Is it Loneliness or Cognitive Distortion?

The experience of loneliness has been studied worldwide and many researchers conclude that loneliness is spreading. In an age where people are more connected than ever via smartphones, and have unparalleled methods of communicating with each other—citizens the world over report feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s tempting to lean into the loneliness and throw a pity party, or flee from the feelings and never address them. But that may only cause the feelings to linger longer. Here are some steps to combating loneliness and feelings of isolation.

1) Honor Your Feelings

Loneliness can be daunting and isolating in and of itself. It’s taboo to talk about, which makes it everyone’s least favorite subject. But it’s universal. We all feel it at various points in our lives. And sometimes loneliness can be reoccurring. Here one day, gone the next. Some people may experience loneliness more than others. Studies find that introverts experience loneliness a lot. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings of loneliness and respect the fact that you feel that way. Don’t loathe loneliness, it makes it stick around longer.

2) Test Yourself: is the Loneliness You’re Experiencing Warranted?

This may sound odd, but loneliness may sometimes be a manifestation of our thought patterns as opposed to being caused by our real world experiences. People have even reported feeling lonely in crowds. If our loneliness is rooted more so in thought patterns rather than real world experiences, we may be experiencing cognitive distortion (CD). CD is a fancy term that just means your brain is twisting facts that cause you to have a different perspective than you would if your brain weren’t distorting the situation.

There are several different ways our brain cognitively distorts our experiences including discounting the positive, over-generalization, and all-or-nothing thinking, to name a few. For example: if you’ve recently received three or more invitations to hang out with friends, the one time you don’t receive an invitation could cause cognitive distortion in the form of discounting the positive. This one instance of not getting invited (the negative) gets highlighted while the instances of receiving invitations (the positive) is forgotten about. Then loneliness starts to creep in, even though you have friends, even though you just saw them a day or so prior. Sometimes taking a moment to ask, am I really lonely or is my brain hard at work distorting this situation? can help temper feelings of loneliness with real, concrete examples that refute the brain’s conclusions.

3) Phone a Friend

If possible, call a loved one when experiencing loneliness. A good way to combat loneliness and possible cognitive distortion is talking to someone else who has a different perspective. A friend or family member can be a physical presence while you’re riding the isolating wave of loneliness. And if the situation is being distorted, a friend or family member can easily assure you that you have a support network that cares about you, even if they aren’t always available.

4) Pet a Pet

Humans and animals forge amazing connections! That’s why dog-parents are on the rise. Sometimes it’s easier to connect with animals because the expectation is minimal. You don’t have to fret over what to talk about, you don’t have to worry about what to wear or how to look. Pets accept us for who we are. If you experience social anxiety, or anxiety of any kind, and human interaction isn’t always the most rewarding, animals are lovable little creatures who won’t judge us…too much.

5) Volunteer

Volunteering may sound a little less intuitive. If you’re feeling lonely, depression may accompany it, and putting yourself out there while feeling depressed may not sound in any way attractive. But altruism helps loneliness and depression. Volunteering is not only a great way of giving back to the community, it’s also a way to connect with people on a no-strings-attached, anxiety-free basis.

6) Do Something

The most important advice many researchers give is to do something about your loneliness. Exercise is the most commonly touted advice, but not everyone likes to exercise, and not everyone can contrive the motivation out of feelings of loneliness and/or depression. Other things you can do while working up to that run are dancing, crafting, cooking, taking a shower, anything other than continuing to sit in loneliness. Once you’ve acknowledged and honored how you feel, do something about it. Take out some markers and start coloring, journal about all the cool and exciting things you’re going to do once you get out of this funk, pick up a book to read, research a new recipe or trick to try on your skateboard. When feeling isolated, it can feel like the world isn’t for us. But I encourage everyone to take the hard step of doing things to regulate your feelings and restore normalcy. Loneliness doesn’t have to last.

And always remember…

parks and recreation chris traeger quote
Parks & Recreation S4E12

The Juncture Mag staff

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