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The First Step to Dealing with Loneliness Has Nothing to Do with Meeting Other People

02/05/2015 03:50 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015
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If you tell someone that you are feeling lonely, they will probably give you a list of a hundred things that you can do to meet other people. They may say, "If you're feeling lonely, why don't you just take up a new sport, join a dating site, go dancing or find a book club?" If only it were that simple!

What most people don't realize is that loneliness is a complex problem. For starters, most of us have limiting beliefs that prevent us from meeting others. Many of us have a fear of rejection. Others suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety. Some of us are just naturally introverted. Making us feel like we are just being lazy for not "getting out there and meeting people" is counterproductive.

To make matters worse, loneliness is perpetuated by a negative spiral of actions and emotions. Feeling socially isolated, some of us turn to comfort foods or alcohol to dull the pain. Even the strongest of us spend more time than we know we should in front of the TV or clicking on other people's Facebook posts. These behaviors draw us further away from good health, confidence and a desire to engage with the world.

In many ways, these problems become harder to deal with as we reach our 50s and 60s. Many of our bad habits are deeply engrained in our daily routines. In addition, we also have to deal with the fear of loneliness itself and the persistent worry that we will end up as the stereotypical "lonely senior."

The good news is that the loneliness spiral can spin in both directions. Our healthy decisions can perpetuate an increase in self-esteem and a desire to meet other people once again. It is for exactly this reason that I say that the first step to dealing with depression starts with ourselves, not others. This is also why I decided to start the Boomerly blog. I wanted to inspire people over 50 to find positivity and happiness on their own terms.

As someone who suffered with loneliness for 15 years, I know firsthand how hard it is to break out of our own mental chains. But, I am living proof that it is possible. Here are a few things that I learned as I dealt with my own feelings of isolation and loneliness. I hope that they help you to start living the life that you deserve.

Start with Small Positive Changes that Make You Healthier and Happier

It may sound strange to say that the first step to dealing with loneliness is drinking more water, walking more (even by ourselves) and writing in a journal. But, this is the truth! Feelings of loneliness and a lack of control go hand-in-hand. When we take control of the small things in our life, we start to build a foundation for bigger improvements down the road.

Don't rush to change everything at once. It takes time for new patterns to take root, so, work on one aspect of your daily routine at a time. One trick that you can use is to do an activity for a short period of time and then increase my commitment gradually. For example, you might walk for five minutes on the first day and then increase the length of your walk by one minute per day until you are walking for 30 minutes.
I have a feeling that you already know what you need to be doing. You just need to do it. So, make a list of small changes that you want to make in your life and focus on one at a time.

Get in the Best Shape of Your Life

If I could give only one piece of advice to someone dealing with loneliness, it would be this: Get in shape. Exercise helps us to deal with many of the psychological forces that prevent us from making friends. As we move, our bodies release chemicals that help us to feel happier and less anxious. As we see improvements in our physical appearance, our self-esteem improves. When we connect with our bodies, we are less likely to engage in negative behaviors such as drinking or smoking.

Even better, getting in shape is something that we have complete control over. Unless you have a medical condition, you are the master of your body. So, if you are not ready to connect with other people just yet, why not connect with yourself? Why not try gentle yoga or walking in the park? Why not build a body that you can be proud of, full of health and energy?

Focus on Your Own Happiness and Positivity

When we are feeling lonely, it is tempting to think that all of our problems and negative emotions stem from the fact that we don't have enough friends. This is seldom the case. Most of the time, we are dealing with a range of emotions of which loneliness is just the most obvious.

Once again, the problem is not that we have no idea where to meet people. In today's hyper-connected world, there have never been more opportunities to engage in the activities that we love with other people. The problem is that we are stuck in our own negative thought patterns and behaviors. When we are ready to engage with the world, it will be there waiting for us with open arms.

Many people in the community say that they find meditation to be an excellent way to calm the mind and get things in perspective. If you are a spiritual person, then prayer can offer similar benefits. Or, if you prefer something more "tangible," writing can often help you to structure your thoughts and feel more positive. Regardless of the technique that you use, make sure that you keep your focus on the positive aspects of your life and the things that you can control.

Write down one thing that you are grateful for every day. Pray for the wisdom to see the strength and beauty in yourself. Choose a mantra that focuses on peace, happiness and love. When we think positive thoughts, physical changes happen in our brain and, over time, we become a happier person.

The next time that you start to feel lonely, pull your attention back to what you can control. Don't worry about the fact that you don't have enough friends in your life right now. Learn to be your own best friend first. Take the first step to dealing with loneliness by learning to love yourself. Then, when you feel ready, take the next step out into the world, with your head held high. You are an amazing person, but, before anyone else believes it, you have to believe it for yourself.

Do you ever feel lonely? Do you agree that the advice to "just get out there and meet people" is overly simplistic? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below, "like" and share this article to keep the conversation going!