Tips for Overcoming Loneliness

Loneliness is a feeling of sadness and low mood due to lack of companionship, close relationships, or feeling excluded. Loneliness doesn’t mean being alone, though. You can be alone and not feel lonely, and you can feel lonely while not alone. Rather, loneliness is the perception of being alone, even if you have friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc. This perception most often comes from the gap between conscious or unconscious  expectations of what relationships will do for us and what they do provide us with in reality. It’s important to acknowledge that most people do come face to face with existential feelings of loneliness once in a while as a natural part of life, but persistent feelings of loneliness are concerning and can pave the way for mental health challenges, like depression. The good news is that there are ways to overcome unwanted or persistent feelings of loneliness.

There are different kinds of loneliness

In order to deal with and hopefully alleviate your loneliness, first you need to identify the root of what’s causing it. Sometimes life events, like a death or protracted illness in ourselves or a loved one, can prompt self-reflection that leaves us feeling temporarily lonely. Most often, however, loneliness stems from situational factors that can be identified and addressed. Here are a few common causes:

Grief

This includes losing someone we love or were close to.

Adjustment

Things like getting a new job or attending a new class/school, changing jobs or careers, and relocating due to professional advancement.

Physical distance or isolation

Moving away from your support system, suddenly working from home or remotely, and isolation due to chronic or terminal illness can also be a factor in feeling lonely.

Emotional distance

Not having close friends or family with shared interests, having trouble connecting to others in a social way, or losing contact with friends or acquaintances — whether naturally growing apart,  through a disagreement or following a breakup — can also bring on these feelings.

Romantic or intimate relationship loss

A major cause of loneliness is breaking up with a romantic partner/partners or ending an intimate relationship, whether it was their idea, our idea or mutual.

Why we need to deal with loneliness

Loneliness is associated with multiple mental health concerns. It could be a contributor, a result, or a predictor of poor recovery outcomes and maintenance. These include:

  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Alcoholism and addiction
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Self-injury and self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Chronic and acute stress
  • Domestic violence

Loneliness is also associated with worsening physical health such as chronic illness or chronic pain which can interfere with participating in activities, getting together with friends or groups, or making efforts to connect with others. All of this tends to reinforce feelings of loneliness, decrease social connections and possibly lead to worsening mental health and wellbeing. Loneliness may also be caused by or lead to less physical activity, increased technology use, and other habits that can worsen overall health.

Persistent loneliness can also impact our self-esteem and ability to reach out for support. This could include wanting more connection with others, but not being able to attain it, bringing on feelings of sadness, unworthiness, etc. Loneliness might cause us to ask ourselves questions like, “What’s wrong with me that they don’t want to be with me?” or begin identifying and harping on our flaws in an attempt to solve the problem. Lastly, loneliness might cause us to begin to feel less worthy, loved, ignored, and like there must be something about us that’s naturally undesirable.

How to overcome loneliness

Depending on the circumstances that caused feelings of loneliness, here are some tips that might help:

Give it time

Loneliness stemming from grief or loss can abate over time with support from loved ones, new routines, new relationships, etc. Adjusting to the new normal can take time, and it’s important to be patient with yourself and your healing. Loneliness from physical or emotional distance and life changes may be alleviated in similar ways: being patient, reaching out to a support system, and making new connections.

Reach out

Try working on your communication and reaching out to people you trust for more contact. This could include making regular contact with family members, either virtually or over the phone, as well as checking in on friends and acquaintances to ask them about their lives, recent changes, etc. You might also try planning more structured outings with your friends, like lunches or outdoor activities, Zoom game nights, walks or hikes in local parks and green spaces or ask coworkers or classmates to spend time together outside of work/class.

Branch out

If we’re in a rut, loneliness can sometimes be alleviated by trying something new. A new hobby will not only introduce you to a new community of people with similar interests, but will add new stimulation to your routine and improve your overall feelings of self-efficacy and positive self-image. This could also include using social media, dating apps, and other forums to connect with people digitally or volunteering for a cause that’s important to you. Giving back is often its own best reward in terms of making us feel good.

Invest in your alone time (Practice self care)

Are you meeting your basic care needs of food, water, rest, and hygiene? While obvious, these are often overlooked as reasons we don’t feel like ourselves. Some other things you can do include:

  • Make your living space comfortable, functioning, and nurturing:
  • Reorganize your closet space or any other cluttered spaces
  • Create ways to make your space more enjoyable and comfortable (new pillows, rugs or other small splashes of color or accessories)
  • Decrease social media use if you feel yourself using it for self-comparison, self-hatred, or if you notice yourself feeling reliant on or “addicted” to your screen.
  • Take yourself on outings, “dates,” or take advantage of your alone time to cultivate special interests and do things you enjoy.

Put yourself first (Romantic loneliness)

Sometimes the pressure to be in a romantic relationship from family, friends, media, social expectations, etc. can cause us to be lonely. But by putting ourselves first, and “dating” ourselves, we can often appreciate how nice it is to be uncommitted for the time being. Don’t underestimate the enjoyment that can come from taking yourself out to eat or to a movie — the people watching alone can be quite engaging!

Re-categorize a relationship

Sometimes loneliness can be a result of feeling cut off from one person, or a group of people. This can be due to mismatched expectations or availability. If you find that you’ve tried to create the relationship you want but seem to be met with no real change, you may need to change your expectations, or “re-categorize” the relationship. For instance, if you have a school friend that you studied with often during the school year, but things have tapered off since the semester or school year ended, instead of expecting the same quality of friendship as before, and repeatedly being upset or disappointed, accept the change in the friendship (which might be temporary). You can find some other useful tips at Friendships Change. Here’s How to Deal.

See a therapist

Of course, therapists, counselors, and support groups can help give you resources to cope with loneliness, improve your social connections and communication, and give you a safe space for your feelings of loneliness and other emotions. Therapy doesn’t have to be a last resort and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help as soon as you feel down. The important thing is to do what you need to do to feel better.

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