In the last thirty years reports of feeling lonely in the US have doubled. In many countries, including Australia, more people live on their own than ever before. The elderly are isolated by illness and frailty, many far from family. Part of the downside of aging is the increasing regularity friends names appear in Death and Funeral Notices.
Some lonely people of mature years, adopt a daily ritual of reading the obits – who’s checked out and at what age? How many 90 year olds have succumbed? At 85, what are the chances of surviving another 10 years? Is it worth the effort, feeling increasingly isolated, maybe desperate? The few friends left, the ones who understand the era you’ve lived through and you, may be your only family.
Loneliness saps strength, brings feelings of hopelessness, of worthlessness. It isn’t only the elderly who suffer this malady: it appears at any age. Having youth and strength on your side, does make it easier to get out and join a group of like-minded people. But most folk are well enough to ring a friend, go to a movie, or watch one at home. Of course, if you’re craving company, longing to share your deepest feelings, to validate your existence, being alone at a movie can be a dispiriting experience.
You may be sleeping badly. This brings apathy, saps your energy, increases the risk of colds and depression. Seek the help of your family doctor, psychologist or sleep expert to help alleviate the situation. A gentle walk in the fresh air during the day is possible for everyone but the most feeble, preparing your body for rest. A busy mind can also disturb sleep; try to put your worries aside at night. Relaxation at bedtime can help enormously. Many CDs are available: you’re bound to find one that suits your taste.
Being with friends doesn’t always remedy your loneliness. The intimate friendship one craves, to be loved, cherished and made feel special, is not always possible. Above all, don’t waste time and energy interacting with people who, under the guise of friendship, make snide comments about your appearance, opinions, or philosophy. Life is too short for tolerating such behaviour. These people may say their negative hurtful, remarks are for your own good – often, jealousy drives them.
Overcoming loneliness is about the quality of your interactions, not the quantity. A few good friends are worth dozens of insincere ones. And it isn’t only about friends. When you are feeling low, try some diversions to improve the situation – play your favourite music, lose yourself in a good book, take a long, perfumed bath with candles. Emerge like Cleopatra, ready to conquer the world.
One can feel especially lonely after loss of a partner, a job, retirement, or on festive holidays. Moving to be closer to one’s family doesn’t always help. Busy with their own lives, you may see them less often than expected.
One good remedy for most problems life throws our way, even the most diabolical, is laughter. Getting together and sharing a joke can make even the worst situation bearable. A good laugh/comedy lifts our spirits, spurs our immune system into action and generally contributes to our well-being.
Develop some strategies to deal with your disappointment and negative feelings. Every time you’re lonely and downhearted, remind yourself: ‘This too will pass.’ Do things you’ve always meant to do – join a walking or writers group, take up bridge or tennis, have those singing lessons you’ve promised yourself. Achieving unfulfilled goals can spur you on to bigger and better projects – and less loneliness.
Feeling isolated and lonely may lead to depression. If it continues, seek medical help. Your family may not know how to deal with this. Telling you to buck up or not drop your bundle adds guilt to your unhappiness. Beware of negative guessing when you’re in a low mood. You think, Why’s Sonia so unfriendly? Must be something I’ve said or done. Another person experiences Sonia’s puzzling behaviour and guesses, rightly, she’s going through a rough patch, and needs support.
Be open to new friends and different options: it may surprise you how quickly beautiful things can happen. Join a book club, study a language, sit in a seaside café and write poetry. If you’re feeling isolated, depressed and alone, don’t follow the natural reaction to hide. Push yourself, go to a party, speak to people you don’t know. With action comes energy. Sharing common interests can turn a dull evening into a memorable one, bring new friends and open up all sorts of possibilities.
Add your thoughts to mine on ways to diminish loneliness. And good luck!