashore, a sporting event—and see if, just for a moment, you can feel happy for those who are there.
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Feeling happy for others even when they’re doing what you wish you could do can make you feel as if you’re there with them, and that eases the pain of loneliness. Even if feeling happy for others only lasts a short time, it’s soothing and healing—and amazingly, it can even make you feel happy! (For a more detailed explanation of this practice, see my recent post, “Feeling Happy for Others Can Make You Happy.”)
8. Treat loneliness as an old friend who’s dropped in for a visit (despite not having received an invitation).
This is a way of not resisting how you’re feeling; resisting only makes you feel worse. Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to take care of our anger and other painful emotions. Making friends with how we feel is self-compassion in action. So take care of your loneliness as if it’s an old friend. Sometimes I say, “Hello, loneliness. I see you’ve come to visit again for a while.” When you let painful emotions into your heart with compassion, it disarms them and that takes away their sting. This eases your pain.
9. Remind yourself that life is not always fun, and that tomorrow is a new day.
Nobody gets their way all the time and—let’s face it—life isn’t always fun. This is true for everyone. The bottom line is that loneliness is one of those unpleasant moments in your life. That’s all it is. In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, “No feeling is final.” If you can be patient with your loneliness, it’s likely that by tomorrow, it will have eased a bit. Then, the next day, it’s likely to have eased even more. All emotions are impermanent. They arise and pass, arise and pass.
It’s almost impossible to feel lonely when you’re singing. I’ve tried it, and it works! Let your favorite singer keep you company as you sing along, karaoke style.
I know from personal experience that loneliness can be hard to bear. I hope this piece has given you some useful ideas to try.
Toni Bernhard is the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers and How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Her newest book is called How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. Before becoming ill, she was a law professor at the University of California—Davis. Her blog, “Turning Straw Into Gold” is hosted by Psychology Today online. Visit her website at www.tonibernhard.com.