Loneliness is the perception that we have neither the quantity nor quality of social connection we need. It heightens our sense of vulnerability and makes us hyper-vigilant to perceived social slights. It diminishes our optimism and wrecks our self-esteem.
There are a few things we can do to quieten our inner Eeyore and open ourselves up to connection: build our social skills, get social support or increase our opportunities for socializing.
But none of these matter nearly as much as addressing the negative feedback loop of hostility, stress and pessimism in our minds that we play so often, they could make our Spotify Wrapped.
To tackle loneliness, we first need to identify our automatic negative thoughts. Where attention goes, energy flows and our bleak expectations send our energy spiralling down the drain. That means no matter how many events you attend or icebreakers you practice, your cognitive bias will kill the vibe faster than wet socks.
Here’s a more sustainable starting place: First, identify the felt-sense of hyper-vigilance in your body when you feel lonely.
Where is it located?
Does it have a texture or a shape?
How heavy is it?
How does it move, and how quickly?
Is it hot or cold?
What do you notice in your body?
What do you stop noticing?
Then, check your stories: Are you imagining a worst-case scenario where you say something stupid and everybody hates you, and the whole thing is lame anyway while your fears suck the joy out of socializing? Try to calm the catastrophizing and at least be open to the possibility that something good could happen, too.
Listen to more of Sara's advice on the Trends w/ Benefits podcast.
That being said, your impulse to scan for danger is there for good reason. At some point, you felt unsafe and your body responded in a way to protect you that got stuck on repeat. So when it kicks off, ask yourself, “What do I need?”
Maybe you need to put your hand on your heart, or step outside or take a sip of water. Turn towards your body’s response, rather than trying to shove it down. Let it know you are here, listening and responding, so it can stop setting off alarms to get your attention.
Start with observing yourself, name what you are experiencing, be curious about what you need and resist toxic storytelling.
Imagine how stepping back from hyper-vigilance could allow you to embrace true intimacy.
We crave connection and need our mycelial network. But that means composting some of what’s rotten to alchemize something magical.
Sara Russell is a relationship coach. Connect with her on her website and on Instagram. She is also the host of the Trends w/ Benefits podcast :microdose episodes. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
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