5 Coping Tricks to Try If You're Feeling Alone
The world that we live in can be isolating. It’s ironic that we now have so many more ways to connect, from social media to Zoom, but they ultimately can make us feel even more lonely now than we ever have before.
But you aren’t alone.
At PYM, we believe that connection is one of the most important factors that can affect mental health.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with five coping tricks for you to try if you’re not quite feeling like you’ve got the company you’re looking for.
#1) Try A Random Act of Kindness
If you’re feeling isolated, chances are that there are plenty of people around you feeling the same way. One of the best ways to build connections as well as help other people who may also be struggling is by performing random acts of kindness.
Random acts of kindness are great because they are infinitely adaptable. You can spend as much or as little money or time as you want, and many acts of kindness can be done for no money at all. You can even do them anonymously if you’re not the type of person who wants recognition.
Psychologists believe that performing random acts of kindness can have a positive effect on both your physical and mental health. It promotes a sense of internal gratitude, compassion, and empathy, and strengthens our sense of community and connection with the world around us. It also releases neurochemicals (serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, to name just a few) that can help reduce stress and even help with emotional distress.
Even one small act of random kindness can start a chain. Don’t believe us? Trying buying a coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru. Chances are, those people behind you will do the same, or at the very least, pay it forward at some point throughout their day or week. Kindness really does beget kindness, and being the trigger can help you feel much less alone.
Ideas for random acts of kindness to get you started include:
- Attach a few dollars to a vending machine.
- Let someone in front of you in line.
- Compliment a stranger.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter or animal shelter.
- Walk around the block and pick up trash.
- Cook and drop off dinner for a family in need.
- Write a nice note on your sidewalk in chalk.
- Shovel your neighbor’s driveway.
#2) Feel Your Heartbeat
If you’re feeling down, stop and just take a breath. Many people feel lonely due to a lack of physical connection, especially right now. Even for individuals who don’t consider themselves to be “touchy feely,” touch is something that our bodies innately respond to, both physically and emotionally. It makes us feel safe, comforted, and secure. The good news is, you can learn to self-soothe with touch when you start feeling alone.
You can do this by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s “rest and digest” (as opposed to the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system). Our body, thanks to the parasympathetic nervous system, responds similarly to your own touch the same as it would to anyone else’s. It triggers the release of oxytocin, and helps reduce the rates of cortisol in the body.
How people do this varies. Some people like to simply place a hand over their heart so that they can feel their heart beating. Other people place a hand or two on their face, or choose to give themselves a big hug. While it may feel kind of silly at first, try to push aside self-judgement. The benefits of being able to soothe yourself far outweigh any temporary silliness you may feel.
Meditation can be extremely helpful in this regard as well. While spending time with yourself in this way may seem to be counterintuitive, it can help you learn to push aside intrusive thoughts so that you can better understand yourself and why you may be thinking in certain ways and perspectives. It doesn’t take long, even just 5 to 10 minutes is beneficial (especially if you’re a beginner). Mindfulness is an important way to remind yourself that everything passes, even these feelings of loneliness. Every moment we’re alive is another moment we should celebrate, even the uncomfortable moments.
#3) Take a Social Media Break
Although it may initially feel like it is helping you connect and feel less alone, there are some experts who believe that people who spend a larger amount of time on social media also tend to feel lonelier. This of course depends on how you use it, but social media tends to promote a feeling of what’s commonly referred to as FOMO (the fear of missing out). It can also negatively impact sleep patterns and increase distractibility, which makes people more tired during the day and can also make it feel more difficult to really be present in the moment when you are able to be around people.
Social media breaks don’t have to be forever. Try just taking a day off. After that, reevaluate how you feel. If you find yourself feeling less lonely or worried about what people think of you (or what they may be doing without you), extend that break to a week or two.
Remember that this may feel really difficult, especially at first. Social media can easily become like an addiction, so going “cold turkey” can feel the same as trying to quit smoking or any other bad habit.
Prepare your mind ahead of time by using a supplement that can help you manage any anxiousness you may feel about cutting social media out, and find other activities that can take up the time you were using scrolling. You may just find that your day is a lot more productive without instantly opening that social media app by default every time you pickup your phone.
#4) Stop Drinking
Since we’re talking about cutting out potentially harmful habits, we also need to talk about alcohol. It’s often human nature to turn to a drink or other, similar coping mechanisms when we feel stressed, but that doesn’t mean it is a healthy thing to do for yourself in the long-run even if it may feel good temporarily.
Don’t fall into a pattern of using alcohol to help you try to manage your feelings. In the end, while it may ease your discomfort in the short-term, alcohol is a depressant. It not only slows down the entire central nervous system (the part of the body that both organizes and analyzes the information that comes at us on a minute to minute basis), it also leads to a significant decrease in the production of GABA (a neurotransmitter that has been tied to feelings of anxiety and depression) over time.
When you use alcohol to cope with your feelings in place of healthier mechanisms, it can easily become an uncontrollable habit you become dependent on.
That’s not to say that you can’t ever have a drink. Drinking alcohol is completely fine if you are able to do it in moderation. However, if you feel like you’re becoming more and more reliant on alcohol to help get you through feelings of loneliness, it may be time to take a break or seek help.
#5) Get Outside
We’ve all been spending more and more time in our houses lately. While this is part of what is keeping us safe and healthy, it also can be incredibly isolating as we become cut off from the outside world.
A good way to counteract those feelings, while also being able to get a change of scenery, is to get out of the house and into nature. We know through research that exercise is an essential part of supporting our mental health, as well as to keep our bodies healthy and reduce the risk of certain health conditions. But did you know that you can receive those benefits in as little as just 10 to 15 minutes? While it is still recommended that you get 45 to 60 minutes of exercise at least three times a week, don’t feel like it’s not worth it if you can’t dedicate that much time.
Just the simple act of getting outside and changing up your usual scenery can help.
Not only that, but you’ll have the opportunity for plenty of human interaction while you’re outside (if you want to, of course). Just smiling at a neighbor and having them smile back, or having a quick, socially distanced conversation can give you the socialization that you need to help feel more connected with the world around you.
It’s a wonderful world out there, and it takes getting out and experiencing it to remind you of that sometimes.
While feeling lonely is normal from time to time, you don’t have to go through it on your own. We’re all much more connected than we think, even during these times when we feel the most isolated. Lean on your support systems, take care of your body as much as you take care of your mind, and use the coping tricks we discussed today to help ease your discomfort.
PYM is here for you because, ultimately, we’re all in this together. Don’t forget that.