As a mom to three kids, I never thought I would be lonely. In fact, in the early days of being a mother, I used to feel so overwhelmed I couldn’t take on one more thing — I wouldn’t answer my phone and I wouldn’t reach out to people. I even remember taking the kids and going upstairs sometimes when people would drop by unannounced.
I was lonely, though. Like, a lot. And I never really discussed it with anyone besides my then-husband, because I told myself it was my own fault.
After all, I wasn’t keeping up with my social life at all. I was missing my husband’s company, but he had a business to run and we’d decided together that I would quit my job and stay home with the kids.
He’d tell me to go have a girls’ night out, but I’d be too tired. He’d tell me to go to Target alone, but I’d feel guilty because I was missing the family time that I complained we didn’t get enough of since he worked so much.
I didn’t feel like I had a right to my lonely feelings, because I was the one who was shutting myself off from a lot of the world.
I know now that it was because I was so damn tired. Moms do and do and do for everyone else. Then they are too tired to do much for themselves, and yes, that leads to loneliness and resentment, which can be a dangerous combination. Not to mention it’s hard to break the cycle.
But after talking to a lot of other moms, I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who feels lonely — and there’s no need to feel guilty about this.
I’ve realized something now that my kids are older and aren’t home as much: My loneliness comes up in times when I don’t feel seen or appreciated. It’s not necessarily a lack of a social life. And it’s only up to me to try and feel less lonely, since no one can read my mind and do it for me.
Now that we’re living in a world with COVID and know what it’s like to have to stay away from people, lots of us are lonelier than ever. Not only are we exhausted from everyday life and working hard to keep things as normal as we can for our kids, we have spent a substantial amount of time cut off from many things that gave us life and kept us from feeling alone.
The American Osteopathic Association conducted a survey revealing that 72% of Americans feel lonely some of the time. That’s almost ¾ of the population, which is startling.
So, what can we do about it?
Dr. Jennifer Caudle, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, in Stratford, New Jersey told CBS News that we are all lonely for many different reasons — but she feels electronics is a big one.
Caudle believes we would all benefit from a “device cleanse” once in a while because the connection we get from people online isn’t the same connection we can get from being in person with them.
While Caudle doesn’t think we should give up our phones completely — or the connections we find online — we have to remember the importance of having personal connections too.
A great way to do this, according to Caudle, is to find people who have similar interests as you do. This could mean joining a club, or taking a class that interests you.
Another recommendation from Caudle is to connect with nature. Get out there for a hike or walk to get some fresh air. Connection isn’t always about another person. There have been many times I’ve felt fuller and happier just by getting outside and appreciating the landscape and all the earth offers us that we often take for granted. It’s also a great time to clear your head.
It’s also important to realize you aren’t alone. I felt such relief when a friend of mine who was also a mother started talking about how she had a house full of people who were happy and needed her, yet she felt really alone.
Just talking about your feelings and sharing your experience will help you feel validated, because you definitely aren’t the only one feeling this way.
Judith Orloff, MD, psychiatrist and author of Thriving as an Empath, told Pocket that it’s important to connect with yourself too. You can do this by slowing down. Just because we’re busy doesn’t mean we aren’t lonely. “Sometimes when people’s schedules are back-to-back for too long, they start disconnecting from themselves and other people,” Orloff says.
Orloff recommends doing things you love to do (even if they are alone) in order to unwind. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, just something that makes you feel relaxed, like taking a long bath.
The University of Chicago recommends writing down some of your favorite memories when you are feeling alone, as well as thinking about all the things you have in your life that you are grateful for.
Other tried and true solutions to loneliness are volunteering, acts of kindness, and, of course, getting a pet.
I realize we will all have bouts of loneliness. I’ve come to learn it’s a part of life. But it’s better to take one of these tips and try them out as opposed to sitting in our loneliness for too long. That’s when depression can creep in. It’s important to remember if you are depressed to contact a mental health professional for help.
However, if going for a walk, calling a friend, or signing up to hand out water at your town’s next 5k race lightens your mood, why not do more of that?