When You’re Not Alone, but Still Feel Lonely

In this time of social distancing, it only makes sense that many people feel lonely.

No one is physically present with co-workers, friends, or others they saw on a regular basis. Sure, we may talk to folks on Zoom and Google Hangouts, but it’s not the same.

Still, loneliness was a major problem well before social distancing, affecting as many as half of U.S. citizens in 2019. Loneliness is an epidemic as pervasive, and possibly as lethal, as the Coronavirus.

The Bizarre Irony of Loneliness

It doesn’t matter how many friends or family you have, or how much they clearly love you. Perhaps even though you’re not alone, you still feel lonely.

In fact, the bizarre irony of loneliness is that sometimes, the people with the biggest families or most Facebook friends, actually feel the loneliest.

How can this be?!

Quality, not Quantity

Loneliness isn’t about how many friends or family members you have.

Instead, it’s about the kinds of interactions you have with others.

Group Zoom hangs are fun, sure. But how well can you really connect with 10 people at once?

Arrange for some smaller hangs; ideally, one-one-one, to enhance the quality of your socialization.

If most of your interactions stay on the small talk level, you’re not connecting with others as well as you could be. You need to go deeper to feel less lonely. I’ll talk about how to do that next.

“Okay, but… How are You Really?

If you get an inkling a friend or family member might be stressed, ask this simple follow-up question.

Let them know it’s okay to tell you know they actually feel. And then really listen to their answer.

Tempting as it it, don’t immediately go into fixing or advice-giving mode. Just listen. This will show them you’re a safe person to be real with.

Once someone opens up to you, ask for updates, and follow up with them. This will show them you care.

Be Vulnerable.

Share with someone how you’re really feeling; ideally, someone you know will be supportive. Start small, if you wish. One worry, concern, or even triumph.

Opening up to others will help you feel closer to them, which will cause you to feel… you guessed it. Less lonely.

Alternate way to be vulnerable: Tell people you love them and care about them.

Saying “I love you” is uncomfortable for many people. It opens up the possibility of rejection; that’s what makes it vulnerable.

During social distancing, your usual ways of showing love – by giving hugs, doing acts of service, giving gifts, and so on – may be limited. So use this opportunity to practice telling your loved ones how you feel.

To summarize…

If you’re not alone, but still feel lonely, you may need to connect with others a) one to one, or in smaller groups, and b) on a deeper level, by opening up about your feelings, and listening to theirs.

If opening up to others is really hard for you to do, I understand. You are not alone in that.

Therapy can give you the support, encouragement, and tools to learn how to open up to others. If you’re interested, contact me today.

Rebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who provides compassionate tele-therapy. She helps folks heal from anxiety, depression, people-pleasing and burnout using their strengths and inner wisdom.

How to Accept Uncertainty

In this era of COVID-19, we’re all living with uncertainty every single day. We may be having thoughts like…

Will the grocery be out of what I need?

Am I going to get the virus?

What if I can’t get a job?

Will my graduation / wedding / vacation be cancelled?

In this post, I’ll talk about why uncertainty is uncomfortable, how to accept it, and how to tell the difference between planning and worrying.

Photography by Nik Shulaihin

What makes uncertainty uncomfortable?

For the most part, human beings prefer routine. Our bodies and minds work better when we have some predictability in our daily lives.

Change can be hard, and people need time to process it. We to think things through and explore our feelings. Sometimes that takes days, weeks, even months and years.

So when change happens quickly and unexpectedly, our thoughts and feelings can spiral out of control. We might start experiencing anxiety, anger, helplessness, and fear. We may have thoughts like…

What other changes will come from this change?

If a change this big can happen this quickly, what else is in store?

What if this is the catalyst to my entire life falling apart?

If that last one sounds familiar, see my post on catastrophizing.

Photography by Fallon Michael

Accepting Uncertainty

If we’ve all learned one thing from the Coronavirus, it’s that life is unpredictable. You can think ahead all you want, but the universe can throw a curveball at any time.

Uncertainty is unsettling. And yet, it always has been, and always will be, part of life. The sooner you can accept that, the easier life becomes.

How exactly do you accept uncertainty? Here are some ideas.

Return to the Present

When you notice yourself trying to anticipate what will happen in the weeks, months, years ahead… pause. Bring yourself back to the present. You can’t time travel, and you don’t have a crystal ball. All you can do is be here in this moment, and cope with what’s in front of you.

Get Physical

Go on a walk or run. Do yoga or an exercise class. Take a hot shower. Laugh. Have sex. Do just about anything that takes you out of your head and into your body.

Adopt a Mantra

Choose a helpful saying you can use when you notice yourself worrying or fortune-telling. Here are some ideas:

  • Que sera, sera / Whatever will be, will be
  • Let go and let God
  • I’ve survived change before, and I’ll survive this, too
  • I can only do what I can do with what’s in front of me
  • The Serenity Prayer
  • I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it
Photography by Pablo Merchan Montes

What about planning for the future?

There’s a difference between planning for the future and worrying about the future.

Planning for the future involves identifying and taking specific steps that will help you down the road. When you plan for the future, you’re focused on things that are within your control.

Worrying about the future involves ruminating on all of the possibilities about what could happen and how you would handle it. When you worry, you thoughts get tangled up in things you can’t control.

Even though worrying might feel productive, it isn’t. It can increase feelings of anxiety and panic.

Do YOU have any tips for how to accept uncertainty? Leave them in the comments below. And if you liked this article, press “like” or share it with someone who could use it.

Wishing you health and safety,

Rebecca

Rebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who provides compassionate tele-therapy. She helps folks heal from anxiety, depression, people-pleasing and burnout using their strengths and inner wisdom.

Reduce Anxiety through Movement

Everyone knows that exercise is good for our physical health. Did you know exercise is also great for mental health? Yes – you can even reduce anxiety through movement!

Exercise increases chemicals in the brain like dopamine and epinephrine, which improve our mood. Exercise can also reduce our stress response up to 24 hours later.

The physiological reactions when we exercise are very similar to those that happen when we’re anxious – the heart rate and breathing rate increase, we sweat, our muscles tense…

So when we exercise, our brain develops a new association with that state of mind that feels good. And we may experience reduced fear and intensity when our bodies do go into an anxious state.

Now that you understand why movement helps anxiety and mood, here are three tips that explain how to exercise for anxiety management.

Do something you enjoy.

Personally, I haven’t had a gym membership in several years. Why? Because I hate going to the gym. Why spend money on a membership for something I will never use?

Life is too short to force yourself to do a type of exercise you hate.

Not only that, but also, doing an enjoyable exercise actually yields greater benefits to the brain.

Hate the gym? Try…

  • Speed-cleaning
  • Dance parties
  • Walking to and from work
  • Rock climbing
  • Yoga
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Paint ball
  • Laser tag
  • Intramural sports
  • Sex
  • Dog walking
  • Chasing after small children
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator

Go at your own pace.

There are plenty of articles out there that say you should get x many minutes of cardio at y intensity to yield z benefits. Please read these with a grain of salt.

For one thing, scientific results are mixed – there’s not one simple answer. And for another thing, many of these “magic” formulas don’t take into account important factors like age, health risks, chronic pain, etc.

Trust that any exercise you do – high intensity, low intensity, long, short – will be beneficial to your mood.

Stay consistent.

When it comes to exercise, like most things, consistency is key.

Experts find that chronic exercise is as effective for changing serotonin levels in the brain as anti-depressants.

(To be clear, that does not mean you should stop taking your psychiatric medications. It does emphasize how effective ongoing exercise really is for people with anxiety, depression, and stress).

Trouble Staying Consistent?

  • Find an accountability buddy
  • Post updates on Instagram or Twitter about your exercise
  • Develop and follow a weekly schedule
  • Track your weekly schedule to hold yourself accountable
  • Remember what makes consistent exercise important to you
  • Reward yourself for consistency

Has movement helped your anxiety? Tell us about it in the comments! And if you think this post could help someone, please share!

-Rebecca

How to Set Emotional Boundaries

Are you the person everyone goes to for advice?

Do others talk your ear off, but forget to ask how you’re doing?

Do they ask you for rides or money, but never offer?

Are you sick and tired of feeling emotionally drained by others?

As a natural helper, healer, people pleaser and/or empath, you may be so used to being there for others that you forget about yourself. You may feel that you don’t have time or bandwidth to care for yourself.

The reality is, it’s impossible to give quality support when you’re also feeling overwhelmed. It’s important to put yourself first sometimes, so that you can fully show up for the people you care about. And of course, because your well-being is just as important as anyone else’s!

So without further ado, here are 3 tips to help you set emotional boundaries with yourself and others.

Tip #1 – Say “no” when you aren’t available!

You may feel as though it’s their obligation to drop everything to be there for loved ones in crisis. Guess what? It isn’t.

Saying no to a request doesn’t make you a bad family member or person. It just means you can’t be available to everyone at all times. It would be totally unreasonable for anyone to expect that of you.

Being unavailable might mean that you have other plans or obligations. But it might also mean that you are emotionally unavailable. It’s okay if you can’t be there for someone because you’re tired, or sick, or just wanting to relax for a little bit.

Ways to say no:

  • “No.”
  • “I’d love to help, but I’m really busy.”
  • “I wish I could, but I have a prior obligation.”
  • “It’s not a good time.”
  • “That doesn’t work for me.”
  • “That’s not in my wheelhouse.”
  • “I can’t right now.”

Ways to set limits without saying no:

  • “I’m not available now, but I could help on (suggest another day / time that works better for you).”
  • “I can give you 15 minutes.”
  • “Even though I can’t help you by (doing exactly what they’re requesting), I can…”
  • “Why don’t you ask (name of someone else who could help)?”

Tip #2 – Do not back down.

When you start setting boundaries, people are probably going to push back. Please? Just this one time? Why can’t you?

Stick to your guns! Use the ‘broken record’ technique – repeat yourself over and over and over until they get give up. Validate that you know they’re disappointed but unfortunately, you still cannot carry out their request.

Do not allow yourself to be swayed by anger, guilt trips, the cold shoulder, or other tactics.

If you back down, you will only encourage them to push back on your boundaries again in the future. On the other hand, if you stay firm, they’ll learn to respect your boundaries.

Tip #3 – Use your “me” time well

Many helpers and healers feel guilty taking time to relax. We may feel as though we should be using the time to help someone or accomplish something.

Making time for self-care is an important boundary to set with ourselves.

Self-care is not just about making the time, but also using it effectively.

If you spend a lot of your “down time” watching distressing or anxiety-provoking T.V. shows, reading the news, getting into arguments with people on the internet, or venting or ruminating, your emotional wellness probably will not be replenished.

Set emotional boundaries with yourself by doing more things that bring you joy and peace. Going for a walk, watching uplifting T.V. shows, thinking about what you’re grateful for, taking a nap, creating art… whatever leaves you feeling better about yourself and the world.

Remember: saying no does not make you selfish.

Saying no makes you a human being with many obligations, yourself being one of them. That is perfectly reasonable and okay. So set emotional boundaries to preserve your own well-being, as well as the health of your relationships.

If you liked this article, please leave a comment or share it with someone who could benefit!

Happy Sunday!

Rebecca