A few days ago, I conducted a brief survey among family and friends and posed the question, “What day of the week do you experience feeling “lonely” and why?
Here are a few of their responses:
“Mondays, my husband comes home late”, “Family holidays”, “Sunday singleness”, “Sunday, church alone”, “Weekends”, and “Every day, I’m lonely”.
One consistent theme that arose from this brief survey was that everyone experiences feelings of loneliness. Unfortunately (and fortunately), everyone will experience a period of loneliness at some point across the life span.
Loneliness is defined as absence of social contact, a sense of isolation, and an emotional state, reflecting the subjective experience of suffering from social isolation lonely” (Mushtaq, R. Shoib, S., Shah t, & Mushtaq, S., 2014; Weiss, R. 1987). Chronic loneliness can pose a significant effect on physical and mental health, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation (Beutel, Klein, Brähler, Reiner, et. al, 2017). In addition, emotional loneliness (e.g. lack of intimate attachment), and social loneliness (absence of a social support system) contribute to poor overall emotional well-being (Weinstein, B. E., Sirow, L. W., & Moser, S., 2016).
Loneliness is a part of the human experience. Avoidance of this feeling of separation, detachment, and isolation cannot be avoided, and even sometimes in the midst of the busiest season of life, this feeling of loneliness still persists. During a season of loneliness, an individual may be at risk for developing unhealthy coping patterns to either block, or mute the feelings of emptiness or even silence.
So, how can someone cope or survive a difficult period of loneliness? Here are a few coping strategies:
1. Examine your current social network...beyond social media.
Take the time to explore and assess what social support systems exist in your current situation. Social media may provide a venue to connect with others, but nothing replaces the benefits of face-to-face contact with other human beings. Keep building, or rebuild, your social support system.
2. Walk into the loneliness, do not avoid.
The tendency to avoid the feeling of loneliness in unhealthy ways may lead to unhealthy coping patterns. The time of loneliness can provide an opportunity to reassess your emotional, spiritual, and physical health in your current situation. (i.e., how can I use this time for personal growth?).
3. Develop a “wellness plan”.
One helpful tool I have found beneficial with my clients involves the WRAP: “Wellness Recovery Action Plan” (Copeland, 2011). This helpful tool provides a daily plan to help identify healthy coping tools, identify upsetting events, and develop action plans to gain support and manage your wellness during times of crisis.
4. Seek professional support.
Symptoms of depression and anxiety may be indicate the need for help from a mental health professional.
Bio: Dr. Valencia Wiggins holds a Ph.D., L.P.C., and is an Assistant Professor at Moody Theological Seminary for the Master’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program in Chicago, IL. She is a clinical psychologist, and Licensed Professional Counselor. Dr. Wiggins enjoys helping individuals reach their emotional health potential. In addition, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, and seeking out new adventures in life.
Beutel, M. E., Klein, E. M., Brähler, E., Reiner, I., Jünger, C., Michal, M., & ... Tibubos, A. N. (2017). Loneliness in the general population: prevalence, determinants and relations to mental health. BMC Psychiatry, 171-7.
Copeland, M (2011). Wellness recovery action plan. Peach Press, 5th Edition.
Mushtaq R, Shoib S, Shah T, Mushtaq S. Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR. 2014; 8(9):WE01.
Weinstein, B. E., Sirow, L. W., & Moser, S. (2016). Relating Hearing Aid Use to Social and Emotional Loneliness in Older Adults. American Journal Of Audiology, 25(1), 54-61.
Weiss R. (1987). Reflections on the present state of loneliness research. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. 2(2):1–16.