I used to feel alone almost all the time. Even in public.You know that saying “lonely in a crowd”? That was how I felt. Have you ever felt that when you’re by yourself, you just don’t feel content? Even if you’re an introvert like I am, even though you might like to have your own space, sometimes it can feel lonely. Have you ever been out to dinner with friends, a family gathering or hanging out in the break room at work, but you just feel like you can’t connect with people? Sometimes it can feel like you just don’t resonate with what they’re talking about, or you feel like maybe they don’t get you.
I know for me, it felt as if the people I was surrounding myself with, the places I would go to and the activities I would do for fun, just didn’t seem to make sense anymore. It felt like my life was on repeat and everything looked grey through my eyes. Has that ever happened to you? Where you start to look at every day as mundane, boring, lonely. You might be asking yourself; “is this all there is?” or maybe you know that there is a different way of being, but you’re just not sure what it is yet.
It had even got to the point for me, where I wasn’t connecting with my partner like we had been before. I didn’t enjoy my job and I didn’t feel like I had any friends I could call or talk with about how I was feeling. We just weren’t that close and I didn’t want it to feel awkward or to burden someone with that. So I started to go online and use social media to distract me, to make me feel as if I was less alone. It was easier than having to pick up the phone and have a real conversation.
Connecting in person
I thought that I was more connected to people because at any time of day or night, I could see the latest thing my Facebook friends were up to, or instantly sms and snapchat just about anyone. What I didn’t realise though, is how much distance I was actually creating between myself and the people I was wanting to connect with. Think about it. How many of your Facebook friends have you actually spoken to in person in the last month? The last year? How many of those friends do you feel close enough to that you could call up and ask for help?
When I finally realised that what I was doing, wasn’t working anymore, I plucked up the courage to talk to someone about it. As my friend sat on my couch drinking tea, she listened quietly to me for some time. When I finally stopped talking, she was silent, considering what I’d told her, and as if she was trying to find the right words. She said “Well, have you noticed that this is the first time in months that you’ve reached out to me to catch up and talk? I know you’re busy and I’ve got the kids, so it can be hard to find the time, but, I’m right here you know. All you’ve got to do it pick up the phone.” I was a little taken aback. But she had a point. Then she went on “Also, instead of sitting at home feeling miserable on the couch, why not go out and do something that you enjoy? Maybe even make some new friends?”. She left me pondering that question and we promised to catch up again soon.
The thing is, I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing. I didn’t know what was fun anymore. The thought of making new friends felt scary and like a lot of work. Not only that, but I didn’t really know why I was feeling this way. On the surface it looked like I was content with life, but inside I felt stuck. I knew there had to be a way out of this loneliness, so I decided to take my friends advice and do the opposite of what I had been doing.
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Breaking the ice
I figured that she was right about me sitting at home feeling lonely, when I could be doing something different and meeting new people. Since I really didn’t know what was fun for me anymore, I started brainstorming. I wrote down all the things that I used to enjoy doing, the activities that I had always wanted to do but hadn’t yet tried, and everything else I could think of that I might enjoy.
I called up my friend and invited her out! This was a massive step for me. Each week I made it a date with myself to tick off something from that list. Sometimes I would invite other people with me. Sometimes I would meet new people there. I discovered so many fun things, and some others that I probably wouldn’t do too many times. Either way, even if I felt like I was out of my comfort zone, I had so much fun! Even just the experience of trying something new, whether you 100% enjoyed the activity or not, can have benefits you might not have thought about.
For example, now, whenever I meet people, I ask them what they do for fun. I do this because it helps me to feel more relaxed when I’m talking with strangers, and it also helps them to actually think about something fun, and that puts a smile on their face. I have found that when I start off with this, instead of asking “What do you do for work?” or talking about the weather, most people will start talking passionately about something they enjoy. It’s so great because it means that I get to know more about them and we can both have an interesting conversation. As an introvert, I don’t feel like I’m the one doing all the talking, and often we will find things we both like to do for fun, or that we’d like to do in the future. The more I did this, I noticed how much more engaged in the conversations I became, and how much more I was feeling connected to the people I spoke with. Give it a go the next time you’re unsure about approaching someone and watch what happens!
How do you want to feel?
OK so I know that question sounds silly. When someone asked me that for the first time, I thought “well DUH, I don’t want to feel alone”. Until the person pointed out that “not alone” is not a feeling, it’s a not-feeling. So how did I want to feel? I thought about it and realised that I wanted to feel like I belonged. I wanted to feel confident. I wanted to feel connected and present with people. So have a think about how you would rather feel? The key to this, is that when you’re focusing so much on how you don’t want to feel, you actually tend to start feeling that way. Instead, you want to turn that around and start focusing on how you would like to feel. Create a picture in your mind of what that looks like for you. How are you standing and breathing. What are you saying to yourself, hearing or seeing? The more positive pictures you can create for how you want to feel, the easier it becomes to actually start to feel that way.
Another way you can do this, is to look for examples of those positive emotions in your environment. This can help you create a picture that’s really clear in your mind. For me, I was trying to figure out how to be more present with people. I often found myself over-thinking or trying to analyse what to say next, and sometimes that would get in the way of building a genuine connection. I was hanging out with my friend one day and watching her kids play at the park when it struck me. Right there in front of me, was the best example I could ask for in how to connect. It was a public park with other parents and children. All the parents and guardians were staying in the social groups that they had arrived with. The kids on the other hand, were mingling and playing without the same boundaries as the adults.
Do you remember when you were little? When everything was so exciting and new? I watched the kids getting out there and experiencing everything! They’d jump, and spin and climb. They’d fall and get up, giggle and tickle, swing on the swings and chase each other with squeals of delight. So present in each moment, as if they were living fully in their emotions without a thought going through their heads. If they wanted to play with others, they’d play. If they wanted to play on their own, they would. Either way, there was no hesitation to just be curious and play. I found it easy to get into my playful self when I was around kids. Some people find it easier when they come home to their excited puppy. Other people feel it when they’re out in nature, hiking in the mountains or playing in the ocean waves at the beach. Where do you feel the most at ease in yourself, most likely to play?
Step by step
I know that it can feel easy to read how to do something, but actually doing it can feel challenging in the beginning. I know for me, when I was feeling stuck in loneliness, the thought of connecting in person, discovering what I did for fun and learning how to be present and relax into social situations, seemed too far away from where I was at. It felt overwhelming to even start. So I just decided to take it one step at a time, and focus on the very next step that was right in front of my nose. Back then, that step was reaching out to my friend more often, just to catch up and connect in person. Over time that step grew into trying new activities and writing a list of what I might like to do for fun.
The key is to start small enough that you feel you could do that step for a very long time without burning out or feeling overly-stressed about it. It needs to be just uncomfortable enough that it’s outside your comfort zone, but just comfortable enough that you can keep doing it without negative stress. Different people might have different starting points. You might be ahead of where I was, and maybe you already know what you like to do for fun, but you’re looking for some ways to start conversations or connect with people in person. Maybe your first step is doing the internal work of focusing on how you want to feel and learning what that might look like. It could be that your first step is simply picking up the phone to talk to someone. Whatever that step is for you, that’s all that you need to focus on. Take it step by step, little by little, and before you know it, you might even be having fun!
That’s what happened for me. The more I kept on doing the little steps each day, the easier it became to keep going. These days I don’t feel lonely. I am happy to be alone in my own company some days, and other days I get to enjoy being in the moment with the people I love. I’ve discovered so many things to do for fun, and I’m sure I’ll keep having more adventures! The best part is, I don’t feel like I did anything drastic. All I did was keep my attention on the very next step in front of me. One at a time. Anyone can do this, so why not give it a try.