We’ve all experienced feeling lonely at times.
Loneliness is not only isolating, but it can wear and tear on your mental health.
A 2018 study estimated that around 22% of people suffer from chronic loneliness, and that number has likely increased in the last few years.
Recently, people have had even more reasons to feel lonely, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased use of social media, which can actually make some people feel further away from others than more connected.
While loneliness is a universal experience, there are many ways to cope with it.
What works for one person might not work for the next, so it’s important to determine the cause of your loneliness and then choose a coping mechanism best suited to your unique situation.
Reasons for feeling lonely
Decreased social interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 took a huge toll on all of us socially, and definitely increased the prevalence of lonely people worldwide.
Without the ability to participate in social activities as normal, or even see your coworkers in person, it’s a fast-track to feeling isolated and alone.
Mental health problems
Anxiety and depression are some of the most prevalent mental health problems, and they can both cause loneliness.
Many people suffer from social anxiety and fear social gatherings and therefore avoid them.
While this might seem to be a good alternative at the moment, even the most introverted or shy people still need social interaction to thrive.
People who suffer from depression may avoid social gatherings or other things they enjoy because they lose interest, which is one of the many symptoms of depression.
Moving to a new area
You might have a lot of friends and get plenty of social interaction, but that can all quickly change if you uproot yourself and move somewhere new.
It can be difficult to make new friends for some people, especially as you get older.
The death of a loved one
Our good friends and family can be our closest companions. If you lose a loved one, you’re likely to feel lonely on top of going through the grieving process.
Older people who lose their spouse of many decades are especially prone to loneliness since they might not get much social interaction outside of their partner.
Feelings of low self-esteem
If you’re feeling blue or feeling down about yourself, it can be difficult to put yourself out there, spend time around and meet new people.
In reality, you’re probably your own worst critic and end up isolating yourself when in reality you have plenty of positive attributes to bring to the table socially.
Too much social media
While social media is designed to keep us connected, it can have the opposite effect.
You might feel lonely if your posts and pictures don’t get as many “likes” as your other friends.
Or if you start comparing your life to others’ filtered photos and posts about all of the positive things in their life.
People tend to put their best face forward on social media. This, therefore, may lead you to think that your life isn’t as good as others.
Young adults tend to use social media heavily, which may take a considerable toll on their mental health.
Chronic social media use has been found to have detrimental effects on mental health, causing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Being a stay-at-home parent
While you might wonder why you feel lonely when you’re around your kids all day, it’s not the same as a quality connection with another adult.
Especially if you were used to regular interaction through work or other outlets, being a stay-at-home parent can be isolating.
12 things to do to help with loneliness
1) Acknowledge that you’re lonely
It can be difficult to admit when we’re going through something difficult, such as feeling lonely.
Maybe you think that you’ll come across as “weak” if you admit you’re feeling lonely. Or you try to convince yourself that you don’t need other people’s company.
Acknowledging the fact that you’re craving social interaction is an entirely normal part of being human.
Though our individual preferences for how much time we spend with others varies (hello introverts versus extroverts!), even people who identify as “loners” still need some regular companionship.
2) Connect with those already in your social circle
Since we all experience loneliness at times, there’s a good chance someone else in your contact list is feeling the same way.
Reaching out to someone you know and trust can not only help satisfy your need for human connection, but they may be craving the same connection from you.
3) Make time for social interaction
With everything there is to occupy our focus and time, it can be easy to let your mental health and relationships take the back burner to your job, projects, or other obligations.
You might be feeling stretched thin by over-committing to things that don’t connect you with others, and it can take its toll.
It can be as simple as making a phone call to a friend or family member on your lunch break or asking your co-workers if they want to go out for drinks after work on a Friday evening.
4) Make something
Tapping into your creative side can help alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Drawing, crocheting, or making a craft are all ways to focus your attention on something more positive, and it gives a great sense of satisfaction when you’re done.
Simply journaling your feelings is also a great outlet when you’re feeling lonely.
5) Join a club or group
Take one of your interests or skills and turn it into a chance to connect with others!
Use a resource such as MeetUp or check your local community centers for their schedule of classes and group meetings.
While you might be hesitant to meet new people, having something in common can quickly break the ice.
6) Get a pet, or better yet, adopt one
Studies have found that people living alone with a pet are less lonely than people living completely alone.
Even though they can’t talk to you, pets provide companionship and a sense of responsibility in caring for them.
Who doesn’t feel good when they come home to a pet who is eager to see them?
Adopting a pet helps reduce the number of unwanted pets in shelters, who are probably just as lonely as you are.
Adopting also allows you to get an older pet who is already housetrained.
This is excellent if you don’t want to start with a young pet who needs training or lacks basic manners.
7) FaceTime or Zoom
Texting and emailing are primary ways of communicating these days, which definitely has its perks.
However, texting can contribute to feelings of isolation because it takes away the main aspects of communication, such as body language and tone of voice.
It’s also really easy to misinterpret someone’s intentions via written communication.
Unfortunately, this can lead you to mistakenly think someone is annoyed or mad at you.
FaceTime, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams calls can help you stay connected to your loved ones.
8) Don’t allow yourself to remain in isolation
If you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, head out to where people congregate, such as a park or a movie theater.
Simply spending time around people can help make you feel less isolated, even if you don’t engage with them extensively.
Making some small talk or exchanging smiles with a stranger can make you feel less lonely and more connected.
9) Focus on self-care
It can be easy to put other things ahead of our own basic needs, such as spending time doing something you enjoy or simply taking the time to get a haircut or a massage.
While it might not be a long-term solution to loneliness, keeping up with self-care activities can help fight stress and help promote better mental health and wellness.
This puts you in a better place to strengthen your relationships with others.
10) Perform a random act of kindness
Putting others first can make you feel better about yourself. And it can also make you feel more emotionally connected.
Even if you don’t see the person benefiting from your act of kindness.
Pay for the person’s coffee in the car behind you at the drive-through. Or drop off a care package at a neighbor’s house.
Your act of kindness may help someone else who is feeling lonely, too.
11) Confide in someone you trust
Keeping your feelings of loneliness to yourself can make you feel even more isolated and alone.
Reaching out to someone you trust, whether it’s a family member, friend, coworker, or healthcare provider, can help ease some of the burdens of those hard feelings.
12) Know you’re not alone and seek help when you need it
If you’re ever feeling so lonely that you’re having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please reach out for help.
Know that loneliness is experienced by everyone and is a part of being a human being.
Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 in America, or The Samaritans on 116 123 in the United Kingdom; they’re available 24/7 and eager to help.
When to see a doctor
If you’re experiencing chronic loneliness and it negatively impacts your mental health and wellness, then it’s time to seek out help from a healthcare provider.
This can either be a psychologist or your primary care provider.
Isolation can worsen chronic mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
These conditions can be helped by combining talk therapy and many medications.
Feeling lonely is a normal part of being human, and we all experience feelings of loneliness and isolation at times.
Feeling lonely can also worsen common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
There are many ways to help you feel better.
But if you’re feeling lonely on a chronic basis, it’s a good idea to seek help. This can be from a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare provider.