Are you feeling alone and disconnected?
If there’s anything I know first-hand, it’s tried and tested ways of being alone well.
What works for me will not work for everyone, but after 8 years of practice I know I’ve got some universal wisdom up my sleeve I can pass on. If this helps at least one other person during this difficult time, I think it’s worth writing. That said,
What I share here will undoubtedly serve you in any season of life!
Though I live with my daughter, I spend a lot of time by myself which has taken a significant amount of adjusting to over the years. If you work mostly from home and live without a partner you’ll perhaps recognise why I say that.
Back to it, when this pandemic hit, I knew it’d mean little change to my everyday life. You may have seen the meme’s ‘when you realise quarantine is your life?’ They’re talking about me.
My social circle’s small. When I’m not coaching, my weeks consist of trips to the supermarket, the school drive, exercise in nature. Life now looks the same with the exception of in-person client meetings and the school-drive.
Like many of you, COVID19 means much uncertainty around my work which affects our livelihood. The pre-cursor to my pandemic is that I’ve been facing this same uncertainty for the past six months. To that effect, I’ve already had to adapt at great personal cost and feel I’ve fought my mental battle ahead of time.
Almost 10 weeks into the pandemic, I’m consistently strong, unshaken, and centered (update 2021: almost a year on, this is still true.) Yet I know others are struggling, and so I feel a duty to share what I know has helped me.
The deeper cries I read on social, echo many soul searching and messy seasons I’ve endured before the pandemic. I read of loneliness, loss, anxiety, personal doubt, weakened coping-strategies, and out-of-control behaviours. I can’t help but hear them because I’ve lived them.
I give you this context so you know these are practices I’ve used personally over a sustained period. It’s not a best-guess from someone who’s never faced circumstances like this in their life.
So, here are the 5 long-standing practices and tools I use to give myself that foot-up into feeling content, fulfilled, and good about life.
1. Allow your feelings & emotions – but watch the wallowing
It’s widely known that the healthy way to process feelings, is to feel them. Blocking or suppressing only comes back to bite us on the ass at a later date.
If you’re feeling sad, lonely, frustrated, anxious, alone, fed-up or numb, call it out.
Having said the above, we don’t always know that what we’re feeling IS LONELINESS. Loneliness has historically had such a stigma attached to it. I listened to an amazing Brené Brown podcast whilst writing this post. I know it’ll help some of you so will include it at the bottom.
Recognising how we feel means we validate ourselves and the feelings we’re experiencing.
For the record, I don’t think now’s the best time to start tackling big issues or doing deep work unless you’re certain that’s the right thing for you to be doing. I’ve spent many hours doing this. ‘Sitting with’ aloneness and loneliness, grief, pain, boredom, purposelessness…? I’m not gonna lie, it sucks. Big time.
Over the years I’ve experimented with a lot of ‘sitting with’ versus ‘doing’. The former feels painful and passive. The latter often feels forced but my mind says at least it feels progressive. I think there’s no one size
… I mean at what point do you settle ‘enough’s enough’ and kick yourself into touch?
My conclusion is that taking positive action is never not a good idea. So witness your ‘stuff’ surfacing and take action to help yourself stay buoyant. Now’s a time for staying sane and doing all we can to help ourselves through this pandemic season. And that will look like different things for each of us.
An Integrated Way To Move Through Feelings
The next time you find yourself experiencing lower-vibrational feelings try these two things:
1. Acknowledge your feeling.
Then ask yourself what the feeling is. Can you name it? Is it accurate?
We’re so used to hurtling through life that rarely do we pause to run a background-check on our thoughts and feelings.
95% of our days we live on autopilot, which includes the conditioning of our mind to think and feel in certain ways. Is the way you’re feeling, and the narrative that goes with it one you even chose?
2. Let it go… or don’t.
Once you’ve acknowledged the way you feel, you can choose to hold on to it or let it go. To release it.
Easier said than done right? I know! If you’ve ever tried to snap out of something and it just didn’t happen you’ll know it’s a challenge to go from reverse to forwards in one. From negative emotion-states to positive.
What can get us there if we want to feel better but are having a hard time putting reverse into first, is truth-based thoughts and/or appreciation.
- Truth-Based Thoughts
The feeling: I feel terrible because I'm over-eating and drinking. I'm yelling at my family, I look a mess. Life's a mess. Feelings of judgement of ourselves and possibly by others (especially if it's verified on social), shame, unworthiness... you know the score. The thought: I'm a horrible person. I'm handling this so bad. I normally have my shit together and now I can't even stay indoors and cope, it's not like I'm on the front line or anything. Our grandparents had the war and coped - what's wrong with me? The truth: "I'm experiencing life in a one-of-a-kind way that I (and the history of womankind) never has before. I'm doing my honest best".
Appreciation is a first-rung-on-the-ladder-up higher thought. You can do it when you don't feel anything is going right with the world. You don't even have to feel grateful to appreciate. I've found that even when I was too mad at the Universe to feel like choosing positive thoughts, or when just being alive hurt, that even then I could appreciate something. If I wanted to.
3. Show yourself kindness
We’re so good at being the critic, less so at showing ourselves loving kindness. Treat yourself as kindly as you would a dear friend.
As you move through your days and all those feelings surface, allow for them, but don’t judge yourself. Then consider:
what one positive choice could I make to help myself feel better and the day pass easier?”
2. Move your body
It’s simple. Move the body, feel better. I was at my worst when I began walking consistently and I’ve shared extensively the extent to which I believe it SAVED. MY. LIFE. My exercise habit is now 13 years strong!
Listen, I know that when we feel low we often do not want to don the athleisure and get moving. Hunkering down on a comfy chair and binge-watching Netflix (Grey’s Anatomy was my staple) is far more likely to hit the spot. Throw in a good helping of crappy food because I ‘deserve’ the comfort and it’s a downward spiral of choices perfected.
Doing what’s good for our bodies, IS NOT THE PREFERRED CHOICE! It’s the hard choice. BUT… it’s a hard choice short-term for a preferred gain long-term.
If you follow me on social for any time, you’ll no doubt have seen me working out in one form or another daily. It’s not accidental. The positive impact on my physical and mental health as a result of exercise is one I know simply cannot and will not default on.
You don’t always feel like it, but taking action to move your body creates a state change out of which you give yourself a chance to feel better.
I’ve already covered exercise in detail so won’t reinvent the wheel, the posts are here:
Watch the video
Read the post
Watch the video
One other thing I’d add is that if you’ve got time alone, and not much to do, then rather than squeeze all your exercise into one time-slot, spread it throughout your day. If you use a chart or tracker it’ll give you something to keep ticking off as you go through the day which will make you feel good!
Download my FREE tracker here.
3. Positive Eating Habits
When we feel low, moving our body and eating for nutrition are two of the simplest, most beneficial practices we can commit to. They’re also often the most challenging. Helping many clients work through body-related issues, I know they affect the majority more than the minority.
This one I know from experience can be a REAL EFFORT OF DISCIPLINE, especially when difficult emotions are in the mix.
For some, the struggle is in making better food choices in the first place and eating healthier dishes. For many though (myself included if I allow it), it’s the issue of MINDLESS SNACKING that catches us out.
We know now more than ever, that what we eat affects not just our body mass, but also our brain.
The brain is THE CONTROL CENTRE OF OUR BODY. Why do we knowingly choose to put the wrong fuel in the tank? Like putting diesel in a petrol engine – there’s usually hell to pay afterwards 😉
Personally, I know that I can’t afford to keep messing with what I call ‘the sugar switch’. Though I LOVE all the sugary things and all the carb things, it DOES NOT SERVE MY BODY. I feel stodgy, bloated, and honestly… when is enough ever enough? It’s not. Once that first bite or glass is had, there’ll likely be another.
Where you can, stick to what you know fuels your body in the best possible way you can afford to.
3 things to try when you find yourself in the kitchen on the scrounge for another snack
- In the moment you find yourself walking into the kitchen, ask yourself why you’re there. If you just ate an hour ago, it’s probably not hunger. Doing this can be profound. You open up space in which to choose alternatively. To choose better for yourself.
- Consider that it’s possible to feel that impulse, that inner scrounge, that restlessness, and do nothing about it. WOW! Right? Some people feel stress all day long and do nothing about it so isn’t it possible to feel the need for food (when we’re not in need of it) and to also choose not to itch that scratch?
- Ask yourself if the thing you’re going to eat or drink right now is going to hit the spot for you. Honestly? Or is it just going to lead to more? As I said earlier, some of us know all too well that enough is never enough!
I’ve practiced these three over and over, and ended up sending myself out the kitchen empty-handed so many times! But here’s the wrap:
The more you strengthen your mental muscle to resist, the stronger you become at saying ‘NO’ to yourself.
Finally on exercise, if you keep starting and stopping on your efforts, have you tried taking Small Steps Over None? Taking small steps over no steps means we decrease the amount or the intensity. I promise this works EVERY SINGLE TIME for me with anything I want to make happen in life.
Read the post here…
Finally finally, if you have a permanent connection in your head between diet and exercise to the extent you are always weighing off one against the other, this video may help. I uncoupled this association over a decade ago and it was a game-changer.
Watch the video
The reason for so many other resources I’m able to share here is because taking control of my diet and exercise habits is 100% the foundation of my health. Health IS wealth.
4. Mind Management.
Helping ourselves through tough times is an act of service we don’t always feel like performing. But it’s necessary.
THIS. IS. A. BIG. ONE. That’s not to rank it top, each of the five practices is as integral as the other. Our mind function is undeniably impacted by exercise and nutrition, which affects and is affected by the way we feel. That said,
If we think we’re doing well, we’re going to feel like we are. So, it’s on us to take control and do all we can to help our mind out.
For context, loneliness occurred for me as I spend most of my time alone during the day. On weekends my daughter is with her dad. What works for me may not work for you because what we each think of as ‘doing ok’ is subjective.
4.1. Life doesn’t need to be ok for me to be OK
One of the first steps to managing the mind is to let go of the belief that you can only feel content when the world is as you prefer. For most of us, life does not look like we want it to right now, so how do we sell ourselves the idea that we don’t need it to be? How do we get our overwhelmed minds to pipe down and be ok with this current reality? We instruct the brain.
The brain creates our mind and controls the body. So when we instruct the brain, we take care of the mind and the body.
Hack the brain, create the mind
To refer to my personal journey, in the absence of life looking like I wanted it to, I had to entertain an idea I didn’t want to. My intimate relationships had always been the linchpin in my life so I had to entertain the idea that it was possible to be single and feel okay with my life. That felt like an EPIC ask. Seriously. Most days I wasn’t even sure if it was possible for me personally, BUT I did it.
ACTION Having acknowledged the way you feel (No. 1), you can decide to let go of the need to have life a certain way in order for you to be ok. Entertain the possibility that it could look another way and you be just as happy.
We step into a new reality when we stop giving energy to what we have no control over and direct it towards a life we CAN create.
4.2. Cultivate a new reality
Becoming OK with a new reality often takes time, we’re creatures of habit after all. One of the most challenging things I found was steering myself in ways I didn’t really want to be steered. Part of me was game, but then another part still felt like I was going through the motions.
I was curious though, that if I did it long enough, it might produce a new reality? I told myself that looking after my body with diet and exercise, a commitment to personal development and later, helping others, was the new priority.
ACTION: What do you need your brain to get behind as being most important to you in this new reality. What habits do you need to cultivate to get yourself to believe it?
4.3. Chalk Up Personal Success
A degree of routine or certainty to our day suits most of us, most of the time. This pandemic has meant lots of uncertainty. The brain thrives with direction so engineering as much certainty or direction as you can is key.
Some of us are currently working from home (with or without kids in the mix) and have little ‘extra’ time. Others are not working and have too much time alone. The absence of purpose often makes it hard to motivate to do even the smallest of tasks you know you could be doing.
Regardless of your lot right now, deciding ‘this matters, this is what I’m doing’ goes a long way towards creating a framework for your days.
ACTION: Get as many of your senses involved in cultivating your daily habits. Did the thing? Tick it off a habit tracker sheet or create any mini "YES" moment. This lets you know: 'I'm doing something good here', I need to do this again. Rinse & repeat.
4.4. Be Deliberate about Doing and Being
Doing the do can feel good but we also need to feel fulfilled. Identifying tasks for your day that gives you a sense of both achievement and fulfillment is a great mind-hack.
Easy tasks like sorting, cleaning, chores, or executing the workout may not be top of your fun-list but are achievements all the same. They need doing, you make them happen – cue the dopamine hit!
Things that fulfill our being are those that give the exhale of deep satisfaction or joy.
Finally, the last (and short) tool for you: CONNECTION!
To consider why connection is so important for us, I believe it’s because of the deeper feelings it elicits.
Even if we don’t realise it or think we don’t need it, we want to belong. We want to feel we fit somewhere and that ultimately, there’s a point to our being here.
Through family, work, and various social networks, for the most part, we evolve with this need automatically met. Some of us enjoy being connected to a lot of people, others prefer fewer people. Both are good.
With the plug pulled on life as we knew it, our connection balance has been majorly tipped. Our regular points of contact are severely restricted and some of us are completely alone.
The good news, particularly at a time like this, is that there are multiple ways we can feel connected. The genius of social media and video calls has connected us in ways that would make it unthinkable without. We can also experience connectedness in nature, through moving our bodies, faith, prayer, music, books, and films.
If you’re alone (by yourself) or feeling lonely (you can feel this even when surrounded by others), then taking the time to do engage in practices that will connect you are vital.
In closing, a note on mental health…
From personal experience, I know all too well that there are some days you wake up and T-Rex is at the bottom of the bed. From the minute you open your eyes you’re on high-alert with a sense of ‘everything is not ok’.
You can do all the things you know to do to keep yourself buoyant and still feel you’re fighting a losing battle. It’s a scary thing feeling unsure of whether you can get yourself back or not. If you know you’re coming undone on a deeper, more cellular level and you feel your body is leading your mind to worry rather than the other way round, please get whatever help you need.
The Brene Brown Podcast mentioned in Number 1: Dr. Vivek Murthy and Brené on loneliness and connection
The 3 posts I’ve written on thought health. Part One is here Principles For Upgrading Thought Health.)
BELONG by Radha Agrawal. An enjoyable and insightful read that explores our inner workings as humans in easy-to-understand sketches and words.