Hope, at its core, is knowing what a meaningful goal looks like, how to get there and how to respond when there are roadblocks along the way. For example, Jenny*, a 25-year-old woman whom I counselled, often felt alone even when surrounded by friends because she felt like they could not understand her troubles. After going through counselling at Sofia Wellness Clinic for two months, Jenny worked on getting to know herself better to understand where her loneliness came from. Motivated by the hope of feeling connected once again, Jenny took the time to take part in different hobbies such as going to the gym that allowed her to meet and connect with new people.
In 2020, a survey was conducted in Singapore with 500 respondents ranging from 21 to 74 years old. It was found that 38% of Singaporeans expected to feel lonely most of the time in 2021. Loneliness can be caused by a transition to a new, unfamiliar and challenging environment. Loneliness is the perceived mismatch between the relationship an individual has, and those that they would like to have, both in terms of quality and/or quantity. Loneliness can exist because a person is alone, or because they do not feel like they are fitting within a group.
In other words, it is possible to be lonely in a crowd.
Loneliness can take a toll on one’s self-esteem, especially if one experiences difficulty in maintaining friendships, finding the right friends to confide in, and/or feeling insecure to be their true authentic self in front of others. In fact, the effects of loneliness can be detrimental to our physical health! Loneliness has been linked to a weakened immune system and heart problems, and increases the likelihood of developing depression and anxiety.
Being aware of your emotions and their meaning can give you the sense of control and confidence to redefine your goals.
How to practise safety planning
Safety planning, when applied in the context of managing loneliness, starts from recognising that one has an unmet need for reconnection. The planning would include knowing:
- [WHAT] one can do for themselves in response to the doubts and fears that arises from loneliness
- the people or community [WHO] one can count on to meet a need for reconnection
- the avenues [WHERE] it is safe for one to reconnect and be their true self
- the confidence and knowledge to explore [HOW] to get out there and join new activities and
- [WHEN] to give ourselves hope and plan activities that will keep us safe and encourage us to persevere through adversity
Part of the process is understanding that one’s sense of being overwhelmed may be connected to one’s Physical thoughts and body sensations, Intense desire to hurt self or others, and Emotional triggers, or PIE, for short. Sometimes the goal of reconnecting with others cannot be achieved realistically on our own because we are not in our best state. It may be helpful to focus our energy and attention on activities that we enjoy, which can put us one step closer to the community that shares our values and beliefs so that we can reconnect meaningfully.
Finally, being aware of your emotions and their meaning can give you the sense of control and confidence to redefine your goals. This could be something like seeking professional help to deal with issues that hold one back from participating fully in various social settings.
A plan works best when there are compliance mechanisms to ensure it is followed through. It can help to communicate or co-create this safety plan with people whom you trust and can turn to for help. It may help to retain the information somewhere in your phone or wallet which you can retrieve as and when you need it. You can also paste it on your wall or refrigerator door where it will act as a reminder that we are not alone whenever we see it.
Apart from your existing interpersonal relationships, there are other people and resources you can tap on to aid your safety planning. For example, My Mental Health website provides the nation with emotional support, with resources and services especially relevant to life with COVID-19. Students in schools may speak to their school counsellors to be put in touch with REACH (Response, Early intervention and Assessment in Community Mental Health), a community mental health service dedicated to working with students, and their schools and families. Youths may also check out CHAT at *SCAPE to pick up resources about mental health or to be referred to various mental health services.
We are constantly growing and adapting as the environment around us changes. Hence, it is important to review your plan and update it frequently to make sure it stays relevant.
The more we understand ourselves and how we differ from the people around us, the clearer we can be in planning ways to reconnect with people and events that truly matter to us.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
Claire Leong (MCouns) is a counsellor who specialises in working with youths and families at Sofia Wellness Clinic, and a Youth Outreach Officer doing programme management at Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre.