I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.
Do You Feel Lonely?
A recent survey of 10,000 adults rang out a scary truth: more than three in five Americans are lonely, with more and more people feeling like they have no friends, are left out or not understood.
Loneliness. Even the word itself hangs like a threat. No one is immune, whether you are a boomer, Gen Z or anything in between,. Almost everyone experiences it at some point in their lives, if not in everyday moments. Do we fight it? Do we embrace it? Do we just pretend it’s not there and carry on with our lives hoping that it’ll tire of us and find another victim? There’s a stark difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Solitude creates room for self reflection, self improvement and self love. Being alone is a choice, not a desperate situation.
Loneliness, on the other hand, can be so detrimental that it physically affects your health and well-being. It can strike even when you’re surrounded by people. You would think that our constant connection with social media might help relieve some of our loneliness, but in fact, 73% of very heavy social media users considered themselves lonely, as compared with 52% of light users.
So what can we do?
In a sense, loneliness is a very rational reaction to the world that barely nurtures us. You aren’t crazy for feeling it! You aren’t alone in the struggle either.
Social media can be a wonderful source of community and information but it also replaces friends with followers, support with likes, and beauty with filters.
When it comes to education, are we ever taught how to take care of ourselves or are we repeatedly told that achievement is the only way to happiness? Healthy communication, meditation, self reflection, these are tools that we acquire as a response to loneliness, they are not readily given to us as kids nor are they encouraged in adults as much as that next promotion at your job.
We have to carve our own ways out of this hole and it’s okay to take your time and do it your own way. Human connection is as important to our health as exercise or eating well, but somehow, it’s become so elusive that we’re afraid to even ask for it. Thankfully, there are simple ways to get to it, and some of us might even be overlooking the ones we already have!
Power Tip 1: Take advantage of loneliness
It can be a devastating time to feel like you aren’t understood by anyone around you. But, it can also be a time where you get to know yourself at depths that other people distract you from. Lovers, friends, family, when they are orbiting our lives, we might end up just serving their needs instead of our own because we know them more than we know ourselves. Or we may love them more than we love ourselves?
The ways we respond to adversity, whether that’s getting fired, getting dumped or even just feeling lonely, helps shape who we are and how we are going to deal with the rest of life, which, spoiler alert, will have its challenges at every corner. You are becoming a stronger, resilient and more adaptable person by dealing with loneliness in healthy ways. Your identity isn’t static, it changes and molds to your surroundings and your internal resolutions to be a better, stronger, more resilient person. So much of our reality is curated by others, whether that’s the media, your peers, your professional experience, and facing loneliness is a time where you can decide for yourself what really matters to you and what doesn’t, and then move forward with that wisdom.
Power Tip 2: Get rid of the stigma in favor of support
You should never feel ashamed for the way you feel. You are an imperfect person in an imperfect world, acting and reacting to whatever is being thrown at you. Most people do everything in their power to avoid these negative feelings, through substances like alcohol, through partying, through retail therapy, even through other people, literally anything that will distract themselves from the fact that their needs aren’t being met. Loneliness is this acute awareness that you want more than life has given you so far and that can be incredibly transformative. It can be the catalyst that forces you to make changes that will lead you to happiness, or at the very least, contentment and purpose. If you can avoid hurting yourself while navigating this terrifying terrain, you should be proud. If you are floating and kind of lost, but you are actively searching for ways to understand yourself and your needs, you should be proud. If you are trying, you should be proud.
Instead of falling into some numbing and destructive patterns, think of ways you can be of service to other people. Maybe life isn’t just about the pursuit of happiness but also, the pursuit of purpose. Having goals, working towards them, taking into consideration other people and how you can better their lives, will fulfill you in ways that partying and instagram can’t. When you’re on that path, you will run into others with the same motivation and clarity, you will create communities that empower you, and from there, you can go anywhere.
Power Tip 3: Take down your guards
Some of us don’t even realize how we’ve projected our emotional unavailability. Examine the ways you push people away or the ways you hold toxic people close to you. Some of us use social media as a crutch when the real world isn’t satisfying enough but the empty connections on apps puts us right back into this cycle of loneliness and disillusionment. Strengthen the connection you have with yourself through meditation and introspection. Then, take that awareness and find people and places that reinforce this sense of self that you’ve worked so hard to get.
There are the obvious socialization settings like volunteer groups, coffee shop meet-ups for creatives, family events, etc. But if that seems overwhelming, striking up one conversation with one person might change our entire perspective. You don’t have to dive head first into a sea of acquaintances to cure your loneliness, you just have to foster optimism. To be hopeful is the antidote and with that, you step out into the world knowing that at any moment, you might meet your new best friend or you might meet yourself in ways you never could have imagined.
Real talk: Find out what’s on the other side of your loneliness because it may surprise you. It may be a stronger you, a more purposeful life, a more genuine relationship. Think of loneliness as more of a lesson than a liability and you might just change the way you feel.
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