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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

Health & Well-Being

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What We Can Do About Loneliness

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Image featuring Students at the annual “Black Plaza” celebration. The noontime gathering was held in White Plaza and co-sponsored by the Black Student Union and several other organizations. Credit: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Notice the feelings.
Once we’ve noticed an emotional experience is occurring, we can gain more clarity and better control over how it unfolds. We notice what is happening (in our minds and bodies), label/name the experience/feelings, and then honor ourselves and those feelings by giving them some space and time to be felt. Sometimes giving them space is all we/they need. Often we need more time—and ideally support from others—to work through difficult emotions. 

Accept yourself and what is happening for you.
You are worthy. People care about you. Your value as a person is unshakeable. You feel lonely right now, and this feeling is temporary. You are you. You are not your loneliness. Others are feeling the same thing, and they also long for connection.

Assess what you need.
Remember, we humans are hardwired for connection. But that doesn’t mean we all define it in the same way, and it doesn’t mean we all have the same needs when it comes to managing loneliness. Our needs can change and be fluid day-to-day. It can be helpful to think about where you currently fall in this Interplay of Isolation and Connectedness graphic but only inasmuch as it helps you identify your needs! Try not to pathologize yourself or your experiences, and focus on what feels right for you in the moment. Here are some reflections to consider as you assess your specific needs:

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Move towards connection.
Break the cycle. You’re not alone in this experience, and that can be a little solace. What can you do to move away from toxic loneliness? Ask yourself what is possible right now, and what kinds of connections do I have access to given limitations (pandemic, physical location)? Reach out to a couple of people you trust and let them know a little bit about what you’re feeling. Take the risk of stepping into vulnerability and find that even those who seem like they have it all together are struggling and needing your support.

Engage in relevant self-care.
Each of our support networks is an integration of self-care practices, community care, and professional care. Self-care, while not sufficient on its own over long periods of time, can help us weather difficult times. During a pandemic, at times of loneliness, effective self-care strategies are likely to be things that bring you emotional and/or physical comfort. This could take the form of intentional rest, mindfully eating a comforting meal, or using music to influence your mood. Self-care can also be activities that help transform a little loneliness into positive solitude. Whether that’s being in/with nature, meditating, or creating a movement practice, anything that turns your focus inward and restores your energy. Self-care is not about “silver-lining” a hard experience, but rather acknowledging that many parts of our lives are difficult right now and that we need some soothing practices to make it through.

Limit time on social media.
We engage in social comparison all the time, and usually, we are unaware it's happening. When all of our ancestors lived in extended family bands, this was not a big deal: we knew everyone we saw on a daily basis. Today, a feeling of mass anonymity is more common. We know of too many people and yet are not known on a deeper level by enough. Social media, though marketed as a facilitator of connection, is primarily a communication and impression management tool. Of course, connection and care can occur on social media, but for many, it is where we curate images of ourselves for the gaze of others. Attend to your social media use and assess what purpose it is serving for you. What feelings lead you to open a social media app? What is your emotional experience when you are engaged with a social media platform? What do you feel after a brief session on social media? After a longer session? Often, we seek social media because we’re bored (or are anticipating boredom) and want some stimulation. However, boredom is a commonly required step on the path towards positive solitude. Perhaps, we’d benefit from changing our relationship to boredom in order to cultivate more moments of calm and self-restoration rather than seeking constant stimulation and entertainment.