In life, mountaintop experiences bring us exhilaration, a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and meaning. When you hit a job interview out of the park, tie the knot with your beloved, move into your dream home, get through a difficult surgery with excellence, witness your child give a performance in a stage play, or finish chemotherapy and learn you’re in remission – all these things bring a smile to our faces and joy to our hearts. It is as it should be.
However, we also do experience other seasons in life, and these bring emotions such as sadness, anger, or feeling out of sorts. The loss of a loved one, being let go from your job, experiencing a traumatic event are some of the dark valleys that we walk through.
7 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Sad and Lonely
What do you do when you’re feeling sad and lonely? Below are a few ideas of what you can do when you’re feeling sad and lonely.
1. Sit with the feelings
Feeling sad and lonely doesn’t feel good. Sitting with those feelings can be uncomfortable, and we’d rather move past them. However, by doing so we may miss out on something valuable.
In The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman write that, “Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God… Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice . . . However, we often turn a deaf ear – through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement.
We strain out anything disturbing to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.”
While it may be tempting to move quickly past our feelings of sadness and loneliness, asking ourselves probing questions (“Why do I feel this way? What’s going on in my heart?”) helps us get to the heart of where we’re at and why.
It’s an opportunity for God to meet us where we are and for us to be confronted by some necessary truths we need to hear. But if we move past our emotions and try to relieve them without doing any soul work, we may be shortchanging ourselves.
2. Reach outIf you’re feeling sad and lonely, it may just be that you need the company of others. Human beings are social creatures, and our humanity finds full expression in relationships with others. One of the things the Covid-19 pandemic showed us is that human contact is precious, and when we don’t have it, we can feel its absence. We’ve known this about humanity, but with stay-at-home orders and being separated from family members, the reality and urgency of it all hit home with force.
So, if you can reach out to someone to hang out, do so. Maybe doing something like going to a movie with a friend or going for a spin or yoga class where you can interact with others may help with addressing feelings of loneliness. Having friends or family on speed dial that you can reach out to in such moments may be just the thing you need to alleviate those feelings.
3. Get some exercise
Movement is great for you, whatever it may be. Being able to exercise will help you with feelings of sadness and loneliness in two ways. For one thing, it gets you up and about, giving you something else to focus on. You may choose to exercise in your own home, or take it outside – either way, your mind will be on your exercise and not so much on whatever has you feeling down.
That 15-30-minute reprieve may make all the difference in the world. So, whether you dance, run, cycle, kayak, walk, do calisthenics, martial arts, yoga, or any other form of exercise, moving will do you some good.
The second thing that movement does for you is that it gets neurochemicals into your system, and they have the effect of boosting your mood while also reducing the effect of the stress hormone cortisol on your system. Movement elevates your mood in a natural way that also helps your overall health.
4. Avoid unhelpful habitsWhile there are things to actively pursue when you’re feeling sad and lonely, there are other things that you should avoid because they only serve to mask the issue and create other problems for you later.
If you’re feeling sad and lonely, don’t try to deal with that by taking substances such as drugs and alcohol to lift your mood, or engaging in thrill-seeking behavior.
In the short-term, taking drugs may seem to lift your mood and blot out whatever the source of your sadness is, but you’ll come crashing down and then also must deal with the consequences of that behavior. Find healthier outlets and means to deal with those feelings.
5. Consider volunteering
This is a little different from reaching out to a friend or getting some exercise, though it’s related to them. When you’re feeling sad and lonely, you may be tempted to close yourself off from the world. Sitting by yourself in your room, apartment, or house may seem like an attractive option.
However, taking the simple step to leave that space and take in the world outside can do you a world of good. Going outside and seeing the world, whether through a slow walk in your neighborhood or a local park, or a drive through a picturesque vista, can help to not only relieve boredom but can help you look beyond yourself.
Seeing that there is a wider world out there can help you gain perspective. If you choose to volunteer at your local shelter, that can help you step outside of yourself in a meaningful way. Doing something good for someone else not only elevates your mood, but it makes a tangible difference in the world.
6. Practice gratitude
Our feelings of sadness and loneliness can overwhelm us to the point that we don’t see the good in our lives. When we get to that point, those feelings can begin feeding on themselves and growing deeper roots. One effective way to push back the darkness is by practicing gratitude.
Though there may be things in your life that aren’t as they should be, you can also find things to celebrate and give God thanks for. The words of Samwise Gamgee to Frodo in one of the Lord of The Rings movies remind us to look and fight for the good in our world, and practicing gratitude helps us to do just that especially in the moments when it seems all is lost or there is little point in doing so:
Sam: It’s all wrong. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
7. Consider going for therapy
Feeling sad and lonely is something we all go through at one point or another in our lives. Circumstances may be at the root of why we feel that way, and once those circumstances change, the feelings dissipate. In other situations, however, the feelings aren’t circumstantial, and they may be indicating something else is occurring.
Mood disorders such as depression can leave one feeling low, sad, and lonely, among other symptoms. Whether you find yourself feeling sad and lonely because of something specific you can pinpoint, or you feel a malaise that isn’t linked to circumstances, you may want to speak with a licensed therapist or other mental health professional. Taking immediate steps if you feel things are out of kilter is important.
Therapists have tests and know what to look for, so they can help you understand what’s going on and take active steps towards addressing your mental health concerns. Thankfully, we live in a time when the stigma around mental health is lifting, and if you want to find help online with a licensed therapist, you can. This means that it’s never been easier to promote your mental health and seek assistance.
“How Are You Really?”, Courtesy of Finn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Staggered”, Courtesy of Logan Fisher, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Exercise Equipment”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hobbit Hole”, Courtesy of Conner Bowe Riw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License