Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ten Tips for Mastering Loneliness

As a writer, I happily spend hours of alone time and when the writing is going well, I draw an invisible circle around me to fend off others. Surfacing days later – I feel disoriented. My anchors are gone; those friends whose calls I didn’t return are busy or away. A voice inside says life has passed me by! That’s when it hits: loneliness. Believe me, when I say it hurts.

As social animals, it’s our nature to seek contact with others and in solitude we discover relief from the chatter of our days. It allows us to travel to the heart of our selves, to find strength by touching the sweet wildness that dwells there.

But loneliness is different. Everyone has experienced it at one time or another. Why we feel lonely, how we got there and how deep it goes varies. Sometimes it can be as simple as drowning in the proverbial ‘glass of water’; like the weekend when no one is available for coffee, dinner or a chat.

Or maybe, we’ve just read the headlines or watched the news about the chaos, conflict and uncertainty of today’s world. If you’re single, or even if you’re not, those stories can trigger feelings of fear, helplessness and ultimately loneliness.

Grief from loss of a loved one is one of the primary reasons that people experience loneliness. Like many single mothers, I’ve experienced the post partum chill of loneliness when my daughter left for college. I’d lost her and my key role in her life.

If loneliness lasts too long, it can easily turn into depression and breaking free of depression may require professional help.

Undoubtedly, I’ll visit Lonely Town again and again, but I’ve found ways to avoid staying there for too long. Here’s my top ten list of tips:

1. Acknowledge your lonely feelings: Roar or bellow out the why and the what. If you keep them inside, you’ll turn numb, resentful or even bitter. Dramatically vocalizing the lonely blues brings instant physical and emotional release.
2. Think outside the box! Do something you’ve told yourself you didn’t have time for. If you have time to be lonely, you have time to take a class on something that sparks your interest. Who knows where that curiosity could lead!
3. Journal about the local flora & fauna: I love coffee bars, where I record my observations about the people around me. Keeping it light, I let my imagination go wild with ‘what if’s’. Snickers, then giggles bubble up. By the time I get home, I’m laughing out loud.
4. Have a pot luck supper once a week. Start at your house and move it around your circle of friends. Everyone loves to show off their special dish. If you ask each friend to bring one more friend, you may find someone you'll cherish for the long term. I once met a boyfriend that way. Or the person you meet may have something interesting to tell you, even if you only connect once.
5. Take a mindfulness walk: Maintain a slow pace, breathe deeply and open your senses. According to the Buddhist teacher Thich Nat Hanh, by walking mindfully, “We generate peace within our body, our consciousness. We embrace and heal the pain, the sorrow, the fear in us. It's the foundation for helping peace spread into a reality in the world.”
6. Dance! It’s a great way to lose weight, and leave loneliness behind while you learn some new moves. As a lonely child violinist, I searched for the chord that would soothe the savage beast. Music gave me confidence, serenity and a new perspective on life. As an adult, reggae and salsa unlock my exuberant wild woman.
7. Connect through technology: Use Skype, the internet telephone service that allows you to make free long-distance calls and see each other live on computer screens. (The equipment is inexpensive and easy to use).
Create your own blog to share ideas, thoughts, family and family photos; free at www.blogger.com or www.wordpress.org
Go on facebook at www.facebook.com In 24 hours I had dozens of new friends and made contact with people I hadn’t seen or talked to in years! (But don’t let technology take over face to face, in the same room contact.)
8. Fake it until it’s real. Find your inner ‘laughing Buddha’ by googling a local teacher for the new ‘laughter yoga’. It really works and you don’t have to be a contortionist to do it! People have laughed themselves physically well - why not laugh yourself emotionally well.
9. Put something into the game of life – it could prove to be the gift that keeps on giving. According to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers live longer; have higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. Bottom line: you meet people; enter into the debate, while learning something new! If you’re housebound, volunteer as a mentor online. Not only helping others, a way to meet people of like mind.
10. Make a dump date: If you’re feeling lonely and depressed, ask a good friend if they’d be willing to have ‘dumping session’. This allows for a compassionate dialogue within the framework of a limited prescribed time period. It prevents you from turning into someone like that incessant nagger/whiner who lives down the street.

Above all, don’t give up!

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