We all meet loneliness at some point in life. Expats in particular may be confronted with it more often, due to the inevitable changes and goodbyes of being a global nomad. We shine a light on loneliness and offer some practical ways to overcome it.
Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person experiences a powerful feeling of emptiness and isolation. Loneliness is a universal human emotion, yet it is both complex and unique to each individual. Your experience of it may be different to mine.
“Loneliness is not about being alone, it is the feeling that no one cares”
“Loneliness is not having a tribe, whether social or professional, who I can connect with over shared values”
“As much as I love living around and exploring the world, there are times when I long for one place to call home, one place where all the people I love are at least relatively close to me”
“I think I was born with this feeling of loneliness, which I feel even when I am around my family or friends or colleagues”
What leads to loneliness?
Many factors can cause a sense of loneliness. For example, according to research by psychologist and neuroscientist John Cacioppo, loneliness may be strongly connected to genetics.
Expats won’t be surprised to hear that situational factors, like geographical isolation or moving to a new location, can contribute to loneliness, as can a relationship break up, the death of someone significant in your life, or difficulty making friends in a new location.
The path to finding the right relationship or life partner can feel lonely at times – and we can also feel lonely in a relationship, when our needs change or are not being met. We can also feel lonely as we transition into a new stage of life (e.g. empty nest).
We can become deeply lonely if we feel we cannot reveal our true selves, whether to our family or in our society. Or if we struggle to let others in and tend to put up a wall to protect ourselves…
Loneliness can also come hand in hand with depression and may be more frequent if you struggle with low self-esteem.
How long will I feel this way?
When loneliness is situational, it is usually temporary. As you heal from a loss or take steps to connect with a new place or new people, the loneliness starts to dissipate. Where deeper issues exist – for example, if you can’t be alone at all – you may feel like loneliness is a more constant part of your life, a recurring theme.
No matter the reason for your loneliness, or how long you have been feeling this way, there are steps you can take to begin to feel better, day by day.
How to overcome loneliness
We turn to John Cacioppo for some trusted tips (and add a few of our own):
- Recognise that loneliness is a sign something needs to change. Loneliness can have negative effects on your life, both physically (e.g. fatigue, headaches and other psychosomatic symptoms) and mentally (e.g. feeling helpless or sad). Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy – both present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships.
- Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and values. Commit also to learning from those with different values. Instead of feeling lonely with them, perhaps be curious about how they view the world.
- Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection. Try to commit to focusing on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships. Choose to believe this… it is about choice.
- Consider seeking professional support. Working with an experienced psychologist you can learn new approaches, relationship and communication skills, and specific techniques to help you cope with your difficult emotions. You will also have a safe place to express your thoughts and feelings, find solutions, and feel happier. You are not alone and we are here for you.
P.S. Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, may also appeal to you if you love animals.
- Try relaxation and stress relief techniques, possibly with your therapist. These may include specific ways of breathing, muscle relaxation training, guided mental imagery, or soothing self-talk. “Associating these relaxation techniques with being alone can help you deal with, and overcome, [these] feelings,” says Cacioppo.
Loneliness is one of the most difficult emotions to experience. Acknowledging it and reaching out for the right support can do wonders. Remember, the way you feel right now doesn’t have to be permanent. This too shall pass…
Which of these tips did you find most helpful? What would you add to this list? Many readers come here weekly for inspiration and support and your tip may be exactly what they are looking for.
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© Vivian Chiona, Expat Nest