Hello my beautiful WIMBAs! How have you been?
I have been amazing. I’m stoked that we are in a new year and I can’t wait to get rolling and see what this year has in store for us all. And most importantly, I hope that you are finding some relief from the stress. 2020 likely gave you a run for your money.
Well, today, we are going to talk about loneliness, something that we see all too often in the medical field and with women in this industry especially because you are still a minority. And this is important because when we don’t deal with it, when we don’t tackle it, it can lead to burnout. In addition, loneliness is also a hot topic now more than ever because of COVID. Many people, probably some of your patients, are experiencing increased levels of loneliness due to the pandemic and social distancing and are feeling depressed as a result. You know what I’m talking about.
So to start us off, I’d like to first get clear on what loneliness is, talk about how it can affect you, and then talk about the number one way to shift out of this. Are you ready?
OK. Well, according to Google,, loneliness is “The difference between the amount of social contact and intimacy you have and the amount you want.” Don’t you just love that definition? “The difference between the amount of social contact and intimacy you have and the amount you want.” In other words, it’s a very subjective experience. Two people can be in the same condition and feel very differently about it. What this means is that it just boils down to personal preference. It’s not necessarily about BEING isolated. It’s about FEELING isolated. You can be surrounded all day by patients and colleagues and still feel lonely. So keep that in mind as we talk about this concept.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the reasons that this happens:
The first reason you might find yourself feeling lonely is because you are selective about who you hang around with, who you connect to. I had a friend after high school who was very selective about the kinds of guys she was willing to date. She would find fault with everyone. No one met her high standards. Now, there is nothing wrong with knowing yourself and having these standards, but guess what happened to my friend? She ended up alone for a long time.
What happens in medicine is it attracts a certain type of person. Of course not all women in medicine are created equal, but there are some common traits. On the one hand, you are likely very empathic and giving. You wouldn’t be in this profession otherwise. These are the kinds of traits that would bring you closer to other people. But you likely have some other traits that make it difficult to create connections. For instance, you are likely highly intelligent, highly driven, competitive, and maybe even a perfectionist. A lot of the work you did in medical school was solitary and your clinical training (and perhaps even your work now if you work long hours) separates you from your loved ones for extended periods of time.
In addition, a big part of why you feel the way you do has to do with your thinking. The way that you think about being in a situation, whether you’re surrounded by other people or not, is going to determine whether or not you feel lonely.
So let’s take a step back and look at three of the things that we’ve mentioned so far:
The first is your personality. There are certain traits that you might have that make it a little bit difficult to connect to other people. The second is your circumstances. You work in a profession that can lead to more loneliness by default. And thirdly, I think this is the part where you have the most power and the one that I want to focus with you on today, is your mindset.
Loneliness is something that can affect you emotionally. We know that it can bring up feelings of sadness. You might feel really misunderstood, isolated, like you don’t fit in. But it can also affect you physically. It can weaken your immune system. It can increase your blood pressure, and lead to mental health conditions. We’ve already mentioned one of them being depression.
So it’s really important to tackle this in the most effective way possible and that’s why I really want to hone in on your mindset. So let’s take a look at what that looks like and how you can reverse-engineer this.
One of the things that I like to teach is that it is your thinking that creates your emotional state. So when you have a thought that you don’t fit in, you are likely to feel lonely. This is just one example. Now, you might be in a situation where you are really isolated physically from other people. Maybe you’re socially distancing. Maybe you’re in quarantine. But it’s not the condition that leads you to feel lonely. It is your thought about it. You might be in quarantine and feel like it’s the greatest thing, especially if you’re an introvert–you like being alone. You don’t feel lonely, right? So again, that’s like the more personal trait that comes into the mix.
But a lot of it has to do also with the way that you think about it. You could be in a party surrounded by hundreds of people and still feel lonely because you don’t fit in in your mind, right? But you can approach people in that room with the mindset that “hey, you know, I have something to contribute. I’m excited to meet other people” and that completely shifts you out of that lonely mindset. So just take note of what is it that is going through your mind when you feel lonely that creates that feeling for you. So you kind of have to rewind the tape. Ask yourself that question. And you might be pointing to your circumstance but I really want to encourage you to really look at that and ask yourself, “given the fact that I’m in this situation, how do I want to feel?” and then what do I need to think in order to produce that emotion within me?
So again, if you are feeling lonely because you work a lot and people around you don’t really understand what you do and why are you work as hard as you do for example–you know, and a lot of high achievers do that. They work long hours. You might love working and maybe your family members don’t get it. Maybe your friends don’t get it. That can lead to a feeling of isolation. So I really encourage you to take a look at what are the thoughts that are contributing to your feeling and maybe it’s time to find some friends that get it, right? It’s never too late and it’s really important because as I’ve heard somebody say, “you are the sum total of the people that you hang around with.” So if you hang around with a bunch of negative people, a bunch of people who don’t have the same values as you, you are more likely to feel misunderstood, isolated, lonely, however you want to put it, because you don’t fit in with them. They don’t think the way that you do.
So part of it is to really find yourself in situations where you are attracting like-minded people. Then you’re going to feel really understood and you guys are going to share a certain passion and you can get excited together. But I think a lot of it too is just to notice your own thoughts. What is creating that feeling within you? Identify that thought and then try to change it to something that aligns with how you want to feel instead. So what’s the opposite of loneliness? It’s connection. What do you need to think in order to feel connected, really connected, where you feel like you belong, where you feel like you’re part of a community? What is that thought? Maybe it’s simply, “I belong.” Maybe it’s that, “I am contributing.” Maybe it’s that “I am valuable,” that “people like me.” So there’s a whole variety of different thoughts that you can adopt.
So I hope that you can take this and run with it. Identify what your thought is that’s creating that loneliness within you. Find an alternative thought that you can really get behind, and really practice that so that it feels genuine, that you start to notice that it’s shifting the feeling that you have, and that way you can move forward in 2021 with a feeling of greater connection.
And speaking of community and connection, I really want to invite you to join my Tribe to Thrive and so listen to the outro of this podcast. It’ll tell you all the details and I hope to see you inside. Take care.