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Lonely to the point it hurts

Few emotions have a more insidious impact on your well-being than feeling alone—something people around the world are feeling now more than ever due to the global COVID pandemic.

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He writes the column Beautiful Minds for Scientific American and hosts The Psychology Podcastwhich has received more than 10 million downlo. The need for connection—to form and maintain at least a minimal of positive, stable, intimate relationships—is a fundamental need that affects our whole being, permeating our entire suite of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. While individuals differ in the strength of this need, connection is an irreducible, undeniable human need. The need for connection actually consists of two subneeds: a The need to belong, to be liked, to be accepted, and b The need for intimacy, for mutuality, for relatedness.

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Connect with yourself %

Loneliness hurts. Most of us have experienced this. Especially in this time of quarantine, many can feel lonely. A sociological study shows that disconnect seems to be on the rise, with one out of four Americans feeling like they have no one to talk to about personal problems. Loneliness is the leading reason people seek out therapy, and one study suggests that loneliness is a risk factor for mortality. As I have written about in posts, social connection is critical to our health and well-being, as is vulnerability, an essential ingredient to intimacy.

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We thrive in community, in connection, in giving and receiving love. In a survey I conducted with Stanford students, when I asked what single activity brought them the greatest fulfillment, the most commonly given answer was spending time with friends and loved ones.

It is not surprising that loneliness hurts. A brain imaging study showed that feeling ostracized actually activates our neural pain matrix.

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In fact, several studies show that ostracizing others hurts us as much as being ostracized ourselves. We can hypothesize that, similarly, loneliness is associated with the pain matrix. From one perspective, we are all fundamentally alone. We come into the world alone, and we leave it alone.

We are all independent entities with thoughts, feelings, and emotions that no one else can fully understand or experience no matter how numerous our friends. On the other hand, we are always completely interconnected no matter how few our friends. We are connected to millions of people all over the world through the intricate web of economic and social relationships that bring food to our table, clothes on our bodies.

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We are literally connected to every other human being who shares this same ecosphere with us simply by the air we breathe. We are in touch with every other person and animal on the planet by the ground we walk on. We are both alone and deeply connected. When the pain of loneliness takes hold of you, here are some tools that can help build resilience. Most of us have learned to distract ourselves the very moment that we feel an uncomfortable emotion such as loneliness surfacing.

While these options may provide temporary relief, they often lead to other problems, such as weight gain in the case of overeating or drinking, exhaustion and burnout in the case of overexercising or overworking, and even addiction. Distracting ourselves from a core problem does not get at its root. Children, on the other hand, often give free rein to their emotions. Though this may seem immature to adults, children also get over negative emotions extremely quickly and are able to move on to the next thing as if nothing had happened.

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Adults, in an attempt to bury and control their emotions, often carry them with them for years. Allowing the emotion to arise and giving it our full attention may be a key to letting it go. Give the emotion full expression. Let the emotion take center stage. Especially if you are used to distracting yourself from your feelings, this exercise may feel uncomfortable.

Be with the discomfort fully. Go into silence. Silence can be difficult and even scary for some people.

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We are used to televisions blaring background noise, car radios jingling, iPods playing, text messages beeping, cell phones ringing, Facebook notifications pinging, tweets tweeting, and s downloading. Set yourself a time limit for the silence, such as half an hour.

If you wish, you can take a walk during that time or engage in a relaxed form of exercise like swimming. Makes sure that the activity is not one that becomes a distraction. Choose to do something that simply allows you to be in silence. Be as present as you can with everything around you and within you. Engage in mindful meditation.

No longer deemed an exotic, esoteric, or mystical activity, meditation has become mainstream. Though meditation is very simple, it also can require great courage. Simply be with the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise without trying to control or change them. Observe them with the kindness of a mother watching her child at play.

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Be patient. If the emotions get uncomfortable, muster up your valor, strength, tenacity, and patience. Set yourself a time limit and do not get up until the time is over. You can start with five minutes and eventually work up to sitting for 20 or 30 minutes at a time.

Eight ways to ease the pain of loneliness

Moreover, in a recent studyresearchers found that being present with what is happening, no matter how unpleasant that experience, tends to be more pleasant than not being present. These findings suggest that we are actually happier if we do not distract ourselves from the present, irrespective of how much we dislike it.

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Research shows that we reap the psychological well-being and physical health benefits of social connection not from the of friends we have, but from our internal and subjective sense of connection toward others. In other words, we could have only one friend, or no friends at all, but if we feel connected from the inside, then we reap all the benefits thereof. This research finding is empowering because whatever starts from within is within our hands.

Take care of the body. We eat the wrong foods, drink, stay up too late, and forget to exercise or over-exercise. This is not the case.

Things you can try to help with loneliness

As anyone who has started a healthy diet or exercise regimen knows, when we start to take care of our body, we naturally feel better and, with a positive state of mind, our whole outlook on life changes. There is always someone suffering more than we are. This gives us the opportunity to approach others with kindness and a sense of service.

No matter what our capabilities, we can always contribute to others with as little as a smile or more. Service is very simple.

1. who gets lonely?

We can be of service to people, animals, or even nature. Whatever you are drawn to, your act of service is an act of connection that will help lift your loneliness. Research shows that compassion and service can be of tremendous benefit. Often, when we feel down or alone, our vision and universe become very narrow.

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Helping others can immediately change our perspective and re-energize us, which is why compassion has been linked to well-being. Connect with nature. If connecting with people is a challenge, connect with nature. A recent study shows that taking walks in nature can increase our well-being, even in the case of depression, and another study showed that exposure to nature increases our sense of connectedness and closeness and even makes us more caring and ready to share with others.

Connecting with nature can help broaden that vision and inspire an experience of awe at the view of a landscape. Cultivating awe through nature can also help broaden our perspective. Research on awewhich is often inspired by beautiful natural sceneries such as a starlit sky or a vast horizon, suggests that it slows our perception of time by bringing us into the present moment and enhances our well-being. Practice loving-kindness meditation. This exercise is a meditation deed to increase our sense of love and kindness toward others.

A study I ran at Stanford showed that even seven minutes of this exercise can make us feel more connected to others in a deep-seated way.

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Read instructions for loving-kindness meditation here. Fall in love with yourself. We often run from solitude for the same reasons we run from loneliness.

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We fear being alone. But being alone also means doing what you please. You can dance at your own rhythm, eat whatever you fancy, watch the movies you wish to watch, and make choices that are entirely your own! Being alone is often the only time we can truly rest, undistracted, unstimulated by the environment and other people.

Beneath the thoughts and emotions is a vast ocean of silence, peace, and well-being. We all access it at times: Sometimes it can be experienced when you lose yourself in a sunset, or just as you wake up before thoughts flood the mind, or in an act of service or love, in meditation or prayer. The more we can access that space, the more that well-being also permeates the rest of our day.

Finally, know that you are not alone. We are all deeply vulnerable. This knowledge alone may open your heart and make you feel connected to all.

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Moroever, the pain of loneliness is also one that gives you tremendous depth and empathy. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

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This article was originally published on EmmaSeppala. Read the original article.

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