Avoiding solitude

Loneliness and Dissatisfaction can occur when moving to another city for work. These feelings come from the uncertainty of being liked, involved, appreciated. The best advice for being happy in unknown places is to establish new habits and identify places to go: bars, restaurants, grocery stores, gyms. A new love interest could be a ‘cure-all’, but this is a different story that cannot be scheduled obviously.

Illustration by Goni Montes, Decatur, USARETAIN THE ASSETS YOU HAVE
Take stock of the relationships in your network and sustain them. If you are involved in a stable relationship or marriage, this may be central to your support network. A ‘full service operation’, helps you to feel liked, valued, and loved, as well as providing all sorts of social support in your life. Make the effort to nurture it through frequent, thoughtful communication. The same holds with close friendships. This is a lot easier with today’s technology: twitter, e-mail, smartphones, and digital photos and videos.

Moving can involve a pervasive loss of rewards—since usual behaviors no longer yield familiar pleasures.  So, make sure to bring old routines and pleasures with you: favorite books, music, and habits.  Build new routines that generate small, familiar pleasures:  enjoy being recognized and greeted by the barista and newspaper seller; find short walks that yield familiar sights; find cafés, shops, or restaurants where you can become a ‘regular’.  Such strategies can make an overwhelmingly strange place start to feel more comfortable. 

A new city should offer much to see and experience: pace yourself to avoid becoming overwhelmed.  If time and money are scarce, do some of this through new newspapers and magazines. You can acculturate, explore, and—worst case—fill time and distract yourself from a painful sense of isolation

It is important to recognize this as a major project and to remain optimistic.  There are different kinds of loneliness. To simplify, social loneliness may result from feeling less socially integrated or involved, because of insufficient socializing and contact with others. Emotional loneliness may result from feeling less attachment and love, because of the absence of close relationships. So, it is smart to build a social network of individuals with diverse interests, locales, and potential. Take advantage of the new workplace: get to know new colleagues, appreciate any recognition that comes with your new position, accept offers to socialize or be shown around, and enjoy after-work social dates. But, try to make connections outside work too, building on your interests.

How we handle a move depends in part on our personality, network orientation, and attachment style. We vary in how prone we are to experience negative emotions such as loneliness, anxiety, and depression. We vary in our confidence that others in our social network would be glad to help us out.  We are more or less likely to question whether others are trustworthy or that we are worthy of their caring.  So, even an objectively similar move may be experienced very differently by different people. Those who face more challenges may benefit by recognizing their liabilities–their expectations, patterns of thinking, and emotions—and by trying to accommodate them. If you know that you tend to over-react to slights, to doubt others’ gestures of friendship, or to experience self-doubt or hopelessness, you might be better able to adjust your perceptions and feelings. Some younger people may be happy to pursue a career and forego a long-term relationship, at least for a while. Some may still have to use strategies like those outlined above to ensure sufficient socializing and time with friends to avoid social loneliness.  Others, likely more as they get older, will find that despite career success they find themselves emotionally lonely: wanting—perhaps longing for—a deeper attachment.  Moreover, some may be eager to have children. Opportunities for romance and the pool of available mates may change rapidly during early adulthood. Generally, men and women who are married show lower depression, psychological distress, health behavior problems, illness, and even mortality, than those who are divorced, separated, or never-married. Some of these associations are due to ‘selection’, but some are benefits of a long-term relationship. These benefits vary. Under the right circumstances, they may expand an individual’s capacity to multi-task, nurture a richer self, and promote feelings of being cared for, respected, and loved, resulting in resilience, health, happiness, and life satisfaction. How best to navigate these choices in a complex, changing environment is perhaps a subject for another article.

Work can often challenge or even disrupt other parts of your life—not least when it requires long hours, unpredictable and urgent demands, or travel from home. Indeed, the more interesting, challenging, and higher-level the job, the more likely it is to assault other aspects of your life: to make demands on time, thought, and emotions.  Bringing work home can disrupt home or even prevent its development!  Rewarding and enriching in so many ways, work can play havoc with your social life and lead to loneliness and unhappiness. Humans seek affiliation with others and, when that is difficult and people feel disconnected, they become distressed and lonely.  These simple truths are the tip of an iceberg that can lead to intense depression. A significant event for many in the workplace is a transfer.  Like all transitions, it presents opportunities: for novelty, excitement, and growth; as well as challenges: possibly disruptions, loss, and stress. Of course, how an individual handles a transfer—whether it is calm or intensely emotional, exciting or upsetting, on balance a huge success or a traumatic disaster—is shaped by numerous factors: personality, life history, attachment experience, social networks, life and work circumstances, and coping strategies. According to social support theorists, if you feel that you are liked, involved in a network of mutual obligation, esteemed, and loved, you are more likely to be resilient, satisfied, and happy. Moving to work in a new city may threaten these benefits.  It may disrupt friendships, threaten intimate relationships, and even challenge marriages. So, how can you avoid loneliness and make an enriching transfer.

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Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2010