August 14, 2017
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 here to 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