Ways out of loneliness

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.

Genesis 2:18 NRSV

Loneliness is the first time in the Bible that God observes creation declares that something is “not good.” God created us to be in relationship with God and with other people. Feeling disconnected and lonely has implications not only for mental health, but also our physical well-being. Loneliness can be painful, activating the same neural networks as physical pain.

Loneliness is created by the difference between the desire for social connection and how life is actually experienced. It is different than solitude. Solitude is chosen. Loneliness can be experienced in the midst of a crowd when there is a sense of disconnection from those around. Loneliness was on the rise before the pandemic, but closures and physical distance really accelerated the situation.

Last week, All Saints’ hosted the Ninth Tony Biles Conference for chaplains in western North Carolina and local clergy. This year’s topic was loneliness. The clear conclusion: many people are feeling a bit lonelier these days. Surprisingly, while people are often concerned about loneliness in older people, as a group, those reporting the greatest feelings of loneliness are young people, ages 18-27. People in the middle years, raising children, working, and caring for older parents are also at risk for loneliness, even though they are surrounded by people.  

Risk factors for loneliness include:  

Living alone or at distance from family 

  • Poverty
  • Bereavement
  • Significant illness in self or family member, caregiving
  • Becoming a parent
  • Retirement
  • Being from a minority community – being the “only” (black, Hispanic, gay, lesbian, transgender, etc,) person in a work or social group 
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Poverty
  • Living in an area where one does not feel save begin outside.

What can you do when you feel lonely? Surprisingly, the first step is gratitude. Take inventory and identify what you can give thanks for in your present situation. When we set out from a place of gratitude, we literally see differently, and people are more likely to respond positively to us. Changing our experience of loneliness begins with ourselves.

Possible actions to counter loneliness:

  • Reach out to friends or family
  • Get out of the house and go where other people congregate – just saying “Hi” can lower feelings of loneliness. Attending in-person worship is a chance to see and connect with people every week.
  • Be kind to the people around you – including strangers. 
  • Volunteer – There are many opportunities at All Saints’ and in the wider community
  • Connect with people online but be cautious with social media.  Social media can both help us find support AND it can also increase feelings of loneliness if we get caught in comparing ourselves to others. Once again, gratitude for our own situation is the key to engaging positively. 
  • Adopt a furry pet!
  • Practice self-compassion – beating ourselves up for our feelings is not helpful!
  • Engage a routine of physical exercise
  • Offer Prayers for others – bringing different people in your life to mind and praying for love, health, peace, and happiness also helps increase our own sense of connection, even when others are not physically present. 
  • Try something new, gain new skills and experience new people – each week there are different ways to engage your faith community.

Important note: Get help if feelings persist, it could be a sign of depression, which is a medical condition, not a moral failing. Your church can help you access resources. 

When you act to counter feelings of loneliness, you are not only helping yourself, but you are also helping others, by keeping loneliness from spreading. That is good for all of us.