First, let me just say that you are not alone in your loneliness. It’s human to have times in your life when all you can think is “I feel sad and alone.” Although you may feel that this feeling will last forever, it won’t. It will pass. You will feel better and I’m here to help you speed up the process. Sometimes we need a nudge from the outside. Sometimes we need to act and take positive actions despite how we are feeling. I hope this will help you. You will feel better. Have faith. You are not alone.
►Recommendation : After you read this article read the book “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari.
Video | Listen to Johann Hari speak of loneliness
I Feel Sad and Alone
Helping You Understand How You Feel and Tips to Feeling Better
Feeling sad and lonely is inevitable in the human experience. Every single person on Earth will feel sad and lonely at some point in their lives. For some people, they may feel sadder for longer periods of time, while others may only feel sad and lonely when negative events happen.
Whichever the case may be, it’s completely part of being human to feel these emotions. You may feel sad when things don’t go your way, or you lose something of value to you, such as a relationship, a job, money, or status. It’s the feeling of being down, of knowing that you no longer have or can no longer have something that you want.
On the other hand, you may feel lonely when there is a lack of social interaction, or when you’re in a crowd of people but you don’t connect with them. Loneliness doesn’t always mean you don’t have friends or family around you, but it could also mean that you’re surrounded by people, yet you feel a lack of real connections.
Do you feel this way? Do you feel sad and lonely and don’t really know what to do? You may feel helpless and hopeless right now, like getting up in the morning is the last thing you want to do. And it doesn’t help that we live in a time when a pandemic is raging, causing even more isolation for people who are already feeling down.
We may live in a world where communication with family and friends can be done in an instant through technology, but why are we even more disconnected from each other? Why are we sadder today when the world is at our fingertips?
For example, if we want to eat something, we can have it in 5 minutes! If we want a new pair of shoes, simply touch the screen of your phone and you can have it delivered today! Want a new relationship? Swipe right and you have one!
In a recent study that was done in October 2020 by Making Caring Common, they discovered that 36% out of the 950 Americans they interviewed reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all of the time.”
Some would argue that the study was made during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic, when people were required to stay home and avoid social gatherings, and thus explains why people felt lonely. Well, yes, though the pandemic may be one reason people feel lonely, there’s actually data to support that people in America have been feeling lonely for quite some time. Other studies done before the pandemic occurred reveal similar results.
One such study was conducted in January 2020 in the US by Cigna, where they discovered that out of 10,000 participants they surveyed, 61% of them felt lonely. And in another study that was done in 2018, researchers revealed that there was a “loneliness epidemic” in the US. The study was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, where they revealed that 22% of Americans say they constantly feel alone.
Pandemic or not, people in America have been suffering from loneliness for a long time. And when there is loneliness, sadness almost always exists in the same space.
Sadness and Loneliness Defined
It’s highly important that we define what sadness and loneliness are. Why? Because by understanding why we are feeling this way, we can take the necessary steps to improve our mental and emotional health.
Now, you might ask the question, “Why do I need to improve my mental and emotional health? Didn’t you say that feeling sad and lonely is completely normal?”
Yes, while feeling sad and lonely is normal, when we don’t address them, however, they can lead to even bigger issues that may become even more problematic.
For example, feeling sad over a breakup can lead to an overwhelming surge of emotions, such as isolation, hatred towards oneself, and feelings of helplessness. In fact, Lucia O’Sullivan, Professor of Psychology at the University of New Brunswick revealed in an article that breakups are the leading cause of suicide among teens.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., discovered in a 2010 study, that people who are lonely had a high tendency to suffer from increased blood pressure, increased inflammation, and a weakened immune system. In an article published on www.apa.org, Holt-Lunstad’s study revealed that loneliness is as lethal as alcoholism and as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
From these studies and information alone, we can see evidence that these negative emotions not only affect our emotional or mental well-being, but also our physical health. When these issues are not addressed, they could even be fatal.
So what is sadness and what is loneliness? When you’re sad, does that automatically mean you feel lonely? And when you feel lonely, does that automatically mean you’re sad? Let’s try to understand these two emotions.
According to the American Psychological Association, sadness “is an emotional state of unhappiness, ranging in intensity from mild to extreme and usually aroused by the loss of something that is highly valued.”
Loneliness, on the other hand, “is an affective or cognitive discomfort or uneasiness from being or perceiving oneself to be alone or otherwise solitary.”
In simple words, both of these are negative emotions that bring emotional pain. And when something is painful, it is our natural instinct as humans to make the pain go away, or at least try to lessen the discomfort.
So how do we do that? What can we do to lessen these negative and painful emotions so we can prevent drastic effects on our mental health, and hopefully become happy and enjoy more social connections?
Reducing Feelings of Sadness
When you’re in the thick of sadness, you may believe that what you’re feeling now is the way you will always feel. I understand that it can be extremely debilitating to feel sad and not have the energy to do things such as go to work, take care of yourself, and meet people.
When you’re sad, you try to avoid people because you simply don’t feel good. You feel the weight of the world on your shoulders and you think nothing can make the pain go away.
Feeling sad is closely associated with feeling lonely, because you withdraw from the world, you withdraw from your family and friends, and sometimes, you even miss out on work.
Taking the time to be on your own can be a good thing in most cases. It can help you realize why you’re feeling down, process your emotions, and redirect these negative thoughts and feelings into something cathartic or productive.
When you feel like there is no end to your sadness, think about this quote :
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”Victor Hugo
The good news about emotions is that they are temporary. They are not permanent. Just like the quote, the sun may set in the evening, but in the morning, it will always rise. The sky will not be permanently dark, as the sun will always bright up the sky come morning time.
Even when you feel like the darkest clouds are hovering above you, you can do something to make these clouds disappear.
And how do you do that? There is no simple answer, I’m afraid. It’s a combination of many things that you can do, small steps that you can take, and slowly, you’ll realize, the clouds are slowly disappearing, and the sun is shining down on you once again.
But you will have to do the work. You have to make it a point to try. Even when you don’t succeed, the most important thing is that you tried, you tried making the first step to get out of a dark place.
By trying, you are opening yourself up to healing, to recovery, and that is the most important thing. Because healing will not happen overnight. Happiness is not found in an instant. It takes time and it takes work, but when you finally get out of the shadows, you will thank yourself for taking the necessary steps to get out of sadness.
5 Exercises to Reduce Feelings of Sadness
Tal Ben Shahar is a proponent of Positive Psychology, consultant, former Harvard University lecturer, and New York Times bestselling author. His book, “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” is a New York Times bestseller, where he talks about happiness and exercises that anyone can do to become happier.
According to Ben Shahar, happiness is not necessarily innate or something elusive. Happiness can actually be learned.
In fact, Ben Shahar’s course of Positive Psychology at Harvard University in the late 2000s became one of the most popular courses in the academic institution’s history. Hundreds of students took his course on how to become happier.
He uses scientific studies, positive psychology, self-help advice, scholarly teachings, and spiritual enlightenment as the basis of his approach to happiness. He weaves all these together to create a set of principles that anyone can apply into their daily lives, and slowly, those who do apply it, can become happier.
These 5 exercises that we are about to discuss are based on Ben Shahar’s book and his overall approach to reducing feelings of sadness, improving your well-being and increasing your levels of happiness.
Accept Painful Emotions
According to Ben-Shahar, we must accept that painful emotions are part of being alive. He mentioned that there are only two kinds of people in this world who do not feel disappointment, envy, or sadness, and these two people are either a psychopath, or a dead person.
That means that feeling negative and painful emotions are part of life and that we must accept that feelings of loss, anger, envy, contempt, surprise, and sadness are emotions that each and every living human being experiences.
He also stressed that because we feel negative emotions, we must also acknowledge that we also feel positive emotions, giving us hope that indeed, we can turn negativity into positivity.
Quality Time with People
Ben-Shahar mentioned that a good predictor of well-being is quality time spent with the people we care about and people who care about us. Now, this may be difficult to do in a time when travel restrictions and social gatherings are prohibited, but there are other means that allow us to spend time with people we care about and who care about us.
Talking on the phone, sending messages online, interacting with them through social media, and other means of communication can help you spend time with family and friends, and inevitably, will make you feel less sad and lonely.
But how about people who don’t have close family members, or close friends? You can start off by talking to people who you frequently come in contact with.
For example, when you go to your local convenience store, instead of simply greeting the store owner “good morning” or “good afternoon,” why not initiate a conversation? Ask about how they’re doing, ask about their health, or any question you may have that will allow them to open up to you.
It’s also not limited about them talking to you about their lives, but you must also reciprocate. If they ask you how you are, you can expand on a simple, “I’m fine,” answer. You can say, “I’ve been really bored working at home, can you suggest any good movies to watch?”
Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to share more information. Avoid yes or no questions as that can end the conversation once the person answers back. By engaging in more conversations, you are creating a space where you can form quality connections with strangers, who can potentially become friends and family.
How many times have you been told to exercise to improve your health? But did you know that exercise is not only good for your body, but that it’s incredibly good for your mental health, too? In fact, according to Ben-Shahar, 30 minutes of exercise can work as well as antidepressants in relieving symptoms of depression.
There is enough clinical data to suggest the psychological benefits of exercise. One of which is the release of the neurotransmitter endorphin. Endorphins give you a feel-good feeling, similar to the sensation you get after a warm hug. The release of this neurotransmitter is known to reduce stress levels, alleviate symptoms of anxiety, and improve sleep.
Endorphins are also analgesic, which means they lower your perceptions of pain. They also trigger a positive response in your body, similar to that of morphine. In a way, endorphins are your body’s natural source of pain relief.
Since sadness is a feeling of emotional pain, exercise can significantly help ease the hurt and negative sensations associated with being sad.
Be More Grateful
Having gratitude is one of the simplest ways you can become happier. There is so much happiness around us, but most of us fail to recognize them. We only realize how good we had it when it’s gone. For example, you value your health when you get sick; you miss a person when they’re no longer around but never really acknowledged them before.
Being grateful forces you to give positive things, people, and experiences more attention, rather than focusing on the negative things in your life.
To do this, you can start a gratitude journal, where you list down 5 things you are grateful for when you wake up. Or you can also do this before you sleep. It can be anything you’re grateful for, such as that delicious pasta you had for lunch, or the negative test result on your mother’s biopsy, or for being able to pay your credit card bill. Write down both big and small things you’re grateful for.
Having a gratitude journal will help you notice the positive things in your life, rather than the negative. Metaphorically, it’s similar to saying, look at the glass half full, rather than half empty.
Simplify Your Life
For many years, research and data have supported the association between stressful life events and depression. While stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or traumatic accidents can’t be avoided, prolonged stress can have massive negative impacts on your energy levels, sex drive, appetite, sleep patterns, and overall perception of life.
The key to reducing stress is to simplify your life. Stress comes from physical and mental pressure that you can no longer manage or cope with, leading to burnout, physical health issues and negative psychological effects.
You don’t have to quit your job, leave everything behind, and live sustainably on a farm [though, that sounds like a good idea, too]. What I mean by simplifying your life is to slow it down.
If you’re working too much, saying no to working overtime everyday is a good start. If you’re juggling taking care of your kids and a work-at-home job, maybe hiring a babysitter or sending your kids to daycare would help ease your burden.
Spend more time to relax and rest, and not have to think about the future so much. One way you can slow down your life is through meditation. Meditation has been known to change the way your brain works, making you more mindful of things, people, and events happening around you.
Meditation, yoga, and taking the time to rest are some of the ways that you can reduce stress, and foster more positive emotions.
These 5 exercises are based on Ben Shahar’s book and teachings but there are so many ways that you can reduce feelings of sadness and become happier. Find what makes you happy, acknowledge the things that make you sad, and do more of the former, and less of the latter.
In other words, eliminate the things that bring you stress, and enhance the things that bring you joy.
Tips to Reducing Feelings of Loneliness
John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist known for his work on loneliness, likens loneliness to feelings of physical pain, hunger, and thirst.
According to Cacioppo, the absence of social connection triggers these very same primal alarms. When there is an increase in social isolation, people’s feelings of loneliness, despair, and even depression increase. Cacioppo additionally defines loneliness as “perceived social isolation.”
He also said that an isolated environment is the perfect breeding ground for negative, self-critical thoughts.
This seems to coincide with what Olivia Remes said in a 2018 TED Talk event. Remes finished her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge specializing in anxiety disorders. She observed that people who were suffering from anxiety also reported being lonely.
Remes mentioned that one question seemed to resonate among all the people she studied, and this question was: “What’s wrong with me?”
If we take a look into what I just mentioned, you’ll notice that loneliness is a state of mind. When you feel lonely, it’s not always about your environment. While yes, you may feel lonely because you’re working away from home, you don’t have a lot of friends, and you’re not connected to your family, it’s also important to point out that loneliness may be derived from your very own perceptions about yourself.
A lot of people who feel lonely may believe that they are not worthy of real relationships, of real love, and so, they withdraw, avoid, and simply do not engage in any intimate interactions.
One difference between sadness and loneliness is the motivational drive. When you feel sad, you may not know exactly what to do to make yourself happy. But when you’re lonely, you know that you’re feeling that way because of a lack of connection to other people, and this means that there is a motivational drive to connect.
And thus, the remedy to loneliness is to connect with other other people. But alas, it’s not the easiest thing to do. Social interactions and forging relationships can be the most challenging things you will ever have to face in your entire life.
Although it may seem hard, there are actually very simple things you can do to match your desire for connection and your sense of belonging with your actual experience. If and when you are ready to close the gap, here are some things you can to ease the emotional distress of loneliness:
Join a Class
Joining a class is one of the easiest and simplest ways to meet new people, and new people with the very same interests you have. If you love reading, then maybe joining a book club in your city or community can help you get started. If you want to learn yoga, then join a yoga class it is.
The key to making friends is to come earlier than the class schedule, and to stay a little longer when the class has ended. You might not be able to start conversations once the class is going on, making you miss out on opportunities to create friendships.
By coming early and leaving late, you can have small pockets of time to get to know other people in your class. If you’ve made a connection, meeting up outside the class can help you create the friendships or relationships you are searching for.
Volunteer work is an act of kindness and there’s nothing greater than meeting other people who are also on their quest to make other people’s lives better.
Volunteer at your local animal shelter, or community cleanup. Find ways to engage in places and opportunities where you are exposed to people who may have similar interests and lifestyles as you do.
Adopt a Pet
In a time of a pandemic, it can be hard and even dangerous to go out and socialize. If you prefer to stay at home and not do volunteer work or join a class, you can adopt a pet instead. Though pets can never replace the sense of belongingness, acceptance, and connection you can get from another human being, pets can come close.
Studies have shown the connection between having pets and improved mental and physical well-being. Pets can help reduce stress levels, provide companionship, create a sense of purpose, improve your physical fitness, and can even fulfill the human need for touch with hugs and cuddles from your dog or cat.
Take Care of Yourself
Remember earlier when I mentioned that one of the things people ask themselves when they feel lonely is, “What’s wrong with me?”
People who have natural inclination to feel sad and lonely blame themselves for not having friends, for not having close relationships, and for the very reason why they feel sad and alone.
When you take care of yourself, such as eating right, exercising, and investing in your mental well-being by meditating, taking long baths, and taking care of your body, you will automatically feel good about yourself.
When you feel good about who you are, how you look, and what you do for yourself, you will begin to feel confident that other people will look at you in the same way, too. When you feel good on the inside, it will resonate on the outside, and people will feel and acknowledge your sense of positivity.
When you have a sense of positivity, people will naturally be drawn to you, and when this happens, you can have the opportunity to create lasting relationships that meet your need for connection, acceptance, and belongingness.
When Things Get Too Much to Bear
If you’ve been feeling sad and lonely for quite a while, say, for more than a month, and your life has been disrupted, it may be time to seek professional help.
Being sad and feeling alone after a stressful or traumatic event is normal. You can usually bounce back within the day or several days after. However, prolonged sadness can be dangerous.
If you’ve tired some or all of the tips and suggestions above, but you still feel sad and lonely, therapy may help you heal and recover.
Seek for a mental health professional in your area and schedule an appointment. If you are scared or embarrassed plenty of therapists and counselors today offer online consultations and treatments, making it more accessible and convenient for patients.
One of the most common types of therapy for treating chronic sadness is CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is a form of talk therapy where a therapist will help you acknowledge your negative thought patterns and teach you tools on how you can regulate your negative emotions and transform them into positive thoughts and behaviors that promote your well-being.
You can also seek a therapist who offers counseling based on the Positive Psychology movement. With this method, there is less focus on your past traumas and pains, but there is more focus on what you can do to have more positive thought patterns, as well as creatin new habits of positivity in your daily life.
Conclusion : It’s human to feel sad and alone
If you’re feeling sad and alone, don’t panic. Don’t assume it won’t end, because it will. It’s okay to feel how you feel. You’re human. Forgive yourself. As human beings we all need people in our lives to help us when we’re down. We need others around us, to confide in, to lean on. Don’t get stuck in your feelings. Reach out to someone you can trust.
There are 6 basic universal emotions, according to American psychologist Paul Ekman. These emotions are anger, disgust, surprise, fear, joy, and sadness. According to Ekman, these 6 emotions are experienced by all human beings, no matter what race, no matter what age, no matter what religion.
When you find yourself in the midst of sadness and loneliness, it’s important to know that if you can feel sadness, you can feel joy, too. And it’s also important to note that emotions are not permanent, but rather, temporary.
But the most important thing to take away from this article is this: you have the power to change your life. When you choose to be happier, when you choose to be less lonely, you can have the power to transform your sadness and loneliness into happiness.
There is always hope. Just as the sun sets in the evening, it will rise again in the morning. And so will you.