There are many studies that look at loneliness and are finding it is increasingly common and associated with serious health problems. Although social media is designed to connect people (facebook, instagram, twitter, and the like) psychologists and researchers are finding more people are feeling disconnected and lonely than ever.
Cultivating friendships becomes so important as a way to combat loneliness. Dr. Randy Kamen makes numerous suggestions for making friends, here. I have written about strategies in previous posts, here.
I offer a few of the most often cited suggestions:
1. Choose a volunteer activity. One that helps a needy population or is helping solve a societal problem that concerns you will likely be most beneficial to you. Engaging in meaningful work, whether a paid job or volunteer work, can help ease feelings of loneliness and increase feelings of positive well being.
2. Explore support groups. Support groups are usually led by volunteers, typically someone who has benefited from several years of experience in the support group arena. One support group I often refer to is Recovery International (formerly Recovery, Inc.). This group helps it's members with skills to overcome anxiety, depression, and loneliness. You can email the contact person for the Austin, TX area, here. I talk in more detail about this support group in an earlier post, here.
3. Participate in group therapy. Here in Austin, TX we have The Austin Group Psychotherapy Society which provides a convenient website that lists many group therapy opportunities available in the Austin area. Click hereto see the list and description of group therapy experiences available. For readers in other parts of the country, try contacting a licensed psychologist in your nearest city and ask for referrals to group therapy providers. Group therapy is lead by paid professionals. I strongly recommend a professional who is licensed with a mental health certification in your state (licensed psychologist, clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, etc.)
People who feel lonely sometimes are people who have struggled with shyness for most of their lives. Many report feeling awkward in social interactions, feeling unable to converse in a way that helps them connect with others or in a way gains them reciprocal interest. Group therapy, support group participation, and other types of settings which promote conversation between people (MeetUps for example) is one avenue to observe and practice the art of talking to people in a way that garners friendships. Practice may not make perfect but it certainly can help shy and lonely people reach out more effectively.
Sandy Andrews, PhD Psychologist Specializing in CBT South Austin, TX
Yes, even psychologists like to read advice columns. Or at least this one does. My thinking is we need to keep an eye on our competition. Gain a few common sense pointers for those tricky problems that outcome research hasn't studied yet.
My personal favorite is The Washington Post's Carolyn Hax. I like the way she frames her answers. She takes many variables into consideration rather than jumping to the most obvious, and sometimes the most judgemental, conclusion.
Recently she tackled one of the most common dilemmas posed by grandparents who want to see more of their grandchildren. When they feel left out, uninvited, unwanted, and unappreciated. In a word, unloved, but that's certainly not how they put it.
So for any grandparents out there who wish their children would include them more often, I suggest reading, and considering the advice of Ms. Hax, here. You might also consider scheduling an initial session with a licensed psychologist or licensed marriage and family therapist. Sometimes the insights of a professional can help open doors with your children and grands.
Like orange is the new black, mindfulness may be the new psychotherapy.
Talking to a licensed therapist can be a critical step to wellness. It can include sharing problems, worries, and yes, those reliable and messy mainstays, family of origin issues. Getting evaluated by a professional can be one of the most important tools for treating anxiety, depression, and other emotional disorders.
Learning cognitive behavioral tools ( CBT ) is another branch on the tree called getting back to wellness. One of the most up-and-coming, state-of-the-art CBT tools is mindfulness. Thirty years ago, when I was walking my dinosaur on my college campus, mindfulness was never echoed in the hallowed halls of learning. I'm not sure it was even a thing back then. But it certainly is now.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation. It is the art and skill of redirecting one's mind away from the everyday thoughts, worries, judgments, and distractions that occupy our brain when it's on auto-pilot. Where are my keys? Did I take the load of laundry out of the dryer? Don't forget to return those pants, pick up that prescription, talk to my professor, get the car inspected. "Monkey mind" is what Dr. Alejandro Junger, M.D., cardiologist, calls collectively, all those pesky thoughts. As a stress reduction, happy heart tool, Dr. Junger recommends a five-minute mindfulness meditation that you can try, here.
For more ideas on how to learn about and practice mindfulness, have a look at Harvard University Medical School's suggestions, here. Because maybe, just maybe, fifteen minutes a day is the new 60 minutes on the couch.