The big L word.
And no, not love.
In fact, we’re all so terrified of loneliness that we often shut the door when we feel it knocking.
“I’m not lonely!”
We admonish those who ask us if we’re feeling okay and insist that we’ve enjoyed spending our evenings alone eating microwaved lasagne. The cat actually makes for perfectly good company.
But the reality is that often, we’re a lot lonelier than we let on.
It’s also perfectly normal to admit that you’re feeling this way. It doesn’t single you out as being unworthy of company or in some other way failing at life.
On top of that, the first step to actually doing something about your loneliness is to realize and acknowledge when you’re experiencing it.
But as we tend to sweep loneliness under the rug, you might need a little nudge in the right direction. These 8 signs tend to show that you’re feeling lonelier in life than you let on:
1) You’re exhausted
It doesn’t always make sense since you might be the type to find socializing draining as well, but you just wake up tired and go to bed equally fatigued.
We’re social creatures, and even though you might consider yourself a hardcore introvert who likes their alone time, you still likely need a little socialization thrown into the mix to feel your best.
You might not be linking poor sleep to feeling lonely, but if you need some convincing, this 2020 review of 27 studies concluded that feelings of loneliness did indeed contribute to poor sleep quality, and vice versa.
Loneliness acts as a stressor on the body which has a negative impact on our ability to settle down and get a good night of sleep.
2) You’re obsessed with material goods
What’s the next best thing when you’re not getting your fill of human connection?
How could you ever feel lonely whilst sitting (alone) in a room filled with shiny new things, all of the price tags still attached?
You can literally drown your sorrows in a pile of new clothes or gadgets.
A new item gets picked up in store or delivered to your front door, cleansing you of any anguish and giving you a brief and bittersweet dopamine hit.
Of course, this doesn’t last long as the novelty of the new item wears off and you’re reminded that you’re alone and a bit broke (having spent your paycheck on unnecessary things).
3) Netflix is your new best friend
Your next favorite way to get the looming thoughts of dying alone out of your head is to binge-watch 14 hours of television.
Sometimes, you don’t even enjoy what you’re watching but you stick it out anyway since the tv drowns out your thoughts and gives you something to do.
‘Are you still watching?’
You often find yourself glaring at the little on-screen pop-up and end up chiding Netflix for judging the fact that you’ve sat through 4 episodes straight on a Monday night.
4) You wrinkle up in the shower
You know how when you spend too long in water, your hands wrinkle up like prunes?
This is a pretty regular occurrence for you now.
Whilst feeling lonely and depressed can also lead to a lack of personal grooming, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re spending hours in the bath or shower. Washing away your loneliness.
Submerging ourselves in warm water is thought to be a replacement for a lack of social warmth that we would otherwise achieve through socialization.
Equally, you have nothing better to do than talk to your rubber duck and slide around the tub like a water rat.
5) Who needs socializing when you have social media?
Those gnawing worries about how, if something happened to you, no one would find out for weeks are wiped clean by the many hours you spend scrolling through your feeds.
It’s a double-edged sword as the more you saturate yourself with pictures of other people posting pictures of themselves surrounded by people, all laughing and smiling and having a great time, the more alone you feel.
At the same time, you can’t help but continue to ogle at these individuals and their happy-go-lucky individuals.
Plus, if you’re feeling really down and lonely, you know that a round of pimple-popping YouTube videos are bound to brighten your evening.
6) You’re eating your feelings
On top of quenching your feelings with mass consumerism, you’re also reaching for the extra snacks without really tasting what you’re putting in your mouth.
Or you’re maybe conscious of the fact that you’re indulging a little more than usual, but you let yourself off nonetheless.
It’s not like you’re spending your evening doing anything else, so you might as well eat most of the Costco chocolate cake you picked up on the way home.
Cue a vicious cycle whereby you start to feel bad about your body owing to the extra pounds you’ve packed on so end up declining invites to socialize and sequestering yourself at home (with the company of more snacks) instead.
7) Or losing weight
On the other side of the scale (quite literally) is replacing social functions with a frantic desire to control your diet and exercise in a rigorous fashion.
Like how in the pandemic, many of us slipped into the fittest bodies we’d yet to inhabit.
Not me personally. I was in the eating-my-feelings category.
But plenty of people took the lack of social contact and the extra hours as a time to count calories and cut down on sugar, and partake in the many fitness videos filling our feed.
This might also be subconscious; you might be the type to completely lose your appetite when followed by a dark cloud of loneliness nipping at your heels.
Either way, sudden weight loss and a suppressed appetite can just as much be a sign of impending feelings of loneliness.
8) You’re constantly a bit under the weather
As it turns out, loneliness doesn’t just feel bad. Our bodies actually perceive it as such a stressor that it weakens our immune systems and increases bodily inflammation.
So you might be sitting at home, wearing your new clothes (tags still attached), eating/not eating your feelings, with an incredibly sniffly nose.
If you find yourself unable to shake a cold that just seems to keep coming back no matter what you do, this might well be an indicator of your body reacting to feeling lonely by a fight-or-flight state of being which weakens the immune system.
What should you do if you feel lonely?
If you’ve read over the above points and are feeling a rising fear of the fact that you might be far lonelier than you’ve let yourself believe, don’t panic.
For starters, there are millions of other people sitting in their own homes, feeling just as lonely as you are.
But I know that assimilating yourself with those other lonely people probably does little to ease your worry. They’re not exactly the best group to make you feel less alone.
But once you’ve taken a brave first step in acknowledging that you feel alone, all of the next stages involve doing the daunting and putting yourself out there.
Extreme feelings of loneliness that filter into depression or other mental health issues should always be discussed with a professional.
But as for what you can do at home:
- Reach out to loved ones and let them know how you’re feeling.
- Check out these tips for making new adult friendships.
- Consider joining a community of some sort in your area. Maybe a sport, book club or volunteering session.
- Journal your feelings to get a better idea of what you’re feeling.
- Start saying “yes” to invites that come your way, even if you don’t feel that way inclined.
- Don’t skip the opportunity to make small talk with friends and strangers (even if it feels awkward) and start chit-chatting where possible.
Don’t forget: even though it might not feel like it, almost everyone goes through periods of loneliness. You’ve in no way been singled out to feel this way for any personal reasons.
And whilst that makes it no less tiring or worrisome, managing to acknowledge your loneliness is the first step.
Next comes gradually using some of these tools to pick yourself back up and get yourself out there, whilst being extra kind and considerate to yourself.
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