10 signs you’ve been spending too much time alone:
1. Your laundry basket is filled with a soft pile of sweatshirts, oversized t-shirts and elastic waist pants.
2. The sound of your phone’s ringtone evokes the same fight or flight response as the sound of a really loud fire alarm.
5. You feel excessively pessimistic, obsessive, anxious and worried.
6. Before you leave the house you have to remind yourself to act normal because there will be people.
7. You’ve become so unpracticed at the art of social norms that even the slightest interaction turns awkward.
8. When someone asks ‘what’s new’ you get tongue-tied looking for something noteworth to say aside from that you just marathon watched all 10 seasons of Beverly Hills 90210.
9. When someone asks you to do something you say you’ll check your schedule and then get disappointed when you find you have no excuse to say ‘no’.
10. You’ve psyched yourself out so much that you assume you stick out like a shy and uncomfortable eyesore in all social situations.
I know most of you aren’t actual hermit-people; but the inclination to stay in and stay away is stronger than ever after the death of a loved one. The shift caused by significant loss can lead you to feel more isolated than you’re accustomed to. While you try to adjust to life in the wake of major change, it’s business as usual for those around you and it’s easy to feel cut off from family and friends, left out, alienated and misunderstood. Not to mention, many people intentionally isolate due to feelings of anger, sadness, mistrust, helplessness, anxiety, and depression. Grief and loneliness go hand in hand for a number of reasons but I’ll name just a few…
- The person who died was one of your closest confidants or best friends.
- Your friends stop calling because they feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say.
- Your partner has died and everywhere you go you feel like a 3rd, 5th, or 7th wheel.
- You don’t feel like those around you are tolerant of your grief.
- Every interaction you have is filled with superficial condolences.
- You don’t want to leave the house because you’re tired of making everyone else feel better about the death.
- You don’t want to leave the house because you’re tired of having to reassure everyone you’re doing okay.
- You don’t want to leave the house because you’re afraid something will trigger your grief and you’ll become emotional in public.
- The things that used to seem important now seem pretty unimportant.
- You don’t feel like you have anyone to really talk to.
- People are pushing you to feel better and you don’t want to admit you still feel bad.
- You don’t want to admit you’re lonely.
- You don’t care.
- You’re struggling with anxiety or depression.
- An illness or disability makes it difficult to get out of the house without your deceased loved one.
- You can’t possibly think of where you would go.
I could keep on going but our posts are long enough already (yes, we’re aware). The point is that for a whole slew of reasons grievers are at increased risk of experiencing social and emotional isolation and loneliness. For many these feelings will be a passing phase, but for others they will serve as a tipping point for cyclical negative thinking and actual withdraw.
For clarifications sake, I’d like to differentiate between social isolation, emotional isolation and loneliness:
Social Isolation: Psychologically or physical distancing from desired or needed relationships. This includes relationships in the broader community; organizations like work, school or church; and family, friends and significant others. Many, especially introverts, feel alone time is important to their emotional well being, but social isolation becomes a problem when you no longer benefit from the distance placed between you and these entities.
Emotional Isolation: When a person feels they have no one they can talk to or confide in. Perhaps they have relationships that trigger negative feelings and thoughts so they withdraw as a defense against feeling stress, betrayal, pressure, shame or guilt. Emotionally isolated individuals may evolve to a point where they keep their feelings to themselves and they feel totally despondent about communicating with others or receiving their emotional support. One may be emotionally isolated despite having friends and family because they keep their relationships on a superficial level. In this way they might be surrounded by people, yet still feel lonely and unable to relate to or bond with others.
For grievers, this might occur when they feel others aren’t tolerant or accepting of their grief. They may also cut themselves off emotionally if it seems like people are uncomfortable with their expression of grief related emotions or if others react to their feelings in a way that minimizes their grief or pushes them to move on.
Loneliness: One’s perception that they don’t have the amount or quality of social interaction they desire. The perception of feeling lonely is relative to what you feel would be personally fulfilling. One can still feel lonely even when surrounded by family and friends because they’re missing the type of bond or amount of contact they feel desirable.
Loneliness and isolation have the capacity to erode both your emotional and physical well-being. Feeling alienated and isolated from social interaction can trigger a spiral of negative thinking about oneself – I have nothing to offer others, I’m not interesting, I’m different – and about others – everyone lies, they are all so fake, all anyone ever does is pressure me. When you’re lonely your brain tries to make sense of why and sometimes the answers it comes up with are less than logical. For example rather than thinking – I’m going through a tough adjustment period – you think – I don’t fit in anywhere. These assumptions become confused with facts and the next time you work up the courage to leave the house you are more inclined to see the world through this negative lens.
As if the emotional toll weren’t enough, one only needs to Google ‘loneliness’ to find that it’s also linked to a whole slew of physical maladies such as hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, inflammation in the body, problems with learning and memory, lower immune system, increase in the stress hormone cortisol, lower quality of sleep, and premature aging. Yikes!
Isolation is an actual health risk so it’s important to pay attention to how your coping in the weeks and months following a loss, especially if you’re someone who tends to withdraw into oneself. If you see yourself slipping into isolation, it’s probably best to try and find a few small ways to connect. Here are a few suggestions:
- Recognize negative thinking and the stories you are telling yourself – I’m not likable, no one wants to spend time with me, everyone else is happy, everyone else has someone they can talk to, I don’t fit in anywhere. Refuse to buy into these stories and look for evidence to the contrary. For those willing to see a therapist, Cognitive Behavioral Therapists are especially helpful when trying to combat negative thinking.
- Intentionally place yourself in social settings. If your not ready to join a group, start by simply going to public places like the mall or the park.
- Look for evidence in your environment that you aren’t in fact alone. Remember, loneliness isn’t the same as being alone and one can feel lonely even when surrounded by family and friends. Check out our activity on Support System Superlatives, you may realize you have people you can count on afterall.
- Avoid toxic relationships. These relationships can affirm your worst fears about people and increase the likelihood of emotional withdraw.
- Step out of your comfort zone – accept an invitation or initiate plans with someone.
- Write an email, send a Facebook message, text a family member, send a letter, or phone a friend.
- Read our post on maintaining relationships with family and friends after the death of a loved one,
- Say hello, smile, or make eye contact when walking down the street.
- Volunteer somewhere where you’re likely to have contact with other people.
- Join a club where people have similar interests to your own.
- Resist the urge to cancel plans or no-show.
- Ask people about themselves.
- Look for similarities in others, rather than differences.
- If one group doesn’t work for you, try another.
- Ask for help.
- Try a support group.
- Try individual or group therapy.
- Make the best of your alone time; do something constructive, cathartic, therapeutic, or good for your health.
Have a suggestion for combating loneliness and isolation? Share it in the comments below. Also don’t forget to subscribe to receive our posts straight to your email inbox and check out our growing library of print grief resources.