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Feeling lonely is far more common than we realise and it can occur in both our personal and professional worlds having serious health implications.

It’s not just singles that are lonely, many people feel lonely in their relationships too.

And any business owner will tell you that the entrepreneurial journey is an enticing one but we underestimate that it can also be a lonely journey too. Especially on those dark days when you have to draw on all your inner strength, determination, faith, resilience and perseverance to keep going.

This is where our support structures, networks, role models and mentors play a vital role in our lives so we should never underestimate the value of these relationships.

So what’s the difference between being alone and feeling lonely and how do you know which one you’re experiencing?

Simplistically put, being alone is a doing thing, it’s a choice that we make for a period or periods of time. You can be alone without feeling lonely, for example:

You’re at home alone reading a book and completely comfortable in your own skin and with your own company. You don’t need to depend on someone else for happiness.

Feeling lonely on the other hand is an emotional thing. It’s when we have a sense of emotional abandon or disconnect and being isolated from others.

Often we look for distractions to help us escape from what we’re feeling. Distractions also known as coping mechanisms can come in all forms and shapes such as emotional eating, substance abuse, sports or hobbies, sleeping, work, social media and the likes.

It’s not only single people that can feel lonely, people can feel lonely in their relationships too – especially when there is very little or no connection in the relationship.

So how do you deal with being lonely?

The first thing is to understand what’s causing your loneliness, have you recently been through a break-up? Have you distanced yourself from your friends and family? Have you been so focused on one area of your life e.g. building your career that you’ve lost touch with other areas of your life?

It’s great if you like to be alone, but what happens if you don’t it?

Try these options:

Discover and reconnect with yourself again – identify some of the things that used to bring you joy that you’ve stopped doing over time or things that you’ve wanted to always try but haven’t been able to do for some reason such as gardening, painting, reading etc.

Start something new – try a new interest, hobby or something you enjoy that occupies your time. Join a club or a group or take a short course that interests you. By putting yourself out there, you open yourself up to opportunities to meet like-minded people, widen your network and meet people that you share things in common with.

Exercise – simple exercise like talking a walk, going to gym, meditating or more extreme such as running, swimming or cycling can have great benefits. It helps boost your feel good hormones and minimise the sad and depressed feelings.

Connect with people – family or friends are our support structures and provide us with a sense of belonging, being loved and valued. With modern technology if your family are far away, you can still connect with them via video. Connect with old friends that you haven’t seen for a while or go out and make new friends.

Do things – when we’re feeling isolated or lonely, we can withdraw even more. Instead, use your time effectively by taking care of things you’ve been meaning to do for some time, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and like you’re being productive and living life.

The important thing to remember is that being alone and lonely is a choice and that you’re only as alone or lonely as you let yourself be. Let people into your world, don’t shut them out – it’s ok to be alone for short periods of time but when it becomes and every day thing, it’s not good for your mental and emotional well-being.

A version of this article appeared in W24.co.za

Paula Quinsee: relationship expert, Tedx speaker and author of Embracing Conflict.  Certified Imago Relationship Therapy Educator and Facilitator, NLP Life Coach and PDA Analyst and Coach. As a Relationship Expert, she teaches individuals and companies tools and skills to immediately and positively enhance the quality of their personal and organisational relationships. She conducts regular monthly workshops, for more info: https://paulaquinsee.com/

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