Q. What advice would you give to someone struggling with loneliness? I am in a long-distance relationship. I also have lots of friendships, but most of my friends live in other parts of the country. There is not much of a Catholic community for people my age where I live. Relocation is not possible at the moment due to my job and finances. In addition to prayer, are there any concrete things I can do to feel less lonely?
A. Your question is very similar to one I was asked a few weeks ago. A young mother, new to the area, was having a difficult time forging adult friendships and struggling to fit into her new parish. She too wanted suggestions on how to combat her loneliness and make new friends elsewhere –that is, not only in her parish. Another young lady who recently graduated from college wrote to say that she wished someone would have told her how lonely adulthood is. All the friends from her youth and college were scattered across the US and many were starting new families, very similar to what you’re experiencing.
No one is immune from feelings of loneliness; even married women with families and adults with large circles of friends can feel lonely. Adulthood can be a very lonely business every now and then; luckily, there are many concrete ways we can go about to actively alleviate these feelings.
Loneliness makes the soul feel weary and tired, and that’s why self care is as important a necessity as eating is. When you’re emotionally tired and lack support you could become spiritually vulnerable to temptations that promise a quick fix to feeling alone. Allow yourself time for caring for yourself in the absence of family, friends, and when in long-distance relationships. Make a list of things that give you joy. Your list could include saving a dollar a day to afford travel fare to visit a long-distance friend, taking a long hot bath, or reading your favorite book. My indulgence is listening to audiobooks while hiking. The point is to set aside time to care for yourself and avoid falling into a trap of self pity.
Talk to family and friends
I know this sounds absolutely crazy in the age of texting and social media, but picking up the phone and actually speaking or Face Timing is a great way to feel truly connected to someone. Is there anyone in your family or circle of friends that you haven’t spoken to in a while? I bet they would love to hear from you. A quick text message or reply on social media isn’t a substitute for nurturing friendships. An actual phone call means you are thinking of that person, just not in passing as they pop up in your timeline. If you’re an introvert and hate talking on the phone, which I totally get, write an email or send a card in the mail.
Cultivate a skill or hobby
A good remedy for loneliness is using this time in your life to cultivate a new skill or hobby and explore an interest. You take a take a class at your local community center or join a group in your area that centers around your interests — be it gardening, hiking, bird-spotting, reading, or amateur astronomy.
Like learning a skill or indulging in a hobby, volunteering for a cause that is important to you is another way to make the best of your current situation, stay busy, and socially interact with people outside of work and church. I like to volunteer at my local pet shelter as a dog walker, but you could volunteer anywhere. Outside of your church, sites like Volunteer Match help folks match their talents to volunteer organizations in their area.
Spend time with Christ
Lastly, the most effective cure is adoration. Make a regular habit of spending time in adoration and if there is nowhere close by where you live to visit Our Lord, simply create the space in your own home by making a home altar. I know you said you wanted advice beside just regular old prayer but what I am suggesting is a different type of prayer, beyond intercessory and prayers of petition (the most common types of prayer). I’m proposing adoration and contemplation, where you focus solely on the attributes of God and His goodness. This isn’t an easy order and it will take practice, regular practice, years of practice, but what better use of our time then to cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ?
As for your long-distance relationship, I know first hand how hard and truly lonely they are to maintain. You have this person in your life that you want to share life’s moments with, but they’re somewhere else missing it all. You have my sincerest wishes that it works out for you.