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In the Raw: How to cope with loneliness

"I’m really struggling with feeling lonely -- nighttime is the worst. I dread going to bed knowing that I will just lay there, feeling horrible and alone, and think for hours. During the day I am better because I have work and friends to keep me distracted. At night, though, I end up calling people that aren't good for me, hook up with the wrong people, or drink too much just to make myself feel better. I want to be at a place where I am OK with being alone. Where do I even start?" – Lonely in San Diego

Dear Lonely in San Diego,

Sometimes we all need a nudge in the right direction, and your email is the first step to feeling better. If you don’t have that special somebody right now to cuddle up with at night, you can take this time to get yourself in a really good place. This doesn’t mean doomsday. Make a choice right here and right now to do what it takes to feel more in control of your life.

Bring out the good in you

You can't find a way to be happy being alone if you don't love yourself to begin with. Bring the best side of you out during the times you are at home in solitude, whether it is singing, artwork, journaling, poetry, cleaning or crafts. Draw out the part of you that you like. You just might find enjoying your own company.

Create a positive environment

Put on positive music, light candles, or have incense burning to calm your nerves and soothe your body. Do meditation or yoga in your home to give yourself a positive lift and comfort your mind.

Remind yourself of your support

It is important to access the part of your brain that remembers "I have friends and family that love me" or "I am OK here. This won't be forever." We have to regulate our bodies and provide it comfort. Remind yourself daily (or even hourly) about the people that you do have in your life.

Hang up photos

Place photos around your home of your family, friends, colleagues, pets, grandparents, etc. The more you walk around and visually see the people in your life that love you, it will trigger the attachment part in the brain to calm down. It will give the message that you are not fully alone in the world. You are simply alone in your house. We can look at the photos and feel the connection to others without them being by our side. Use the photos to calm your body and get comfort with the connection.

Avoid alcohol
It may be very tempting to grab a drink and temporarily numb the pain, but it actually will make things worse in the long run. Alcohol is a depressant. The more you drink to make the sad and lonely feelings go away, the more it adds fuel to the sad fire. Drinking also sends you a message that you can't get through the hard stuff on your own. Prove that wrong…You can overcome this!

Consider getting a pet

If living and being alone is long term, consider getting a pet to bond with. Pets are perfect for us to feel less alone, and it creates a connection that our human hard wiring can relate with. Often cuddling up with a pet or having them greet you at the door feels really good. Not only does it lift the loneliness, but it can help with depression and anxiety.

Understand your raw spot

If you have a history of being abandoned by significant attachment figures in your life, this may be a very RAW spot emotionally. Understand when this trigger happens. Your body may respond more intensely even if you are not consciously thinking about it. If that is the case, try to tell your body that you are safe and the time will pass.

Fill your social calendar

The loneliness can’t creep in as much if you have a large group of support and social events. Focus on filling up your calendar with social events that you can look forward to. Join social groups, such as meetup.com, to find similar interests and like-minded people.

Nighttime can be the hardest for many people. Remember, this isn’t going to be forever. Right now you have the chance to change it. If all else fails, seek out professional help with a local therapist.

Jennine Estes is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC#47653) in San Diego. She has spent the last nine years helping individuals and couples feel more connected in their relationships and lead happier lives. Her methods are creative, supportive and create both short- and long-term results. She is an active member of the LGBT community, developed #BeingLOVEDIs, and has appeared as a relationship expert in Redbook Magazine, Martha Stewart Publications' Whole Living Magazine, Social Work Today Magazine, local San Diego news stations, and more. Schedule an appointment online at EstesTherapy.com. Low-cost counseling available on a discretionary basis. For down-to-earth, insightful advice, visit her relationship column Relationships in the Raw blog.