As Valentine’s Day approaches, the holiday can bring its fair share of disappointment. Grocery aisles of pink balloons, cards, chocolate boxes and roses can accentuate the loneliness we all feel at times.
Chronic loneliness is a different beast. An article in Psychology Today calls chronic loneliness “…a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism. And it increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up.” Loneliness can affect health in both drastic and subtle ways. And Creatives can find themselves particularly at risk, especially if they are focusing on a long-term solo project.
Loneliness can be a complex issue, but there are simple steps you can take to reduce loneliness in your life and the lives of those in your community:
Find Your Tribe
One of the reasons I love to go to writers’ conferences is the feeling of being surrounded by my people. I’ve been described with a range of adjectives, from “eccentric”, to “unique”, to just plain “weird”. But with other writers, no one bats an eye if I happen to mention that I have conversations with my protagonist when I get stuck with the plot. “What did she say?” they ask.
There’s just something special and uplifting about being around people who get you. It’s humbling and exciting and inspiring. If you can’t find a local group, there are sure to be groups online for you to join. But consider starting a local group. Online interaction can be isolating, and a poor substitute for time spent with friends IRL…
A proven way to feel better–fast–is to help others. Many people are booked from morning ’til night, leaving worthy organizations scrambling for volunteers. Your valuable time can make a real difference in your local community. Even if you think you don’t have much to offer, some of society’s most vulnerable would love to benefit from your caring attention. For example, my area is deeply affected by the opioid crisis. The local hospital just started a program called “Cuddlers” to help newborns going through withdrawals. There was literally an article in the paper asking for people to come down and hold babies for a while. And with many parents of young children overdosing or incarcerated, the need for mentors is greater than ever. That’s the sad reality in my neck of the woods. What battle is your community facing?
Look for the Lonely
Sometimes we get so busy with our work, we don’t see the needs of those close to us. I often lose myself in thought, and miss the smile of the 80-something-year-old lady in the grocery store who bundled up and braved the cold to get to the grocery store for bread, cold cuts, and cat food. A kind word or a pleasant greeting may be the only meaningful interaction she gets all week.
Am I over-thinking it and putting too much pressure on myself, where strangers are concerned? Maybe. But maybe not. Just keep an eye out for those who might love to have a little interaction, a little recognition. The lady eating alone at a nearby table, smiling at your kids’ antics. The kid at the basketball game who never has anyone in the bleachers to cheer for him. Once you start to search out the lonely, you’ll find them nearly everywhere you go. It takes minimal effort to acknowledge someone as you go about your day. And it will ease your loneliness as well.
Be strategic: Text a Friend
This may sound dorky, but I set a reminder on my phone to text a friend every day at lunch time. Yep, that’s how social I am by nature. I keep a list of those friends I want to keep close, and I rotate through them. This has turned out to be a win-win: they get a reminder of my appreciation for them , and the texts will usually yield one or two coffee dates a month so I get out of the house! With real people, not just a screen!
I started this habit about two years ago when I saw a comic on someone’s news feed. I didn’t want this to happen to us!!
If loneliness poses such serious mental, emotional, and physical threats, it certainly should be on the radars of creative people. Often deeply empathetic and caring, writers and other creatives are at risk. But taking a simple step now can not only keep the loneliness at bay, it can also enable us to brighten another’s life. And creating a happier day for someone else is what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it?
Have you found yourself stuck in chronic loneliness? Do you have a go-to method for reaching out to others?
P.S. If you’re not sure how to find your people, join the Cole Smith Writes community using the form below. You’re not alone; you’re one of us. And you’re a Creative!