Overcoming loneliness


Adapted from the work of Karyn Hall Ph.D.

Being an expat in Romania, as beautiful & wonderful as the experience undoubtedly can be, it can very quickly lead to unexpected loneliness due to unanticipated factors such as being removed from your familiar culture, away from true friends and the seemingly never ending feeling that your are an outsider. Friendships made here can evaporate completely after just a short time of neglecting those same relationships. Maybe you moved here to be with your partner but the relationship ended and you find yourself stranded.

Maybe it’s not having a birthday party because you don’t know anyone to invite or maybe you want to go to an event and have no one to go with you. When you don’t have friends, it’s easy to judge yourself as less than.

What do you do?

A good start is accepting that you are lonely and not judging the loneliness.  Connecting to world around you in some way can decrease the sense of loneliness.  Maybe you like cooking, dancing, exercise,  gardening or going for mindful walks, particularly in a park. Accept that wanting frends is normal.

While these steps are helpful, most people who are lonely long for deep connection with other people. Wanting to connect with others is not codependency. Humans are naturally social, some more than others. For some people, one or two connections may be all they want. Others may crave a large group of friends. Regardless of your preferences, feeling lonely does not mean something is wrong with you.

Drop the pretenceI 

In her book, Freedom from Loneliness: 52 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely, Jennifer Page notes that when you go out, stop thinking about yourself and trying to be perfect. Being authentic is more likely to help you make friends. To connect with others, you have to show who you are and stop trying to fit in. That can be scary yet it’s the only way to truly connect.

Maybe you’ve learned to sense what others want you to be and take on that role. That’s not a true connection and is exhausting. When you are trying to be who others want you to be, you may be even lonelier than when you are by yourself.  So part of connecting with others is figuring out what type of person you are, what you like and don’t like, and letting others see the real you.

Turn off the virtual world

Disconnect to Connect is a video showing how we shut people out of our lives by being absorbed in electronics instead of focusing on the people who are with us. Being mindful of people who are around us instead of watching television or texting can lead to closer relationships. Though television can be comforting, at the end of the day it is not satisfying the way interactions with people are.

TV can be used as a tool to connect. Perhaps people at your work watch a certain show and that show is a topic of conversation. By watching the program you can join in the conversation. Perhaps you might invite people over to watch with you. That would be different than using television to avoid personal relationships.

If you spend your evenings or days watching Facebook or television, consider trying an experiment. Spend a week without these. You may discover more fulfilling ways to spend your time that are more satisfying in the long run.

Connect to the World through creativity

Page suggests that boredom and loneliness are related. Participating in creative activities can decrease boredom and loneliness. Make a photo collage, cook, knit, paint, sing, or get engaged in an activity that you enjoy.  When you are engaged in something you enjoy, you probably will not feel lonely.

Overcome Your Fears

One of the times you are likely to feel most alone is when you are afraid or in trouble of some kind. Having someone with you helps you feel less scared, whether you fear the dark, illness, bugs, medical procedures, strangers, medical procedures or are experiencing trauma or stress. By working to overcome your fears, you will decrease the loneliness that you experience during these times.

Work on connections with mindful actions

For many people loneliness is about not feeling connected. Just spending time with other people will not ease the situation and can feel worse by highlighting the lack of connectedness you have in your life.  In fact, when you first start working on getting more connected, the idea of being in a group of people may be too much to consider.

As Page discusses, you can work on connecting to your world. To connect with the world, your focus must be outside yourself. Taking walks in a park, going to a dance class, gym, pool, an expat event or party, or a talk in an interesting subject. Maybe you want to visit the poor or the sick

Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly. Being completely involved in the activity helps create a sense of belonging and connectedness. Judging yourself or the activity creates distance and disconnection. If you cook, embrace that experience. Notice the smells, the textures and colors of the ingredients and the process of creating food. If you ride a bike, notice the sensations in your body, the feel of the air on your face and the views around you.

Doing an activity wholeheartedly means you are not stuck in your head, saying, “I’m a loser, these plants will never grow, and it won’t make a difference anyway. Being in your head, judging yourself or others often adds to loneliness. If that happens, which is normal, redirect your attention to the activity you are doing. Be mindful of what is outside of you.

Learn Small Talk

People who engage in more meaningful conversations, rather than small talk, have a greater sense of well-being. But small talk may be the path to having those deeper conversations. You may need to have small talk to move on to closer relationships.

Small talk can seem meaningless. For some, engaging in small talk can feel as miserable as a migraine. Yet it’s not likely that you can meet a new friend for coffee and then immediately discuss your shame about the affair you had last year or even how inadequate you feel around the have-it-all-together neighbors.  It happens, but it’s not likely.

Small talk is a way of acknowledging other people, letting them know they matter. Small talk also seems to be a necessary gateway to deeper conversations, much like the dreaded first dates are a way to see if there is potential for a romantic relationship.

If you want to have more friends in your life, small talk is like a welcome mat and a compatibility test. Small talk is the foundation for more meaningful connections. Maybe it feels the same as having to clean the house, get the groceries, and put on make-up for company. The preparation is work, though usually after an enjoyable evening you see it all as worth it. Maybe that’s the way it is with small talk. It only seems worth it when you have connected with someone on a deeper level. Then you’re glad you went to that mixer or neighborhood get-together.

For most, small talk is only the beginning, and connecting through deeper conversation is the desired goal. So if you’re willing to take a deep breath and trudge through the uncomfortableness of the short-term, you can then see who fits well with you and move on to deeper conversations.