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Practicing mindfulness and presence
Given that it shares the same root word as “alone,” it’s easy to assume loneliness is just the absence of contact with other people.
As Cacioppo explains in his book (Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick). loneliness is not merely a lack of human contact, but rather a lack of meaningful connection with other humans.
It isn’t about the quantity of relationships, but rather the quality. This is why it’s possible to feel lonely even when you’re in a romantic relationship or have a large group of acquaintances.
To start, when we talk about the “pain” of loneliness, that’s more than just a metaphor. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists have observed that the experience of social rejection activates the same region of the brain that “registers emotional responses to physical pain” . Being socially isolated might not be as imminently dangerous as a cut or burn, but the consequences can be just as serious over the long term.
1. Don’t Blame Your Social Skills
When you’re feeling lonely, it’s easy to blame it on your lack of social skills. In general, though, a lack of social skills isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s that “feeling lonely makes us less likely to employ the skills we have” .
accordingly to the book, loneliness is something that can happen to any of us. It doesn’t mean there’s anything weird or disordered about you – it’s an experience common to all humans. What matters, rather, is how you respond to loneliness, whether or not you use it as a catalyst to improve the depth of your connection with others.
Simply telling people to “connect more with others” isn’t very helpful on its own. This is especially true because each person’s genes are different.
Therefore, don’t assume that you need to be super outgoing and have lots of social interactions to feel socially satisfied. You might well thrive with a small group of close friends whom you see once a week. On the other hand, your genes might predispose you to need more frequent social connection, and that’s fine too.
In general, we need a healthy mix of the above types. However, note that this isn’t universally true.
What matters, again, is that the types and level of social connection you have match your genetic preferences.
Once you’ve resolved to become more connected with others, Cacioppo recommends finding opportunities “to get small doses of the positive sensations that come from positive social interactions”.
Each positive interaction you have gives you further evidence that you can connect with others. This can then help you develop the confidence you need for deeper, more vulnerable forms of connection later on.
One of the lowest-risk ways to get started is through volunteering , positive social interactions that can boost your confidence.
When you start reaching out to people not every interaction will be a success. maybe its a small talk Or the passerby you smile at on the street may stare at the ground and keep moving. Interactions that turn out this way don’t mean you’re a failure, or that no one wants to talk to you. As Cacioppo says, “A million and one factors that have absolutely nothing to do with you can influence people’s moods and reactions” .So don’t use a couple of bad reactions as evidence that you can’t connect with people. Just move on and keep trying.
Throughout Loneliness , Cacioppo stresses that loneliness is not a mental disorder . At the same time, however, chronic loneliness can put you at risk for depression , and social anxiety can make it harder to connect with people in the first place.
Therefore, I encourage you to seek the services of a mental health professional if you’re struggling with loneliness.
Remember that whatever you’re struggling with, loneliness or otherwise, you don’t have to do it alone.
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