This year’s Valentine’s Day, like other holidays, will feel different. However, we can still celebrate without feeling lost. We may get down on ourselves if we find ourselves single on February 14, remind ourselves it will be over soon, and try for now, not to crawl in a gloomy hole.
These feelings can become protracted and more difficult to manage in a pandemic where lockdowns and quarantines make ruminating and downward thought spirals that much easier to engage in and meeting new people that much more challenging. Here are four strategies to help you manage your loneliness and put your life in perspective during this challenging time.
Enhance your self-worth while alone
The pandemic has afforded you this once-in-a-lifetime, extended opportunity to develop the relationship that is the foundation of all of your other relationships, including your relationship with your future life partner: your relationship with yourself.
Most of us avoid this relationship at all costs. A study by University of Virginia social psychologist Timothy Wilson found that people would rather be given uncomfortable electric shocks than to do nothing at all. Wilson’s research comports with a Blaise Pascale quote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
It may be helpful to reframe this grueling isolated period as an opportunity to connect with and understand yourself. You can use this time to reassess and renew what you most value before making a momentous life decision, like getting married.
You can make the decision to use this solo time to make a much more thoughtful and profound choice about how you wish to live while you still have the chance.
Turn loneliness into solitude
Loneliness is a negative, distressing emotion that you feel when you wish your relationships were more robust and meaningful than they are. If you consider yourself “lesser than” because you have not yet found your life partner, so will be your self-opinion when married. The inner demons you have ignored will visit you regularly like unwelcome apparitions and influence the quality of your marriage.
Hence, if you are lonely now as a single person, so will you be lonely as a married person. This truth can help us to understand the title of Alice Walker’s We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For: No one will come along and save you from your loneliness.
Only you can save yourself—by doing the inner work to transform your loneliness (a negative, distressing emotion associated with being alone) into solitude (a positive, strengthening emotion associated with being alone). That’s correct: it’s not being alone that causes loneliness—it’s how you interpret being alone.
Equate alone time to growth time
Like all other negative emotions, loneliness is an internal signal to make a change in your life. As the British educational psychologist Pamela Qualter found, it activates a “reaffiliation motive” to develop more meaningful relationships with others.
Sound good? Not so fast. As University of Arizona management professor Allison Gabriel found in a recent study, loneliness can act as a positive source of motivation to reengineer how we approach our relationships—but only if we have the self-confidence to believe in our ability to create positive changes in our lives.
Hence, if you are feeling lonely and doubting your ability to create the relationships you desire, believing that you can is half the battle. The stronger, more resilient you that will emerge when you truly internalize this belief will attract others to engage with you. It is for this reason that the word “confidence” is derived from the Latin roots for “with” (con) and “trust” (fidere). For others to have “trust with” (confidence in) you, you must first have trust with yourself (self-confidence). And this also leads us to my final recommendation.
Make thoughtful, less-digital connections
The other half of the battle is to make judicious decisions about how you will allocate your time and effort dedicated to socialization. Despite the myriad promises to the contrary, texting or emailing rarely fosters meaningful relationships.
A 2012 study led by Leslie Seltzer at the University of Wisconsin, for instance, found that phone calls can approximate in-person interactions in reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) and stimulating oxytocin (a neuropeptide associated with bonding and affection).
Seltzer found that emails and texts, however, have virtually no effect on these neurochemicals so critical for human bonding. It is for this reason that we go online seeking social connection and end up with only social information.
While social connection is one of the most important buffers against loneliness, social information only compounds it. Why? Because we only see the artificial, meticulously curated versions others wish to present to us. It should be no surprise that a 2013 study by Humboldt University of Berlin, surveying 584 Facebook users in Germany, found that the most common reported emotion among users is envy.
So, like every other challenging emotion you will ever experience in your life, the only way out of the loneliness you may be feeling as Valentine’s Day approaches is through. Embrace your loneliness as a call to action to revitalize how you approach your relationships—including and principally your relationship with yourself—and it will have served its purpose in your life.
Anthony Silard, PhD is a world-renowned leadership educator and coach. His new book, Screened In: The Art of Living Free in the Digital Age, was released in 2020. Learn more about Anthony and his work at www.theartoflivingfree.org.