You don't have to be alone to feel lonely

It was after work one day, and I was on the bus making my way home.

The bus was packed.

I had people sitting right beside and across from me. 

And I was sobbing, but no one noticed.

No one asked if I was okay.

No one gave me a comforting smile.

Instead, they were all in their phones or on iPads, or they had music blasting in their ears.

My mother had recently passed away and a fleeting memory of her in that moment set off the waterworks.

I was helpless in that moment. Ever since that day of feeling so lonely amongst a crowd of people, I’ve paid close attention to this notion of loneliness.

Look up from the screen

Is it just me, or is social media and access to a digital world of music, reading and messaging making people more and more afraid of personal interaction and less willing to simply ask “how are you?” to a stranger?

Are we that afraid of rejection that we can’t ask someone’s name or how their day is outside of a formal meeting or pre-arranged social activity? Whether it’s a bus, a bank or a bathroom, whenever I’m in line these days I look around and people are either scrolling through Facebook, texting someone or talking on the phone. My phone rang while I was at a counter last week and the attendant was shocked that I didn’t answer it and she thanked me. She thanked me. How are we living in a world where a shop attendant is thanking her customer for being present in the moment with her for 90 seconds?

I’m not against technology or phones – indeed they offer many benefits to our lives. But a focus on human beings should always be put before some wires and code.

I know I’m not the only adult who has felt lonely or worried about the impact of screen time on our welfare. You’ve felt it too, I’m sure. And that’s the thing. If I’ve felt it, and you’ve felt it…. How many of us are waiting in lines or sitting on a bus feeling isolated and alone? How many of us are just wishing someone would simply say, ‘hello’?  

Look around you and evaluate your relationships

I am grateful to have close friends and family, but it takes work to sustain friendships. My friendship group is a lot smaller than it used to be – some of it by choice, some by chance – but it means there’s not always someone available when I yearn for company. Companionship, however, can come in all forms, and doesn’t have to be the people you would call at 3am for a cry. Extending your circle of friends can come from the gym, work, your child’s school or joining a meet up group.

Taking a good look at all of your current relationships is the first step towards addressing loneliness.

Your challenge: Reconnect with three people

Loneliness can’t be solved by reading an article. Someone needs to take action. Someone needs to be that person on the bus who opens their mouth and says, “how are you today?”

So this is my challenge to you:

  • Scroll through your phone or social media and find three people who have slipped through the cracks over the past few months or years
  • Phone or send a message
  • Tell them you’re thinking of them and miss their company
  • Ask to catch up
  • And set a date.

Too often we say, “we must catch up again” and never do. By being the person who reaches out, you are not only actively pursuing your own happiness, but you can be the catalyst for helping someone who also feels lonely just like you.

This is an activity I set with some of my clients. Whether it’s following a relationship breakdown, the loss of a loved one or leaving a domestic violence household, reconnecting with loved ones grounds us and reminds us of who we were – who we are – and who we can be.

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