How to deal with feelings of loneliness according to a therapist

New York based-writer Molly O’Brien shares some tips for her therapist for feeling alone, even when surrounded by people. 

I live in New York, one of the most densely populated areas on planet earth. There are people everywhere, all the time. And that’s part of its appeal! There’s always someone to see or an experience to behold or a social interaction to feel anxious about. But with any extreme, there exists a flip side laden with consequences.

In this case, in a city where space and solitude are the rarest commodities of them all, New York is one of the most susceptible places in the world to experience compounding loneliness. Ironic? Yes. But surprising? Not really.

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So what brings about feelings of loneliness?

Is it solely where we’ve located ourselves, geographically? Or the living conditions that the city allows for? Because it’s not just New York that’s conducive for loneliness to happen, it’s common in a host of global cities. Especially ones known for their transient nature, designed for its denizens coming in and out at a whim.

The average apartment size in New York is notoriously tiny. I could practically fry an egg from my bed in the first studio I lived in. And unsurprisingly, this can contribute to our wellbeing. Research shows that the size of our digs can directly impact how we feel: the smaller the household, the lonelier it tends to be. Additionally, people who rent or own a home tend to feel more alone than those with a mortgage.

Roughly one-third of New York City’s population lives alone, but the assumption that living alone leads to loneliness is often misguided. It’s the quality, not the quantity of social interactions that best predicts loneliness. What matters is not whether we live alone, but whether we feel alone.

Advice from a therapist

But there’s a lot more to it than where we live and who we live with. I love both living in New York and living alone, but am not immune to bouts of jarring loneliness, something that can feel crushing, futile and devastating all at once. My therapist is particularly sage when it comes to matters such as this.

Seek IRL interactions

After speaking with her during one recent session, I gleaned some vital takeaways. The most important lesson I learnt from her was to strive to make meaningful connections, because loneliness isn’t always about being physically alone. The constant barrage of curated content we see on our social media channels, the miniature squares that tell the stories of the lives of people who we follow, has stunted our ability to connect with people in a way that really resonates with us.

Although we may have thousands of Facebook friends or spend an inordinate amount of time on Instagram, not engaging with these people on a personal level that actually means something, can directly influence our self-esteem and the way we feel about ourselves. This digital form of connecting lacks the intimacy of speaking to someone and seeing their reactions and gestures.

Strive for balance

Another very important (albeit ubiquitous) piece of advice she dispensed is to be acutely aware of is how much balance you have in your life. We live in an individualistic, results-driven culture, in which we frequently prioritise ourselves and our success over developing and maintaining relationships. Without maintaining a balanced life between work, family, and friends, we can self-inflict these feelings, convincing ourselves that we have no one to do life with. Which is bleak.

Find a hobby

Outside of work, what is it that you like to do? A surprising number of adults will find that they don’t have a craft they enjoy. Joining or starting a team (of any kind) will allow you to connect with others who share a common interest. This, I have found, leads you to people who are like-minded and share similar hobbies. Personally, I like puzzles.

Focus on your health

Yes, I know, it’s an obvious one, but little reminders can never hurt. Move your body even if it feels like a herculean effort. Fuel yourself with food that makes you feel good.

Seek professional counsel

Lastly, why don’t you speak to a professional? A person who has an unbiased, objective opinion on how to get through some pretty tricky concepts. And remember that like everything, loneliness is ephemeral. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “No feeling is final.”