As someone who’s gotten a job in a new country or moved recently, you might go through life living away from family or friends for months or even years. It’s in times like these, that you either find yourself establishing support systems in the new place or succumbing to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Being an international student in Canada and staying away from family for most of the year, I have had my fair share of loneliness. But thankfully, early on in the past three years I was able to overcome loneliness with a wonderful Canadian support system comprising of my roommate and her amazing family.
However, this summer when I moved to Jakarta for an internship, not only did culture shock make a comeback but loneliness reared its ugly head as well. Since I was to be living in Indonesia only for a few months, it became hard to establish stable support systems and for the first time, I was completely by myself. I still made friends, but there were times when being alone led to a sense of loneliness that became overwhelming to handle. So I decided to catalog my journey from loneliness to overcoming loneliness, in 10 steps that could help you:
1. Mum always said, “Brush thy teeth, clean thy nose and wash thy face.”
Although good words cool more than cold water, sometimes you need the cold water to jolt you back to life. There have been times where I was too tired or emotionally drained to think happy thoughts and sometimes a cold water shower was all I needed to bring me back to my senses. If you can’t take a shower, an easier alternative is just brushing your teeth, cleaning your nose and washing your face with cold water instead. It sounds silly, but it works for everything from loneliness to being physically exhausted.
2. Put your shine on.
You might have heard this one before, but putting on that red lipstick or treating yourself to that expensive Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino, will pull you through that one unexpected day of loneliness. Being alone can make it seem like you are lonely, but sometimes it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. So doing something for yourself will help you break out of a vicious spiral of negativity on days where ‘nothing seems to be going right.’
3. Jump on your bed – but don’t break it!
There was one day, not too long ago, where I had a bad day at work and the next day all I wanted to do was stay in bed and sulk it out. It was easier to feel sorry for myself than getting out of bed. But after realizing that feeling sorry wasn’t going to change anything and not particularly wanting to be productive either, I decided to have some fun with my ‘bed situation’ – I jumped! And it improved my mood significantly, by the end of it I was laughing at how depressed I had been. As adults, we often forget what it’s like to be a kid and the simple joys that come with it – from jumping on the bed to eating a Popsicle on a sunny day. Going back to a childlike state of ‘not thinking’ has helped me get through slumps of prolonged loneliness. Here’s a short article from Psychology Today that is worth reading on the subject.
4. How would you advise a friend to go about overcoming loneliness – and then do it!
Sometimes we feel lonely and try to isolate ourselves and end up making it worse. The isolation we seek can be psychological or physical. It is in times like these, that we need to remember; if it was a friend or a loved one, how would you react to their situation? You would do everything to help them feel alright again – so why not practice self-love when we need it the most? We forget, all too often, about loving ourselves on the good as well as the bad days. It is in times like these, where you need to give yourself a big hug and go about looking at your situation like how you would advice a friend to overcome it and then just do it! I remember in the midst of writing this article advising others on how to overcome loneliness–I had forgotten to take my own advice.
5. Sometimes all you need is a good cry.
Most of the times, we hold all our emotions and fears in, much like a reservoir. However, even the biggest of reservoirs can only hold a certain threshold of water. Unless we let the flood gates open once in a while, the dam is bound to crack. Crying it out will give a release to all that pressure that has been building up. After a good cry, you would have taken away the emotional frustrations and can look at things in a more level-headed way.
6. Meditate your fears away.
All too often, we forget that clearing your head of thoughts, random or negative; can help one look at things clearly. Whenever I am stressed about an exam or feeling lonely, I do Yognidra or meditation, and it really helps me clear my head of all thoughts (mundane or negative). With a clear head, I not only feel lighter but also ready to take on the next challenge, whatever it maybe.
7. Call up a friend and reminiscence about happy times.
This works for everyone who is living away from friends and family. Skype and Facetime, have been the greatest inventions of our time. They allow us to interact with our family and friends like we do on a daily basis. So take advantage of your lonely time to call up your best friend or your cousin and just have a good laugh about that family video you made or that time you prank called your friends. And while reminiscing about the past, don’t forget to make future plans to have more fun times together.
8. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT have Caffeine!
Now this might seem trivial, but even a modest amount of caffeine can actually affect depression and anxiety. Caffeine affects sleep, which in turn affects your mood. At times, when I am having a bad day, instead of having my regular cup of tea or coffee in the office, I take advantage of being in a tropical country that sells fruits all year round. And more importantly, near my work place there is a juice lady who makes freshly squeezed juices from the most tropical fruits possible – the best I’ve tried till now is a strawberry-guava combo that absolutely turned my mood around. If you don’t live in a tropical country with its own juice lady, I suggest finding a local grocery store that you can walk to during your lunch time to buy some fruits.
9. Eat healthy.
Eating healthy is a well-known cure for feeling good about yourself. I can’t stress enough reasons why you need to eat healthy. It is a necessary condition to living a loneliness-free happy life. Cooking your own food can also provide a much needed escape from feeling down. When I’ve had a long day, I push myself to cooking a full meal and not scrounging on eating – it helps me feel good about myself. For feeling extra good, I recommend sharing a photo on social media sites like Instagram or Facebook, it will get you likes from friends and who doesn’t love those?
10. “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people don’t just shoot their husbands.”
– Legally Blonde (2001)
Exercise is important as it produces happiness hormones known as Endorphins. They are a benefit of regular physical activity and are known to improve self-esteem. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine, and you tend to feel ‘euphoric’ after a good swim or an hour spent at the gym. So if you are feeling down and can’t go to the gym, try taking a walk in the local park or have a little ‘Just Dance’ session by yourself.
According to Dr. Guy Winch, renowned psychologist, we sustain psychological injuries more often than physical ones and these come in the form of failure, rejection or loneliness. And if we ignore them, they can impact our lives in dramatic ways. It doesn’t occur to us that we need to practice emotional first aid just like we practice physical first aid when we get a cut. We tend to say, ‘Oh you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” And as Dr. Winch says, can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg; “Oh, just walk it off, it’s all in your leg.” We need to close this gap between our physical and psychological health. Loneliness creates deep wounds, distorts perceptions and affects our thinking. Research says that loneliness won’t just make you miserable, it will kill you. Chronic loneliness increases your likelihood of an early death by 14 percent –you can see how vulnerable loneliness will make you. So I hope you take these steps and practice emotional first aid on your loneliness, because a world with less lonely people will be a happier world to live in.