When You Feel Alone

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In our world of constant connection to all things electronic, it may seem peculiar that many people feel isolated and alone. A recent study by health insurer Cigna revealed that nearly half of all Americans feel lonely, and 54% responded that they feel like no one actually knows them well.

Loneliness is different than being alone, as we all need some healthy “alone time” now and then. A sense of loneliness is more of a deep aching that people experience when they feel disconnected, disengaged or detached from others.

Most people experience loneliness at times, but few talk about it or address how to push through it. Let’s consider a few principles that can help us move from a mood of isolation to a place of connection once again.

Mind Games. When a person feels alone, there are often thoughts that tend to be replayed in their mind. Thoughts like:

  • No one understands me.
  • No one cares about me
  • No one sees life the same way I do.

While each of us are unique individuals and have  different life experiences, there is actually nothing new under the sun. Don’t buy into the lie that no one understands or cares or that no one has ever experienced similar circumstances. It is time to weed out the old messages you are telling yourself and start planting new ones like:

  • There are other people who understand.
  • There are people in my community who care.
  • There are people who have gone through similar situations.

Change your thought patterns and slowly bring hope into the structure of your daily thinking.

Simple Action Points. When we feel lonely, it is easy to accept the invitation to our own pity-party, but that’s one party invitation we need to decline. We must choose to slowly and surely step forward and get out of our funk. Here are some practical ways to do just that:

  • Volunteer at a place you feel passionate about
  • Join an organization, club or support group
  • Go to church and join a small group or Bible study
  • Reach out to people you know who need encouragement or help from you
  • Pay attention to lonely people at work or in your community – be their friend

Take an honest look at yourself. There is always room for self-improvement, and we can make positive changes in our lives. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself.

  • Am I always negative?
  • Do I complain too much?
  • Am I bitter?
  • Do I discourage others rather than lift them up?
  • Do I need to forgive someone and open back up the door of friendship?
  • Am I typically thinking or talking about myself?
  • Do I sincerely care and love others or am I just concerned about what people think about me?

As you answer these questions honestly about yourself, you may realize you need a turning point to go in a new direction. Start by being grateful (counting your blessings every day) and focusing on the needs of others. Guard against complaining and grumbling, and speak only kind words about others.

Less Online, More Real Time. Online connections can’t take the place of real human connection. We need eye contact and touch. We need to hear the intonation and sound of people’s voices to understand and feel understood. Online connections loose many of the non-verbal cues essential to relationships. Sometimes in our own families, surrounded by people, we can feel lonely because we are engrossed in our electronic devices. Be deliberate about putting down the electronics, so that you can truly communicate with the people around you. Meal times especially should be “No Phone Zones.”

Proactively Deepen Connections. There are simple actions we can take to strengthen and deepen our relationships. Never underestimate the power of eye contact. Pay attention to the people you are talking to and actively listen by asking questions to learn more about their thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams. Stop looking away from each other and start looking toward each other.

Remember you are not alone. Possibly one of the most comforting statements ever uttered is “God is with you.” He is a constant source of comfort and strength to our tired and weary souls. He loves you and will never leave you. He created us for connection. We can ask Him to guide us and show us how to be a good friend to others. He can open our eyes to the people we should reach out to and give us the grace and love to connect in a deeper way.

 

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

5 Ways to Stay Focused in Conversations

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When is the last time you enjoyed an undistracted conversation with another person? Whether we are talking with an important client, a close friend or a favorite family member, most of us struggle with staying focused in our interactions. What makes it so difficult to experience a good, healthy dialogue in today’s world? The answer may seem obvious. Certainly with the increase in technology, we have become comfortable with texts, tweets and quick emails rather than enjoying real-life connections. And as much as we love our smart phones, they may be one of the biggest culprits in keeping us disengaged.

Interestingly, a study by the University of Essex revealed that simply having a cell phone visibly present in the room made people less likely to develop empathy or intimacy during meaningful conversations. Even if no one checked their phone – just having it visibly in the room lowered the level of engagement!* Isn’t it amazing to think of the power that little device has in our lives and especially over our ability to listen and focus with others? So what is the key to staying sincerely connected to the person with whom we are talking? Here are a few tips to help you stay mentally focused as you communicate with others.

Reduce Environmental Distractions. Put the phone away and out of site. The texts, notices and emails can wait until you are finished with your conversation. Additional distractions may be noise or other people in the room. Recently I met a friend for lunch at our neighborhood grill, and my chair faced toward the door. Bad idea! I knew half the people coming into the restaurant and felt an obligation to say hello to each of them. You can imagine the depth of engagement I had with my friend as we talked together. The better bet for me is to sit at the back of the restaurant or at least sit in a direction that doesn’t face the door. If there is a television in the room, turn it off or move to a place where it is not going to pull your attention away from the other person.

Reduce Mental Distractions. If you have an important email, phone call or task looming over you, take care of it before you enter into a conversation. Even if you need to ask the person to meet a little later. The less urgent things you have floating around in your mind, the better you will be able to tune into the other person. If at all possible schedule your day so that you take care of the more difficult tasks earlier in the day, then you will be able to focus on the one-on-one meetings you have with people later in the day.

Create a Focal Point.  Last week, I mentioned the importance of eye contact when you are interacting with another person. Now, you don’t want to overdo it, but studying the other person’s eyes can help you pay closer attention. Sometimes I will challenge myself to remember the person’s eye color when I am finished with a conversation. Eyes are the window to the soul, so if you can stay generally focused on the eyes, you may be surprised how much you will learn.

Ask Questions.  Asking questions (and then of course listening to the answers) will encourage deeper understanding and will help you maintain focus in your conversations. Ask questions like: How did that make you feel? How did you accomplish that? What is your secret? When did this happen? Most people love to talk about themselves or their experience, and asking good questions shows that you care about them and what they are saying.

Write it Down. There are times we become mentally distracted because a thought pops into our mind and we want to share it. Instead of interrupting or allowing your mind to wander with what you want to say, pull out a pen and quickly jot down a word or two to help you remember that thought, so you can bring it up later. I’ve been known to use shopping receipts or paper napkins or placemats to put my thought on to paper and out of my head. This little trick can help you maintain your interest in what the other person is saying without forgetting your thought.

The truth is, the deepest cry of every person’s heart is to be understood. True connection comes through listening well to others, going beyond superficial words and diving deep into the heart. May we sincerely see and hear the people God puts in our path. In a distracted culture, let’s make a deliberate effort to practice focused engagement with each person we encounter.

To love you as I love myself

 is to seek to hear you as I want to be heard

and understand you as I long to be understood.

David Augsburger

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* http://www.digitalresponsibility.org/digital-distraction-to-the-detriment-of-in-person-relationships/