Coping with Loneliness – In Halal and Healthy Ways
Part of this month’s Loneliness Series
Assalaamu ‘alaikum Chris – peace be with you
Loneliness has been the topic of the month and even though it is not exciting by any means, but it is a topic that requires attention and in-depth reflection. So, in this article, we would like to accumulate the different ways in which an individual can cope with feelings of loneliness using different tools at our disposal and our beautiful religion, Islam, in a halal and healthy way.
- Accept that you are lonely
You can be the type of person who doesn’t like to socialise at large events, who is an independent self-reliant personality, or who has experienced trauma and prefers to stay alone. This is completely okay… Yes, it’s OK to be LONELY. However, we all feel the need to belong and connect with others – and when this need is not met we begin to experience the ache that is loneliness.
Loneliness is a feeling, not a fact or a life-long certainty. By realising this and understanding how our brain computes feelings, we can move a step closer to accepting what we are experiencing. With true acceptance only can we then get into the right thinking-space to deal with it. Sometimes this true acceptance can mean facing your fears and stop running away from what we know deep down to be our true feelings.
- Accept that you are lonely
- Notice your thought patterns
Being aware of your thoughts that demonstrate loneliness is a great way to deal as you can respond to those thoughts and control that way of thinking, or stop yourself before you fall into those patterns again. It is common to create self-deflating and insecure thoughts about why we are alone, such as that there is something wrong with us, or we are too ugly/weird/crazy.
Identifying and tracking such thought patterns, in a journal or notebook, can help you come back to it with a clear, positive mind and work through them – either yourself, or with someone else. You can also retrain your inner self-talk to be more positive, rational and conducive to your physical and mental wellbeing. Islam is a very strong advocate of being aware of your inner thinking processes, and there are very many verses of the Quran that ask us to ponder, reason and contemplate:
“The likeness of the life of this world is just as the water which We send down from the sky, and the plants of the earth mingle with it whereof men and cattle eat, till when the earth takes its golden ornament and is embellished in beauty, and its people imagine that they have power over it, but suddenly Our command reaches it by night or by day, and We make it stubble, as if it had not flourished the day before! Thus, do We explain the Signs in detail for a people who reflect.”
- Don’t fear reaching out
When you are in a lonely state of mind, it can be painful, confusing and alienating – which can easily make you react by withdrawing further into yourself and repeating the cycle. Therefore, reaching out can enable you to gain perspective and help before the next cycle gets triggered. Cultivating new friendships, and getting in touch with family and old friends are some of the best tried and tested ways to combat loneliness. Nowadays, you don’t even need to physically move out of your comfort zone to talk to new people, there are so many people online who are looking for support, connections and lasting relationships. However, be careful of who you meet online and never give personal information that can enable someone else to steal your identity or more.
Reaching out does not always have to be about meeting your own needs, but it could be about shifting your focus on others. Being there for others who need encouragement, understanding and support is a very compassionate thing to do. Plus, thinking about the needs and feelings of others takes your attention away from your personal lonely thoughts and feelings. Even Islam has emphasized helping others, with the reward that the Almighty (SWT) will in turn help us.
“…And Allah (SWT) will aid His slave so long as he aids his brother.”
- Keep yourself busy
There are numerous ways of keeping busy in your daily life to divert yourself from your lonely feelings. From volunteering for a cause that you believe in, to getting a pet or joining an art or exercise class, there is so much out there to pass your time and achieve productive, creative and beneficial results. You can even try one new thing each week or every other week that can help you cope and meet new people, like painting or yoga, going to the library, attending interesting events and workshops, and learning a new skill like self-defence or cooking.
Certain instances may need you to recognize and fight the temptation you get to isolate yourself, and replace your go-to response (like staying in your bedroom) to going out with your friends. You can start small, like meeting for coffee or walking in the park. I know that it is easier said than done, and that our tendency to procrastinate and feel anxious can become overwhelming, but you need to take that first step.
- There is also the option of spending your time with others learning more about Islam and the Quran, and having thought-provoking discussions, which is an act filled with countless blessings:
“No people gather together in one of the Houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that sakeenah (tranquillity) descends upon them, and mercy envelops them, and the angels surround them, and Allah mentions them amongst those who are with Him.”
- Don’t let your loneliness drive your decisions
Experiencing loneliness is very agonizing, and can push us to need a quick fix to take the edge off or numb the agony. This desire can be so strong that it damps down our voice of reason, and drives us to make reckless decisions. For example, when we are lonely we tend to compare ourselves to others. This is unavoidable as it is a natural human impulse (Festinger, 1954). What we need to do is try to be more careful when we are comparing ourselves to others; we can remind ourselves that we have no way of fully knowing what is happening in somebody else’s life, and that things may be vastly different behind the scenes.
By exercising self-restraint and establishing good practice, we can make sure not to let our feelings of loneliness take the wheels of our life, and instead take the edge off using simple cost-free ways, such as talking to a family member or reconnecting with an old trusted friend, learning how to dismiss unpleasant or unwanted thoughts, and practicing meditation techniques like mindfulness and breathing exercises. In Islam, we know that attributes of the pious people are praying and fasting – which are forms of meditation. The Quran also says that other signs of such people are that they exercise self-control, and this is one such instance where we can try to practice this:
“…Those who show patience, and truthfulness, and self-control, and those who spend (benevolently), and those who seek forgiveness before dawn.”
- Consider other options
Research has shown that loneliness and depression are inter-linked. Therefore, the lonelier one gets, the more depressed they feel, and vice versa. Additionally, at times even being with other people can tend to have an adverse effect and make a person feel more lonely. Considering this, it may be beneficial to try other options, such as psychology, counselling or psychotherapy. Therapy can also give you more ideas and skills training to help you manage your difficult experiences in a healthy and safe manner. Alternatively, you can also join support groups or approach related organisations to help you cope. A comprehensive list of useful organisations can be found on the Mind UK website.
Most importantly, be persistent and if one method does not seem to be working for you then try another. Try and try again until you can rise above your feelings and fight back. There is always hope, and keeping faith and Allah (SWT) by your side can being miracles.
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