Combating Loneliness with EASE

By Kurt Morris | Jun. 13, 2018

 

For much of my life, I’ve felt lonely. I’ve always thought that I “don’t fit in,” which has made it difficult for me to find and make connections. I also experience bipolar II, and my depressive cycles leave me annoyed with people or isolated entirely. Obviously, this creates difficulty when I try to make new friends.

Sure, I’d make an effort to get to know others and I’d even spend time with classmates or co-workers, but I still felt lonely. That’s because loneliness means not having the connections you want. It’s not about the number of relationships, but the quality of them.

I just couldn’t find those connections—often because of my bipolar disorder. I always felt like I wasn’t ready to conquer my loneliness until I pulled out of the depths of my depression. For some, depression is short-term (episodic), and they can “ride it out” by using coping skills. But for those of us who deal with chronic depression, seeing a therapist and taking medication is often necessary.

I found cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) especially useful. It enabled me to become aware of my depression and correct my thought processes when they ventured to places of negativity and despair. Once my therapist and I pulled me from the heaviest pain of my depression, I was ready to work on my loneliness.

I tried many ways to meet others and make connections: I volunteered, I made small talk with strangers, I took classes. And as it turns out, I was following (to some degree) the advice of the late John Cacioppo—a researcher who believed that chronic loneliness could be helped by four simple steps, captured in the acronym EASE:

Extend – Try to put yourself out there, even if it’s for one hour. Dip your toes in the water by volunteering or making small talk with a neighbor. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing experience, just something simple that shows you’re trying.

Action Plan – Think about things you might enjoy doing. What are your strengths? What do you have time to do? Come up with some places you may want to volunteer for or activities you’d like to do, like an intramural sports team. In creating a plan, you put yourself in a position of control.

Selection – Once your action plan is in place, look for others who may share your interests and places where you may find those people.

Expect – Expecting that good things can happen may be difficult. But I’ve learned that when I open myself up to the possibility of connections, positive thoughts can help. Expect good things, and what happens may surprise you.

I heard about EASE after my longest, darkest walk with loneliness. However, looking back, I find it interesting that I was using it before I even knew about it—and that it worked. Because I went out and engaged in activities I liked, I found others with whom I shared similarities. I now have a partner who gives me the connection I need, among other friendships.

Treating my bipolar disorder was also crucial in giving me the ability to tackle my loneliness. But I take the most comfort in knowing that I have the skills to make friendships, should I want them.

 

Kurt Morris is a mental health speaker, storyteller, and writer. He encourages you to connect with him at kurtmorris.net.

 



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Comments
Sarah
I’m 32 years old and have struggled with various mental health issues for over a decade. It can be especially lonely trying to reach out to others, feeling like I’m the only one with my specific experience. But everyone has their own burdens to carry, and we are all human. Opening ourselves to others leads to better health and quality of life.
9/15/2018 2:34:25 AM

connie stone
I am the mom of a bipolar mom and my daughter is also bipolar. It has been an exhausting and long ride. she is now 49 years old and
she was diagnosed when she was about 25. without going into the details of what she has been through and what events has happened because of it are to numerous to mention. In Feb. 2017 I lost my youngest daughter. The death of her sister has really set her off. She will not get treatment and will not take medicine. She has been extremely abusive to me since that happened.I was hoping that as she got older she would improve. But our relationship has not improved in fact she has become more vocal in her rants on me, am still hurting and mourning the loss of my daughter and am very lonely and have little family or friends to support me.I know I not alone with this. This illness will destroy a family and verything in its path. Just wanted to share from a mothers perspective what this illness does to a family. Thank you
8/27/2018 5:04:57 PM

Melody lin
True social anxiety is a tough beast to conquer. I live with bipolar disorder but I’m fortunate not having to struggle with this. For those who do I try to be a guard rail for them as they attempt to venture out, from the moment the thought is initiated. Most the the battle is with thoughts: oh no, I have to buy food, it takes so much Energy just thinking about hoe people will see you, etc. I hope with my comforting presence and just the right amount of encouragement and practice, the beast will release its hold on the captives, as we build exposure, experiences, learning not to beat self up, etc. I honestly believe it can be done. It suks to be lonely.
6/23/2018 4:39:47 PM

Kurt Morris
Lee, I've also dealt with anxiety in my life and found that seeing a therapist and some medications helped me with my attempts at social interactions. If you haven't already, you may find that it would be helpful to see a therapist and/or look into taking medications.
6/18/2018 9:01:18 PM

Lee
This was a good article unfortunately I keep running into road blocks using these techniques because of social anxiety causing my loneliness
6/15/2018 10:46:58 PM

Jorie Doyle
I’m bipolar and I want to advocate for those that are suffering in silence as I have. We need to stick together as one.
6/14/2018 7:55:41 PM