Dealing with loneliness

Dealing with loneliness
The early days of the pandemic long behind us, loneliness continues to plague many with force, writes Jason Osborne

Loneliness has been a problem since people began walking the earth – God creating Eve after noting that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. Unfortunately, despite the heart’s deep desire for communion, with God and others, many people today continue to experience crippling and acute loneliness and isolation.

Dealing with the onset of Covid-19 at the beginning of 2020 had many opportunity costs, and one of the first things to go was the freedom to socialise as we’d had the privilege to up until then. Nearly two years on and with a drastically changed landscape, the intensified isolation that set in around that time continues to linger over the lives of many. Speaking to some friends recently, some complained that the “golden age” of socialising and community we’d enjoyed in 2019 and before was long gone, and that nothing of the sort had established itself since, whether in person or over Zoom.

While it was good and right to be cautious and careful in order to protect people from a then-unknown disease, we must not now lose sight of the fact that other problems have reared their heads which must be attended to – loneliness and isolation being at the forefront of them, affecting young and old alike.

While we’re unlikely to be able to drop back into the casual community we had pre-pandemic any time soon, that’s no reason to throw in the towel against loneliness.

Identify it

Before saying anything else, there are many sources of feelings of loneliness and isolation. Moving to a new area or a new country, or changing your setting in some other natural way often results in these feelings, but they’re entirely normal. In fact, it would be strange if they weren’t experienced!

More common at the moment, I think, is the sense that a greater distance has developed between families and friends, and that opportunities to overcome this distance are limited by the ongoing ‘state of emergency’ the world finds itself in.

Once the source of the feelings is identified, it’s easier to take steps to set things to rights, or at least, to create a healthier social environment for ourselves.

Appreciate the people you do have

An oft-overlooked step for dealing with painful loneliness is slowing down and taking stock of the family and friends you’re hopefully already blessed with. Very few unfortunate people have absolutely no one they can turn to, with most of us having at the very least a dependable spouse, parent or parents, siblings or a friend or two.

Compared with the socialites of his day, Jesus had a mere handful of people he could truly turn to throughout his public ministry – his mother, his wider family, the apostles and others perhaps that have gone unrecorded. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that many, and yet, fully man as well as fully God, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who drew as much sustenance from those the Father had placed him with.

This is all just to say that we don’t need legions of friends as perhaps social media has made us think. Rather, we need to appreciate those we already have beside us, and make greater efforts to connect with them. There’s a real sense in which the world would immediately find itself on a better path if we each turned to our neighbour and formed a better, more solid relationship with them, whether they be a spouse, parent or anyone else.

Pick up the phone

I used to be a bit of a luddite, and when the pandemic forced me into greater use of all things electronic, I resisted. While these things cannot replace that face-to-face connection, I was wrong to write them off altogether, having come to rely on both my phone and social media to keep in contact with friends and family over the past two years.

Human contact is good for us, even if it’s not a big meet-up of the old gang, or an in-depth phone call with an old friend”

The best basis for a good relationship is good, old-fashioned effort and self-sacrifice. We all tend towards laziness, and this is as true in our relationships as anywhere else. Picking up the phone to call someone we haven’t spoken to in a while can be a daunting prospect, but chances are you’ll be so happy you did.

Before the pandemic (and before my reluctant acceptance of this increasingly technological way of life), I hadn’t experienced many edifying phone calls, using them just for organisational purposes or for the briefest of calls. However, over the past two years, they’ve changed for me, manifesting themselves as concrete ways to reach out to others in the only way I can.

I’ve come away from many a call over the past two years feeling warmed and reassured that a friendship or relationship is in a good place, and will continue to be so long as we both keep making the effort to reach out to one another.

Get outside

God created the entire world to draw us into communion with himself and others. While we can find it in our bedroom on the phone to a friend, more often than not, getting outside offers a better environment for weathering pangs of loneliness.

Crowds have been a depressingly scarce sight over the past two years, but thankfully, they’re returning, slowly but surely. Human contact is good for us, even if it’s not a big meet-up of the old gang, or an in-depth phone call with an old friend.

Going for walks and exchanging greetings with people is a quick and simple way to put a little human contact back into your life, and is a good idea whether we’re feeling lonely and isolated or not. Cities often have an ‘anonymising’ effect, and taking time to view and treat the people around you as people is likely to have a healthy effect on both you and your community.

The key is to appreciate those you already have, and keep an eye on the horizon and an open heart for those God sends your way who share your values and interests”

It’s standard practice in villages and towns, but for the modern, urbanised city-dweller, little touches like this are necessary for a healthier human experience.

These are but a few suggestions for handling the current season of isolation many are going through. The key is to appreciate those you already have, and keep an eye on the horizon and an open heart for those God sends your way who share your values and interests. They’ll surely come if you look hard enough.