Have you ever sat in a crowded cafeteria alone during lunch and watched the people around you? It seems as if everyone has a friend, several friends, a group of friends even. They’re talking, texting, on social media. Maybe you’re sitting alone because you simply don’t connect to others your age, maybe you get anxious in social situations, no matter the cause it can be very lonely without friends around you. Is there a cure for that lonely feeling?
Lonely but Not Alone
This isn’t an altogether uncommon feeling among adolescents, a recent survey found that 40% of teens often or very often feel lonely. When you think back to your cafeteria you probably can’t see that many people sitting alone, what that goes to show is that even those with more social activity reported that they often experienced feeling lonely. It’s possible to feel lonesome surrounded by people, the experience is not limited to actually being isolated. When we recognize the common thread in that struggle it helps us to realize that we are not the only ones with these feelings. There is a sense of being connected, even in the disconnect from others and this could open up the space to create more tangible relationships.
The large upswing of screen time in the lives of adolescents is largely attributed to the increased number of teens who feel lonely. Despite “socializing” by texting or on social media, there is a lack of face to face interaction that can leave relationships feeling unfamiliar or difficult to build on. In time that lack of in-person connection with peers and even adults creates feelings of loneliness that can eventually lead to mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.
Social anxiety can also be a barrier to establishing friendships with others. If you find that you are in fear of things like judgment and embarrassment to the extent that you avoid social situations and gatherings and when you are in a social setting you find you feel panicked and experience physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat and dizziness you may consider seeking professional help. There are treatment options available to those who wish to overcome social anxiety in order to build relationships.
You Have the Power to Cure Your Loneliness
There are programs that can help you to be more assertive and teach you social skills. But you have the power to work to build connection and there are many things that you can use to help you:
• Practice makes perfect – Try one thing. Try smiling and saying hi to everyone you see, everywhere you go. It takes less than a second of your time, and although many people may be too absorbed in their phones or their thoughts to say hi back, for some people, your smile will be the only one they get all day. Think of how it would make you feel, then pay it forward.
• Step out of your comfort zone – Make it a point to say something to someone new every day. If you admire the work someone does in one of your classes, let them know. If you have been interested in knowing more about a hobby you see someone is engaged in, ask a question. Laugh at a joke, pay someone a compliment, small acts of kindness can build lasting impressions.
• Reach out to others – Look for others who are sitting alone, when you lift your head and look around, you may be surprised by how many other people seem to share your feelings. Consider sitting with them and starting a conversation.
• Look for things in common – When we are experiencing negative feelings we often only see the differences between us and others, try pausing and looking for similarities. Maybe someone has is wearing a t-shirt with characters from a show you like or someone is listening to one of your favorite bands. Use the things you have in common to try to build a connection.
• Join a or start a group or club – Find a club, a sport, a musical group, leadership group, a church or community group, or any groups you may be interested in that meets regularly If one does not exist consider starting one and creating opportunities for others to join. It is a great way to expand your talents, but offers you plenty of opportunities for in-person socialization, too. Having a sense of belonging does much to combat loneliness.
• Find a part-time job – Jobs are a great opportunity for lots of face to face time with peers and people of all ages. You’ll have a chance to earn a wage while you’re building connections, it’s a win-win for both your loneliness and your savings account
• Volunteer – Nothing is more rewarding than volunteering. You can volunteer for a cause you already love, or find a need in your area and fill it. Either way, you get plenty of face to face time and the satisfaction of being a part of bettering your community.
Whether your loneliness is perceived, or you are truly isolated, you don’t have to be alone at all. It may take some work, stretching out of your comfort zone, but you can find ways to have friends and meaningful, face to face interactions with your peers and other people. Loneliness can be something you give into or it can be something that you fight with connection. You have everything you need inside of you. Your social life is waiting for you.
Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!