I recently gave a talk on the topic of relationship building to a group from an industry trade association. An audience member raised his hand and asked, “what is the greatest barrier to building professional networks?” My answer was immediate and visceral: Loneliness.
According to the CDC, loneliness is an emotion that comes from a lack of social connection. With the onset and slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting isolation, the despair and angst associated with loneliness crept into nearly everyone’s life. And, in the time of hybrid work environments and, in some cases, employees only working remotely, social contact has greatly diminished, and we must address it.
If you are feeling lonely, there are many ways for you to get the social supports you need. Consider these ideas:
- Update your routine. Take a look back at your calendar and assess your daily routine. Where could you build in time to connect with others? Can you organize yourself to ensure you can get out for a cup of tea with a friend? How about planning a long weekend away – or even a “stay-cation?” Break up with your current routine and establish something new.
- Set up shop outside your home office. Working from home these days? Grab your laptop or tablet and work from a great coffee shop or a beautiful hotel lobby. Not only will you be surrounded by other patrons, you can also take calls and meetings from the comfort of your favorite booth with a hot drink from the barista.
- Exercise. The power of personal wellness cannot be stressed enough, and exercise is an important component of wellbeing. Consider signing up for a group fitness class like spinning or yoga. If that’s not your thing, invite a neighbor for a brisk walk around the block. The social interaction you’ll get while working out will help to mitigate those feelings of loneliness.
- Attend a community event. Most communities are teeming with organizations that host events on a plethora of interesting topics. Everything from industry talks, to economic outlooks, to skills-building lunch ‘n’ learns, to author events, to cooking demonstrations, to panels on politics and religion, and everything in between gets covered. Identify a subject that piques your interest and go! You can find out about these programs through your employer, industry trade associations, chambers of commerce, Rotary Clubs, faith-based organizations, and the like.
- Seek assistance. It may not be as simple as stepping outside your front door to get the support you need. Many employers offer “Employee Assistance Programs” (or EAPs) which provide access to therapists and other helpful resources. You might also seek out a professional coach who can help you to create a plan to address your concerns. Additionally, if the situation is dire, remember the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available to you by simply dialing 9-8-8 on your phone – calls are answered by trained crisis workers who provide free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for callers and their loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.
Remember, even if you are not the one struggling with loneliness, others around might be. Seek them out. Invite them in. Offer your support. Simply checking in with your colleagues, friends and family will go far to stamping out loneliness and giving everyone – including yourself – that extra sense of belonging that feels so good.