Loneliness. You are not alone in your loneliness. And yet you are alone. So very very alone.
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Discord and other social media platforms allow us share and speak with friends and strangers. Cell phones, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and Facebook video calls allow us to see and talk to loved ones with the push of a button. Personal vehicles allow us to see friends in person at distances that would have previously prevented friendships.
Lonely. I am still lonely. I went rock climbing with a friend. We got dinner afterwards. As soon as she left a massive wave of loneliness swept over me. I live with family. I have a great relationship with my family. Yet I am still lonely.
Loneliness is a negative emotion that tells us connection is missing or broken. A good connection requires presence (the act of being fully engaged with the other person), and common experience (doing something, understanding the other).
For six years I relied on texting and phone calls. My close friends were hours away and my work routinely prevented me from seeing them. But it left me wanting. I wanted to be with them and not where I was. Now, even when with my friends I imagine and hope to be somewhere else.
I got used to my phone as a placeholder for human connection. Checking my phone gave a tiny relief to my loneliness. My phone was a very bad coping mechanism. I found out later that checking our phones impulsively is due to the brain being trained to release dopamine by checking our phones.
Even though I have consistent time with the my closest friends who are wonderful people I still have my bad habits. Silence in conversation? Pick up the phone. Think of something to say to someone else? Pick up the phone and text them. Can’t be funny myself? Grab my phone and find a TikTok.
We can change our emotions by changing small actions. Find the one small action. The easiest one you know you can change. It doesn’t have to be a magic bullet, but one that is part of the change.
Below is my train of thought that got me from loneliness to stop checking my phone.
I am lonely because I am not fully connected. I am not fully connected because I am not fully attentive and engaged with my friends. I am not fully engaged and connected because I have the emotional desire to be or do something else. I want to be elsewhere and do other things because the cell phone gives the false impression that it will heal my loneliness by connecting me to someone else (the dopamine burst).
When I go to my friends house I tell them, “I am struggling to focus on being here and not check my phone. I am going to put it on ‘do not disturb’ It will only ring if one of my favorite contacts calls. Other than that I am not going to check it. Please call me out if I do.”