Most people experience feelings of loneliness at times. For some, these feelings become persistent and can even lead to hopelessness that the situation will ever improve. When you are struggling and feel as though there is no one to turn to for support, loneliness can feel overwhelming. However, there are some strategies you can try to help you cope with loneliness and feel more connected.
What Is Loneliness
Loneliness isn’t necessarily about being alone, it is more about the subjective quality of your relationships lacking meaningful connection. It is an internal feeling of discomfort. You can be surrounded by many people, yet feel emotionally and socially disconnected. As an infant, you depend on others in order to survive. Forming an attachment with your primary caregiver is important and even necessary for your survival. Feeling deeply connected to those you form attachments with helps you thrive. When you feel lonely instead, your mental and physical health can suffer and you may experience depression and anxiety. Loneliness occurs when the social connections that you want are very different from the social interactions you have.
What Causes Loneliness
There are a number of things that can contribute to loneliness. Life transitions such as, moving, changing jobs, divorce, or developing a chronic illness can lead to loneliness. Loneliness can occur at any time to anyone, but is often associated with the elderly. Since it is more about a lack in the quality, versus the quantity of your relationships, those that have trouble reaching out and being vulnerable can experience more loneliness. While it is normal to feel lonely at times, there are things you can do to help.
1. Feel Your Feelings
One way to combat feelings of loneliness is to acknowledge it as a feeling and feel it. Feelings come and go. It would be odd to experience the same feeling, and only that feeling forever and ever. However, with loneliness it can be thought of as who you are, instead of how you feel. To help view loneliness as a feeling you are having, you need to acknowledge the feeling and let yourself feel it, but on your terms. Limit the amount of time that you feel your loneliness and make sure you have a way to transition that gets your mind off of it when you’re done. When you see loneliness as a feeling, you can sit with this feeling and allow it to be so you can begin to experience other, more positive feelings as well.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness refers to being fully present in the moment. This means giving your full attention to your current experience. When you are mindful, you are focused on what is going on all around you. To do this, your attention cannot be on your own thoughts and inner experience. Mindfulness is useful when you are alone as the attention is still on what is happening around you, while noticing your inner experience without judgment. It is also helpful when you are with others as you are able to be fully present. This enables you to learn more about those you engage with, which can help you deepen your connections so you don’t feel as lonely.
3. Make Small Talk
Making small talk can help you feel more engaged and less lonely. Although small talk may not provide great depth, it is a start towards connecting. Small talk is a way to put yourself out there and share a part of yourself with others. Smiling, making eye contact, and exchanging pleasantries can help foster connection. When you practice small talk as you go about your day, it will be easier to start conversations with those you want to get closer to. Loneliness is about not feeling connected and small talk helps you begin to connect.
4. Reach Out
Sometimes loneliness makes your world feel very small. When you think about it though, you probably have a few people in your life that have always been supportive that you could reach out to. Even if you haven’t spoken in awhile, or you are not sure what to say, reaching out can help ease loneliness. Catching up and talking about fond memories can help you remember times when you did not feel lonely. It can also be easier to be your true self with old friends.
5. Join A Club
Interacting with like-minded people can help you feel more connected and less lonely. Joining a club related to something you enjoy is a good way to do this. Whether it’s cooking, acting, or photography, joining a club can help you develop deeper connections as you bond over a common interest. You could interact with others at the gym, in your book club, or even during your morning run, if an organized club doesn’t interest you. Sometimes, just being around those who enjoy the same things you do can help ease feelings of loneliness.
6. Spend Time With Your Pet
Spending time with your pet is another way to help combat loneliness. Pets provide companionship, unconditional love and affection, and a boost in oxytocin. They can help you feel needed and ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Pets can encourage you to be more playful and to exercise. While they are not a substitute for human interaction, they can make it easier for you to meet others.
Volunteering provides a meaningful way to connect with others and make new friends. Helping others naturally makes you feel good. Volunteering provides social interaction and keeps you from isolating. When you volunteer, it keeps the focus off of you. Instead, you are focused on doing something for someone else. This can help decrease loneliness as your attention changes from an inward focus on lack to an outward focus on helping.
8. Try Something New
Trying something new engages your brain in a different way which can help decrease feelings of loneliness. When you try something new, you need to pay attention and focus on what you are doing. Learning something new requires bravery and can help fight boredom. Gaining a new skill gives you something new to talk to others about. It forces you to break out of your comfort zone and can help you feel more alive. When you try something new you can be totally engaged, which helps you focus less on loneliness.
9. Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude requires you to shift your thoughts from what you are missing to what is going well. When you practice gratitude, you notice and highlight the good things. While you don’t want to ignore your feelings of loneliness, you also don’t want these feelings to be your main focus. Keeping a daily gratitude journal helps draw your attention to what you are grateful for.
10. Take A Break From Social Media
Maybe you think turning to social media is a good way to feel less lonely. However, spending too much time on social media can keep you from engaging in meaningful face-to-face connections. The idealized version of others often highlighted on social media can increase your feelings of loneliness. Scrolling through photos of smiling faces engaging in interesting activities could cause you to feel like everyone but you is happy. When you spend a lot of time on social media, you can end up feeling even more lonely. Decreasing the amount of time you spend on social media can free up time to focus on deepening your important connections.
If you are struggling with loneliness that is having a negative impact on your well-being, try the above tips. While it is normal to experience feelings of loneliness, if they persist, counseling can help. When you are able to feel deeply connected to others, feelings of loneliness will most likely decrease.