Loneliness is one of those “universal human experiences” that every single one of us will go through in life… which isn’t much help when you’re in the midst of it. Loneliness can be a pretty miserable feeling, and if you’re not careful it can take a toll on your mental and physical health. You can start to wonder if you’re all alone in the world, if you’ll be alone forever, or if anyone will ever understand how you feel. As Dr. Brené Brown says, “Human beings are wired for connection,” so it’s good news that there are effective strategies and resources to help you combat loneliness and regain a sense of well-being.
Loneliness is more than just being physically alone. It's a deep and pervasive sense of isolation and disconnection, which can leave you with feelings of sadness, emptiness, longing for companionship, and eventually leads to depression. Loneliness can be triggered by life circumstances, including major life changes like divorce, social isolation like when you move to a new place, or a lack of meaningful relationships for various reasons. It can also be a symptom of psychological disorders that cause you to withdraw from society, or it could stem from low self-esteem that keeps you from forging positive connections.
Loneliness is also widespread. An advisory from the US Surgeon General found that research shows nearly half of adults in the US feel loneliness on a daily basis. And why is the US Surgeon General interested in loneliness? Because in the same advisory, research also showed that chronic loneliness has a severe impact on our health. Chronic loneliness increases our chances of premature death by more than 25%, and it has also been linked to substance abuse, heart problems, issues with learning and memory, and increased stress. Prolonged loneliness can quite literally alter your brain function—we need connection!
7 Tips on How to Overcome Loneliness
So what can we do if we’re feeling alone? Fortunately, many things. While it may be daunting to reach out for connection in the midst of loneliness, it’s very possible for you to build a more connected life for yourself. Consider these ideas for reducing your feelings of loneliness:
1. Reflect. Start by acknowledging that you’re lonely. That’s a difficult and heartbreaking thing to admit. Once you accept it, you can start trying to figure out why. Has there been a recent change in your life? Did you move schools, go through a breakup, or start a new job? Do you have a lack of social connections? An inability to connect with your friends and family? Few opportunities to meet new people? Or is it something else? Identifying the root cause can help you address it more effectively.
2. Get mental health support. If loneliness is causing you significant distress, consider seeking support from a licensed mental health professional. They can provide guidance, strategies, and a safe space to explore how you’re feeling. They’ll also be able to help you figure out whether you need to look into mental health disorders, or they can help you think of ways to get more connected with people.
3. Prioritize your physical health. Your physical well-being can have a substantial impact on your mental health. Make sure you’re getting regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. All of these are known to boost mood and reduce feelings of loneliness, because if you take care of your body, you’re giving your brain what it needs to process those feelings more effectively.
4. Be careful about social media. While social media can provide a sense of connection if you’re using it that way, it can also contribute to feelings of loneliness. If you notice that after you spend time on social media, you feel worse, that’s a good sign that it’s not helping with your loneliness. It’s all too often a trigger for negative social comparisons like, “She seems so happy—what’s wrong with me?” or “Why wasn’t I invited to that?” or “If I were more like him, I’d be more likable.” Be mindful of your social media use and consider limiting or curating your time online to make it a more positive tool for connection.
5. Engage in social activities. I know that’s scary for some of us, but be strong, introverts of the world! It turns out that in order to have meaningful connections, we do indeed have to make an effort to engage in social activities on occasion. Join clubs, classes, or social groups related to your interests. There are people out there who care about the same things you do, and if the statistics are true, they’re probably looking for you too.
6. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to combat loneliness while giving back to your community. It gives you an opportunity to connect with people and can create a sense of purpose. On top of that, it gives you a task to do while you’re connecting with people, which can be incredibly helpful for the introverts. Volunteering can also expose you to more opportunities—maybe you’ll hear someone chatting about auditions for a play, an exhibition at an art gallery, or a new game store that’s opening up nearby.
7. Reach out. Don't hesitate to reach out to friends or family members when you're feeling lonely. Be open and honest with them about your need for connection. It’s entirely possible to feel lonely when you already have friends, and true friends want to hear from you and help you. Shoot a simple text to someone today… it can be as simple as “Coffee?” or “Come over for a movie night?”
How to Help Others with Loneliness
If you have a friend or loved one experiencing loneliness, it can be hard to know how to help them. If they live far away, or if you can’t drop everything to rush to their side, you might feel helpless. Helping a friend feel less lonely doesn’t have to be a complicated or grand gesture. Here are some ways you can offer support:
- Be a compassionate and attentive listener. Let them express their feelings without judging them. Sometimes, all a lonely person needs is a listening ear.
- Make an effort to spend quality time with them. Pick an activity you both enjoy, whether it's going for a walk, sharing a meal, or having a craft day. A little bit of fresh air, fun, and time to connect will do you both some good.
- If their loneliness is causing severe distress, or if it seems to be an ongoing problem, encourage them to seek support from a mental health professional. Offer to help them find a therapist or even accompany them to an appointment. Sometimes we need additional help to get out of chronic loneliness, so don’t take it personally that your friend feels alone when you’re right there by their side. Loneliness can be a long and challenging battle. Be patient and consistent.
As loneliness continues to impact most of us, it’s so important that we be there for one another, turn toward each other rather than isolating or turning away. We were created to love one another, and when we feel disconnected from people, it can be incredibly painful. If you or someone you know is battling with loneliness, consider chatting with one of our Hope Coaches. It’s part of our mission to make sure no one has to feel alone, and we’d love to be able to provide support to anyone who does.