Being alone can be very hard sometimes, especially when you’ve been alone for quite some time, or when you just got out of a relationship and it’s hard adjusting to your new life. The holidays and the end of the year are harsh times for those who are alone, but it’s even harder to be alone on Valentine’s Day.
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Did you know that feeling sad after the holidays is actually a phenomenon called ‘the holiday blues’ and it can feel the same as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), even though it’s not the same thing. Moreover, a survey made by the National Alliance on Mental Illness on more than 755 participants found that more than 66 percent of them reported feeling sad or depressed during the holidays.
And we can all agree things got to a whole new level now, due to COVID, where most of us were forced to spend the holidays away from our loved ones due to safety reasons, and it’s not exactly the best time to go on dates either due to restrictions. Now more than ever, it’s essential to support the people in your life that are not going through a great time right now for various reasons. If someone feels lonely, isolated, or anxious during these hard times, you need to learn how to use the right words to make them feel heard and understood.
Read on to discover what you should say to a friend in order to make them feel less alone right now!
How loneliness can affect your mental health?
According to Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, mental health expert, and author of the upcoming book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, as humans, we want real, human connection. We’re also aware that we need each other in order to feel alive, that’s why we tend to feel lonely when we’re lacking human interactions.
As Dr. Leaf has explained, “Loneliness isn’t something to be ashamed of or brushed aside because it seems silly. It increases the risk of premature mortality among all ages, and one recent study even indicated that social isolation and loneliness kill more people than obesity.”
Moreover, there’s research around this topic showing that loneliness and isolation can contribute to negative changes in both the body and the brain, down to the level of our DNA. According to Caroline Leaf, the way we use our brain is powerful enough to impact our biology.
Sadly, this usually works in both directions, so feeling lonely, sad, or depressed can cause damage while dealing with all those negative feelings will help you heal. According to Dr. Leaf, a lot of research has also shown that being socially engaged has contributed to a lot of desirable outcomes.
And it doesn’t have to be face-to-face, especially now that the whole world is dealing with COVID, online interactions will also do the job, because “our cortisol levels go down while the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine balance in our brains,” she added.
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What you should say to someone who’s feeling lonely:
You need to validate their feelings
The first step you need to take when talking to someone who’s feeling lonely is to validate their feelings, explains Shasta Nelson, friendship expert and author of The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time.
You can say something like ‘It’s normal to feel this way, considering our whole lives have changed this year.’ This way, they’ll know they’re not alone, and they’ll feel comfortable talking to you about the not-so-fun aspects of life.
You can say something like, “Yes, that’s normal! It makes sense that you’d feel that way given that so many of our relationships have all had to change this year.” This lets them know that you’ve heard them and you respect them for feeling comfortable enough to open up.
Ask questions to show your interest in the discussion.
According to Nelson, we need to understand the fact that loneliness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather our body’s way to tell us that we have a need. However, the way we interact with people is very personal and varies from one individual to another. Some people are craving more interactions than others, while some really like being alone.
If you want to be there for a friend in need, try not to convince them they’re not alone or point out all the friends they have. If their body is telling them that something is not ok, the feeling is real. Even though you might have pure intentions, it can be an example of toxic positivity and it isn’t helping them at all.
You should try asking them direct questions to reflect their needs. Nelson suggests asking something like: “What specifically do you feel most lonely for?” or “What kind of an experience, conversation, or person would feel most meaningful to you right now?” and pay close attention to their response.
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Affirm and ask how you can be helpful to them.
According to Nelson, when talking to a friend that’s feeling lonely, you need to use the two A’s: affirm and ask. After they have reflected on why they’re feeling the way they do, you need to make sure your friend knows that you are there for them. Say things like ‘I’m here for you’ or ‘I want to help’ and you can follow up with a question.
Tell them you want to help, even though you don’t know where to start, but reassure them how much they mean to you. Then ask them what you can do or say in order to make them feel better?
This way, you’ll learn a lot more about their situation and be a more supportive friend for those in need. You can support someone by texting or calling them on a regular basis just to see how they’re doing, or you could visit them if they live nearby. In order to understand what each person needs, you need to ask them what are the things that make them feel loved, understood and less alone.
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Tell them to reach out every time they feel down and need someone to talk to.
Reaching out to a friend when you need human connection is the best and most efficient way to feel good. According to Dr. Leaf, opting for online meetings and video chats is very useful right now in a context of a worldwide pandemic, all that matters is showing them that you’re there for them when they need you.
While it’s not quite the same thing and you can’t replace online meeting with human presence, it’s still a good and safer option in a COVID context, she added.
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Make plans for a fun digital meeting.
According to Dr. Leaf, there are a lot of fun activities you can do online, including virtual game nights, workout sessions, online courses, cooking classes, book clubs, or a fun meeting between friends.
You can use your creativity and plan a fun online activity in order to make your friend feel included, even though you can’t be in the same room because of the pandemic.
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