It was a crisp autumn day, down under in the southern hemisphere of New Zealand. Wandering around the city of Auckland, I found myself people-watching while simultaneously soaking up my surroundings. I pondered the element of my belonging. I soon recognized the growing loneliness and isolation I was experiencing within the depths of my soul.
My ethnicity was different, American and not Maori. While my Texan accent was unique to the Kiwi ear, I was keenly aware of how it instantly set me apart. When words left my mouth and were voiced, my American heritage was quickly realized. My timid, introverted personality kept me at arm’s length from truly connecting with other New Zealanders, even as I purchased pint after pint of their infamous Hokey Pokey honeycomb toffee ice cream. One would certainly think I could connect with a national over a pint of ice cream! Yet loneliness just continued to mount.
Arriving in this heavily populated city a mere two weeks prior, the awareness of my own homesickness began settling in. I was newly engaged. My fiance was half-way around the world. Although I thought of myself as fiercely independent, it was my fiance who held my heart. He was in another hemisphere. I became acutely aware of how he and my beloved family were celebrating the holidays without me, and me without them. Realization dawned over how desperate I was for their companionship. I was eager for their hugs. I deeply yearned to be laughing alongside their crazy antics. Basically, I was coming face to face with the depths of my own loneliness.
Stuck in the Doldrums
As the greatly anticipated holiday season arrives, it is often filled with tradition, merriment, and joy. At least, that is the hope and expectation for many. Unfortunately, as the holidays unfold, it can be a season wrought with loneliness for many in our neighborhoods and communities. Likely, this can also be true for any of us individually. Whether we are feeling isolated and far from home, or solitude and grief upon suffering the loss of a loved one, the holidays can have a way of further exacerbating loneliness. They can even compound it to deeper depths.
How can we bolster ourselves through bouts of loneliness? Where do we turn when we deeply miss consistent companionship? How can we truly manage our lonesomeness well? How can we arise from the downward spiral of dejected emotions, even as we continue to fight relentlessly for community? Commercials promote togetherness with loved ones. Festivities beg for enjoyment with a beloved companion. It becomes very easy for our focus to shift to all we perceive that we are missing. So, what are the healthy approaches to managing the seasons of loneliness? Better yet, how can we recognize and come alongside others who may be battling loneliness and isolation too?
Self-Care Eases Loneliness
It takes courage to look at loneliness in the face and recognize the power it can hold. Initially, I felt I was swimming in a sea of strangers while in New Zealand. However, I quickly realized the courage I would have to embrace if I wanted to find a community of friends. Discovering how to remain true to my own self, while striving to fit in and adapt to a new culture, would be critical.
I found self-care to be an absolute necessity for managing my isolation and doldrums. Understanding that I am happier after regular exercise and a night of quality sleep, maintaining these habits became essential. An exercise routine where the heart rate increases, muscles are stretched and fresh air inhaled are all beneficial to any attitude. A quick, invigorating walk around the neighborhood or a hike in the great outdoors can be a fantastic mood booster. It also has the added bonus of helping process through all daily circumstances life can throw our way.
Equally so, taking note of how much sleep I am getting, as well as the quality and consistency of that valuable slumber, is essential in maintaining healthy body systems. Earplugs that adequately drown out background noise have become invaluable to me. They prove to be extremely helpful in increasing the quality of my sleep. Add a sleep mask for blocking out light, spritzes of lavender oil on the pillow, and the mental discipline of counting one’s blessings and the perfect recipe for quality sleep has been achieved. With a mind focused on gratitude, one can drift off to sleep with a smile on the lips and peace in the heart.
Deflecting Loneliness Requires Courage
I have experienced the sheer challenge it takes to make those initial steps to deflect loneliness. Along with courage, it takes willingness and motivation to rise above the isolation. It also requires a desire to try something new. Coaxing a mindset change, determined to try new things, can go hand-in-hand with the relentless pursuit for community, I have discovered the joy of how new friends can be right on the other side of new experiences. Add to that the joy of discovering a new hobby and it’s a win-win situation!
Paint, pottery, or photography opportunities abound through community recreational centers. Likewise, there are book clubs, cooking clubs, or athletic and adventure groups that can readily be joined. Trying new things and considering new experiences that fit our personal interests have a way of bringing intense happiness and connectivity. The bonus is how we get to experience it driving out the loneliness and doldrums.
The Joy in Service to Others
Additionally, I have found how serving others can be an excellent way to deflect loneliness. Getting outside of my own head, and reaching into the need of another individual often arouses the gift of purpose. Often, these opportunities to meet and serve others becomes a blessing to me, the giver. Prospects such as investing in the youth of today, or volunteering in a senior citizen’s home, abound. All in all, it is an opportunity to invest in an intentional, face-to-face connection. The gift of purpose will be the benefit of warding off and managing loneliness.
Consider how a simple card game or sharing a cup of coffee with another individual can deliver connection and encouragement. These moments often yield rich blessings. We may never know how our single invitation and intentional reaching out may bless another. After all, they could also be struggling with loneliness and feelings of isolation. Reaching out to another may turn into one of those grateful blessings that are counted while drifting off to a peaceful night’s sleep.
Disconnect from Social Media
There can be great value in disconnecting from all forms of social media for a time period. Ironically, when I disconnect from all notification updates and the “like” button, I find that I have more focused time and energy to intentionally pour into those relationships that are right before me. Pulling away from social media also helps calm any anxiety felt over how I might be missing out on something spectacular. All in all, this approach helps to bridge the gap from loneliness to true connectivity.
Equally so, detaching from social media provides time to focus on hobbies or activities that I enjoy. Likewise, it poses the opportunity to extend an invitation to another who might enjoy being a part of an activity together. Although habitually challenging my introverted self, I have often found that extending myself and inviting others into a hobby or activity frequently Ieaves me uplifted and blessed. While it requires bravery on my part to push myself to invite others in, I have found how time and again doing so aids in dissolving loneliness and managing it well.
In reality, there are truly those lonely seasons where community seems absolutely lost. I have learned some truths that help me navigate and hang on through these difficult times. In these moments, allowing time to reflect, remember, and lovingly recall each and every individual that I love, and who loves me, has been equally healing when managing loneliness. Facing the tears, the loss and the slippery slope of emotion is truly essential in moving forward and grieving well. Likewise, intentionally taking a step to connect with another individual in a relationship is necessary. In sharing the sadness and struggle, loneliness becomes a shared burden. Crying for help will bring about support from those who have listened and yearn to step into the need.
Boldly Step Out and Away From Loneliness
What became of that young girl in New Zealand? Well, she learned to courageously speak about her loneliness over missing family and friends. In doing so, she ultimately found comfort and connection, building community with something more than Hokey Pokey ice cream! The host family she resided with took her under their wing. They showered her with love as if she were their own daughter.
In response, I began to more clearly understand how joy came from serving others. Investing in my host family’s two-year-old through the gift of babysitting, I found abundant blessings. Little girl giggles escaping while playing hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo in the clean laundry warmed my heart deeply. It certainly worked to help kick out all those chilly blues! Friendship deepened over dinners of roasted chicken, pumpkin, and potatoes, connecting this Texan with this amazing family of Kiwis. As the ebb and flow of connection were made and received, and the New Zealand countryside enjoyed, I slowly began to discover loneliness being replaced by joy. A true sense of serenity and peace enveloped my soul.
As I began to trust others and let this new community take root in my heart, I stumbled upon joy. I presently live for opportunities to pay it forward. I have not forgotten my host family’s gift of their investment in me. Consistently looking for ways to serve others and come alongside those who may be wrestling with loneliness, I continue to find joy. It helps to disperse loneliness. As we step into the holidays, might we bravely consider how to step into the joy of impacting others’ lives for the better? With courage in our hearts, may we bravely let others in to share in life’s journey. Likewise, let us discover how we can uplift and dispell all lonesome emotions through the gift of interpersonal connection.