A wise woman once said: “Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.” This short poem, written by Rupi Kaur in her book Milk and Honey, is a summation of what loneliness means and—perhaps more importantly—what its remedy is: caring for oneself. Another wise woman Dr. Fran Walfish understands the importance of doing so and is here to explain how you can take action today to combat loneliness.
According to Dr. Fran—Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV—people grow especially lonely and depressed after the holidays, at the start of spring: “The highest rate of suicide is after the holidays in February/March when disappointment sets in. People who are most likely to commit suicide feel renewed hope around Christmastime with some degree of protection by the proximity of their relatives and the prospect of ‘things getting better from here.’ The rebirth that marks Springtime accentuates feelings of letdown and hopelessness in those already suffering with it.
Loneliness and isolation can cause a person to ruminate (think negative thoughts repeatedly and obsessively). The rumination often raises anxiety and can cause physical symptoms including heart palpitations, sweating, chest pressure, or even chest pains. The antidote to loneliness is activity. Loneliness is kicked in the butt when the person takes action doing anything. Whether it’s washing dishes, organizing papers and doing housework, making a phone call to a friend, meeting someone for dinner, or joining your neighbor’s weekly poker group.”
How Can I Be Proactive?
Take control of your life today—follow Dr. Fran’s advice and be intentional in how you spend your time. Here are a few simple actions you can take to combat loneliness and improve your overall wellbeing, as explained by Dr. Fran:
- Do less. Limit your daily news intake. Choose to read your news online so you can control what and how much goes into your consciousness.
- Avoid negative people. While trying to keep a positive attitude, you must avoid people who thrive on negativity.
- Pay it forward. When you feel overwhelmed, reach out and do something nice for someone else. Being generous in words and actions creates positive feelings for the doer and gets your endorphins flowing.
- Practice self-care. Taking seriously good care of yourself is crucial to your happiness. This includes what you eat drink, think, how much you move your body, and how much you rest.
- Be observant. When news is stressful, instead of reacting, panicking, or worrying about what could happen, try to step out of the storm long enough to become an observer. Being an observer keeps you in a calm, slightly detached place, which helps you become more solution-oriented.
- Affirm what you want out of life. Take responsibility for what you hold in your mind. Thoughts become things… choose the good ones! Keeping a positive attitude and seeing the glass half full is a great habit.
Avoid Unhealthy Coping Methods
It’s awesome that you’ve decided to take proactive measures in maintaining your mental health—but you also need to recognize unhealthy behaviors, which will have adverse effects on your wellbeing. Dr. Fran explains these less-than-helpful coping methods: “Using drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, and other addictions are a way of not dealing directly with uncomfortable feelings. The person’s anxiety level shoots sky-high when the powerfully unpleasant emotion is felt. Rather than dealing directly with the excruciating discomfort, the person temporarily soothes the pain with a distracting and calming behavior such as eating ice cream or pudding.
Finger nail biting, hand washing, hair-pulling and cutting, skin-picking, tattooing and piercing, etc. all fall under the spectrum of obsessive compulsive behaviors, which is different from obsessive compulsive disorder. The OCD behaviors are rooted in anxiety. The individual feels a tinge of uncomfortable anxiety and the learned behavior (pathological grooming) reduces the anxiety momentarily. It is a way of not dealing directly with uncomfortable feelings. The pathological grooming behaviors then become habits. These habits are best treated with behavior modification techniques.
Some people can handle more stress while others simply can’t because they were born with an anxious temperament. All this is to say that we are each unique and what works for one does not necessarily work for the other. Respect yourself. Be kind to yourself. If you need the help of medication have no shame. No one is perfect. The goal is to acknowledge, validate, and accept ourselves—flaws and all!”