On Loneliness and Valentine’s Weekend

The American Psychological Association recently declared that loneliness is a bigger health epidemic than obesity and smoking combined. Because it doesn’t just impact our emotions, it impacts our health in an extraordinarily negative way. Research shows that people struggling with chronic loneliness have up to a 14% higher chance of experiencing an early death and are more vulnerable to other health conditions.

Our emotional evolution makes us want to avoid pain. Loneliness hurts. Valentine’s weekend is a time when trying to avoid pain can lead to poor decisions and additional hurts from unmet expectations, unhealthy behaviors, and a sense of loss or grief. Most mental health professionals receive an uptick of phone calls from clients on V Day.

Strategies to use when the loneliness feels too much:
Connect with a close friend
The marketing of Valentine’s Day usually refers to a romantic connection, but it can also be viewed as a day to celebrate the “power of relationships of all kinds.” Ask yourself: who would I like to spend some time with today?

Social connection calms our physiology, so when we feel lonely, we are walking around in fight or flight mode, which can put tremendous strain on our hearts and immune system. Even a conversation with a friend over the phone or FaceTime has a calming effect

Be careful how you speak to yourself
Self esteem is like an emotional immune system that protects you from emotional pain and strengthens your emotional resilience. An effective way to increase self-esteem is to practice compassion for yourself. When you hear that inner voice telling you, you’re not worthy of friendship or a loving partner, or that you deserve to be treated without respect, imagine what you would say to a close friend who is feeling bad about themselves. Offer yourself that same encouragement.

Avoid Attaching a Story to Your Loneliness
Loneliness is a strong feeling, but we need to be careful not to attach a story to that emotion. “I am lonely because I am unlovable,” or “ I am not good at relationships,“ are examples of stories that are not accurate, but can become internalized if we repeat them to ourselves.

Engage in healthy distractions
When you’re caught up in negativity and can’t stop replaying painful scenes in your head, interrupt the negative self-talk with a task that requires concentration. Do a challenging crossword puzzle, lose yourself in a complicated recipe, play a video game, watching an engrossing movie, or take an online exercise class. Studies show that even two minutes of distraction can reduce the urge to focus on the negative.

Practice Self-Care
Be kind to yourself in a way that feels comforting. Treat yourself with a warm-scented bath, an uplifting movie, a special treat to eat, or a snuggly blanket. Also see The Tenderness Ritual for ideas.

Look for purpose in loss
Deriving purpose from loss can promote recovery from it. It may be challenging but try to imagine the changes you could make that will help you live a life more aligned with intention, values, and purpose.

Help others
When we volunteer or take time to help others, it helps to build our social connections and to make us healthier and happier. In one study, participants reported greater happiness if they spent money on someone else (as opposed to spending it on themselves). In another study, teenagers who volunteered for community service had lower levels of risk factors for heart disease than those who didn’t volunteer. Colleagues of mine have given out roses and candy at women’s shelters for Valentines, and described having a wonderful experience.

Plan a Zoom Date With Single Friends
If you have single friends, plan a party night for a Zoom date with them. Be sure to keep the evening upbeat. Activities that the group could do might include the following:

  • Play online games as a group
  • Watch a movie together
  • Cook the same meal or prepare the same cocktails together over Zoom

In addition to feeling less lonely, spending some quality time with your friends will keep your social skills strong and will provide you with feelings of love on this day.

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