Feeling lonely is normal because social connections are one of many intrinsic human needs. When you are physically or emotionally isolated from others, you are likely to crave companionship.
Although everyone experiences loneliness from time to time, it is a passing feeling that one can overcome. But when it becomes chronic and interferes with your ability to go about your daily life, you should do something about it.
What Is Loneliness?
Loneliness is the feeling you get when your need for social contact and relationships is not met. However, loneliness is not the same as being alone.
You can be alone and enjoy the peace and contentment that comes with it. However, when you are lonely, it means you are isolated or dissatisfied by the connections you have.
There are three types of loneliness, namely:
- Emotional loneliness – when you feel that you lack relationships. It happens when you have no one to confide in.
- Social loneliness – when you don’t feel a sense of belonging to any group. It happens when you socialize but can’t seem to develop fulfilling relationships with those around you.
- Existential loneliness – the universal feeling that we are all alone and separate from one another.
When Are You More Likely to Be Lonely?
Loneliness is a personal experience and the causes may vary significantly from one person to another. However, certain events may trigger sadness, such as:
- Separation from a loved one due to a breakup, divorce, or death
- Estrangement from friends and family
- Retiring and losing the social contact you had at work
- Moving to a new place
- Going away to college
- Starting a new job
- Mental illness
- Adopting a caregiving role, e.g., becoming a parent or caring for a sick person
- Facing discrimination because of disability, race, or sexual orientation
- Experiencing trauma or abuse
- Experiencing financial distress that makes it hard to afford social events
- Spending holidays away from loved ones
Some people experience chronic loneliness that does not disappear, regardless of their social situation. Such feelings stem from low self-esteem and feeling unworthy of love.
Is Loneliness a Mental Health Problem?
Loneliness is not a mental health problem. However, the two are closely related. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling isolated. Conversely, feeling isolated can increase your chance of developing mental health problems.
People may have misconceptions about what specific mental health problems mean. As a result, you experience stigma and have a hard time making friends. Some conditions, such as social anxiety, may cause you to avoid social interactions and cause you to feel lonely.
What Are the Effects of Loneliness on Physical and Mental Health?
Loneliness has a wide range of adverse effects on physical and mental health, including:
- Decreased memory and learning
- Altered brain function
- Alzheimer’s disease progression
- Increased stress levels
- Poor decision making
- Alcoholism and drug use
- Sleep problems
- Premature aging
- Suicidal ideation
What to Do When You Are Feeling Lonely?
Feeling lonely and disconnected can be difficult. So how to deal with loneliness? It means accepting your feelings, actively seeking a solution, and asking for help when necessary. Here are some actionable tips.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
You might feel embarrassed to admit that you are lonely. Know that telling others how you feel doesn’t make you a loser. However, denying your feelings worsens them. To recover, you must acknowledge what you are experiencing.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t pile pressure on yourself to socialize. Know that you cannot get it all done in a day. Instead, give yourself time to get out of your comfort zone.
At first, putting yourself out there can be scary. Set small targets that you can quickly achieve, and don’t dwell on the things about yourself that you can’t change.
Comparison is the thief of joy – be careful not to compare yourself to others. When you scroll on social media, it’s easy to feel that you’re missing out or that others have a better life than yours. Remind yourself that what you see on social media isn’t always the truth. And, even if it is, your life is unique in its way.
Feeling lonely can be stressful and have a significant impact on your well-being. Think about changing the following aspects of your life to boost your mood.
- Quality of sleep – get neither too little nor too much sleep.
- Healthy diet – stay away from greasy and sugary food.
- Get moving – commit to at least 30 minutes of physical exercise each day.
- Spend time outdoors – take nature walks and enjoy the fresh air.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs – depressants and stimulants may give you erratic moods.
Reframe Your Thinking
When loneliness strikes, it’s easy for negative thoughts to cloud your judgment. Negative thoughts make it harder for you to create meaningful connections and worsen feelings of isolation. It is a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.
It’s important to question negative thoughts when they occur. Ask yourself, “What evidence is there to back up these thoughts?” Maybe your friends are not avoiding you; they are busy. Know that other people’s actions are never a reflection of you. Try not to jump to conclusions or assume the worst.
Take Stock of Connections You Already Have
Loneliness can blind you to the blessings that are right in front of you. Acknowledge the people in your life who love you. Appreciate them because they go out of their way to care for you. If you are dissatisfied with your current relationships, make an effort to improve them. Communicate your needs to others clearly and help them understand how to help you.
There are a few things you can do to improve your existing connections, including:
- Schedule time to call or visit friends and family
- Invite a friend out for lunch
- Take opportunities to start up conversations with neighbors
- Use social media to reconnect with those you’ve lost touch with due to time or distance
- Join a club with interests you share.
Change How You Use Social Media
Scrolling passively down your Instagram feed is not the best way to use social media. Interact with others to feel connected. Join the right groups on Facebook, comment on relevant posts, and stay in touch with people online.
If you would rather not socialize in real life, make friends online. Be careful, though, as online interactions may not always be the safest – exercise reasonable judgment and caution as you would in real life.
Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company
Although feeling connected to others is a fundamental human need, being alone is part of life. It is impossible to be in the company of others constantly. Therefore, it would help if you embraced being alone sometimes.
Know that spending time alone does not equate to loneliness. It can be fulfilling. Get to know yourself, your values, and your passions. Explore some solo activities such as painting, gardening, or building puzzles. Armed with a strong sense of self, you are in a better position to make meaningful connections with others.
Establishing a daily routine can be calming and give a sense of purpose. Furthermore, it prevents boredom that gives space for loneliness. Distract yourself with engaging activities that fill your day. Have a daily planner to keep you organized and productive.
Acts of kindness trigger the feel-good hormone that can boost your mood. Volunteering at a homeless shelter or simply noticing the kindness in others gets the endorphins and oxytocin flowing.
Volunteering is a great way to socialize as you meet many people while at it. Try to get out of your comfort zone and strike a conversation. Practice talking to strangers; even a simple hello will do.
Adopt a Pet
A pet can be the best companion you ever had. If you struggle with loneliness despite having many friends, you might need to look elsewhere. Having a pet can be comforting and stress relieving. Knowing that your pet depends on you also gives a sense of purpose.
Companion animals prompt their owners to engage in healthy activities that may decrease feelings of social isolation. Taking your dog for a walk can help you get some exercise, enjoy nature, and interact with others along the way.
Talk therapy allows you to explore and understand feelings of loneliness. It provides space for you to discuss trauma and other problems that come in the way of you forming meaningful relationships. Working with a supportive therapist can help you develop positive ways of dealing with sadness from isolation.
Some mental health conditions, like social anxiety, that trigger loneliness are best dealt with in therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can have positive effects on one’s thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes.
The Bottom Line
Coping with loneliness is not easy. You have to overcome the fear of rejection and anxiety caused by social situations. Create opportunities for connections with other people. Start with the simplest interactions online or in real life. Join clubs or adopt a pet to get out of the house more.
Seeking therapy can help combat the feeling of isolation. Your therapist will guide you to overcome traumatic memories that may prevent you from forming meaningful connections. Online therapy can give you a safe space to analyze your thoughts and feelings and find strategies to deal with loneliness in a healthy way.