These are certainly difficult times we’re currently living in. Here, experts share how to ease the heart-hurting that comes with isolation, anxiety, and feeling lonely.
Open to gratitude.
While the reason for our collective isolation is all too clear-the pandemic itself- there are several underlying causes of loneliness that may be less obvious. “An otherwise positive transition, like starting a new job, may trigger it,” says expert Julianne Holt- Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. “Or a sensory impairment, such as hearing loss, can make it difficult to engage with others, isolating us in a way we may not even recognize as loneliness at first.” Whatever the reason for your feelings, one thing is clear: Loneliness is made worse by repeated negative thinking. “But tapping gratitude-for a lovely day, a warm coffee- reverses this downward spiral and creates an upward spiral.”
Take comfort in creativity.
When immersed in a hobby, we’re in partnership or “dialogue” with it, helping us feel less isolated. “Not only can creative expression reduce loneliness, just taking it in as an observer has benefits,” says Holt-Lunstad. Indeed, simply curling up with a good book and empathizing with characters is a kind of vicarious social interaction, making us feel part of another person’s world.
You’re not alone.
One of the greatest gifts of spirituality is the feeling that we’re never alone, says expert Melissa Kruger, director of Women’s Content for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and author of Growing Together and Wherever You Go, I Want You to Know. “God never says, You have nothing to fear,” she explains, “He says, I am with you.” In jotting down her prayers, Kruger feels even more comfort. “Like writing a letter, it’s more relational, which is so healing when you’re lonely. Prayer isn’t just vertical, between you and a higher power, it’s also horizontal, bringing you closer with the people in your thoughts.”
Tap ‘weak’ ties.
Just the perception of social support is proven to boost your health and longevity. “During the first week of the lockdown, my neighbor sent a group text asking if we needed anything,” recalls Holt-Lunstad. “Simply knowing they were there made me feel better-the more support we perceive, the less reactive to stress we become.” And the benefits go both ways: If you text a friend or check in with a neighbor, you’ll instantly feel better. Even casual contacts, or “weak ties,” like saying “hi” to a cashier, reduce loneliness and restore happiness.
Reveal a little.
“In a world where there’s an increasing divide between our outward persona and our authentic self, it’s important to be seen for who we really are,” says expert Jeremy Nobel, M.D., president of the Foundation for Art and Healing and creator of The Un-Lonely Project, and initiative that addresses health challenges of loneliness. To forge more meaningful ties, just try progressive revealing. “Start with less intimate facts, like your dream trip, and gradually reveal more.” This helps us show the vulnerability that forges the strongest bonds.
Loneliness is on a “continuum,” notes Holt-Lunstad, explaining that even if we’re not on the extreme end of it, we can all benefit from richer relationships. One of the easiest ways to deepen yours is simply by listening. As Dr. Nobel promises, “The key to connection is listening — it invites intimacy and leads you to share more of your own story, enhancing existing ties and creating new ones.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.