This past week when I read that the Surgeon General of the United States declared loneliness an epidemic, I thought to myself “hey, where ya been?!” and in a split second was transported back to a time when I was unhappily married to a man other than my husband of 26 years.
Shortly after the ex and I tied the knot, I began feeling incredibly lonely…so much so that it started to concern me. I mean here we were, newly married, allegedly in love, and yet I never felt lonelier than when we were together… so I decided to talk about it with him. His response? “I’m happy, what’s wrong with you?”
As a lifelong advocate for mental health and proponent of therapy, having had a tumultuous, PTSD-worthy childhood, I decided to get help, even if he didn’t want to. And that was the beginning of the end of our short-lived marriage…when I realized that there was a big difference between being alone and feeling lonely. I mean, hell, if I was going to feel profound loneliness with a life partner--and BTW guilty about it-- I’d rather actually be alone and guilt-free!
“We sometimes associate “being alone” with “being lonely,” and it is important to realize that there is a difference between those two,” says Outpatient Therapist, Sharon Melin, in an article for an article for Nystrom & Associates, Being Lonely and Being Alone: What’s the Difference? "Being “alone” is a physical state where you are physically by yourself. Being “lonely” is an emotional state where you are feeling alone or disconnected from others – even when they’re right next to you. Sometimes we are happy to be by ourselves, and sometimes we wish for the company of others.”
While I’m tempted to go on a rant about why it took a global pandemic for the medical community and government to place mental health among the hierarchy of values in this country, I’d rather focus on what we can do to help ourselves and each other with loneliness. Here is what Nystrom & Associates, a group of mental healthcare providers suggests:
What to Avoid When You Are Feeling Lonely
Drinking alcohol by yourself
Utilizing excess screen time (TV, phone, tablet) as a substitute for social activities
Escaping your feelings through other substances like non-prescribed medications
Practices to Help Improve Mental Health and Curb Loneliness
Learning to accept ourselves as we are is a daily practice. There are habits we can implement to work on bettering our relationship within, like:
Recognizing your internal critic: Call yourself out when a negative voice takes over. Recognize the thought, then let it go. Replace it with a positive alternative.
Practicing self-care: This includes the basics like taking care of your physical and mental needs, but it also includes fulfilling promises you make to yourself. Did you tell yourself that you’d do the dishes and pay that bill? Do it. Every time you fulfill a promise (no matter how small) you build more trust and confidence within.
Acknowledging where you’re at: Make peace with your past and come to terms with your current reality. Part of accepting ourselves is taking note of how/why we got to where we are and what we can do to change it.
Hopefully gone are the days when, if you felt lonely or blue and shared how you were feeling with family or friends, it was suggested that you “go buy yourself a new lipstick…or take a hot bath…join a book club or snap out of it…like you were simply weak and a whiner.
"We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It's like hunger or thirst. It's a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing," Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General, told The Associated Press in an interview. "Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that's not right. That's why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing."
It's about freakin’ time!!!