Feeling lonely is a normal human emotion, and everyone experiences loneliness from time to time. The feeling can be noticeable around times of extreme stress, holidays, and the isolation felt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of adults in the U.S. who feel lonely is quite large. Cigna surveyed in January 2020, in which 10,000 adults participated. 61% of those said they felt lonely. The worse thing is that people don’t always talk about feeling lonely and don’t know what to do with such feelings.
Other than being emotionally painful, loneliness can impact people in many ways:
- Depression: A study published in 2021 found an association between loneliness and depressive symptoms in a group of adults 50 years old and older. Studies also suggest that depression and loneliness may feed off of and perpetuate one another .
- Physical Pain: Research shows that part of the brain that deals with social exclusion are the exact part that processes physical pain, adding a scientific explanation to the oft-romanticized experience of a “broken” heart.
- Physical Health: Studies have found that emotional stress and depressed immunity both are interlinked. Some other research link depression and loneliness with poorer health and well-being. That’s why people who are experiencing loneliness are susceptible to different health issues.
If you’re experiencing loneliness, there are some actions you can take to combat your feelings and reconnect with the world around you. In severe cases, seek the assistance of experienced and licensed mental health professional.
Join a class
Whether it’s an exercise class, art class, or book club, joining a class automatically exposes you to a group of different people who share at least one of your interests. Check your community college or local library and city parks and recreation departments to see what is available.
Joining a class can provide a sense of belonging and stimulate creativity, give you something to look forward to during the day, and help get rid of loneliness.
Do a project
The second most important thing you can do is find something productive and creative to do to occupy your time. But this is not about being mindlessly busy. Instead, it is an opportunity to nourish yourself with something that makes you feel better. Maybe rearranging your furniture will help you flex your creative muscles or clean out your closet to help you feel more in control.
One of the worst things lonely people do is mindless consumptions, where their brains get into a negative loop about everything that is wrong. You can replace that with a creative engagement and put it into action.
Volunteering yourself for something you believe in can provide the same benefits as joining a class or club: being part of a group, meeting others, and creating new experiences. This can help you find more meaning in your life.
Other than reducing loneliness, this can bring happiness and life satisfaction. Additionally, you will feel a deeper sense of gratitude for what you have in your own life.
Strengthen existing relationships
Most probably, you already have people in your life that you could get to know better and connections with the family that could be deepened. If so, why not meet your friends more often, go out with them more, and find other ways to strengthen bonds and enjoy your existing relationships.
If you find it hard to reach out to your loved ones, it might be helpful to start slowly. Come up with just one family member or a supportive friend who you could imagine reaching out to. You should also know that strong social support is also beneficial for your mental health.
Use technology to stay connected
As we grow older, our social circle of family and friends are likely to spread or dwindle. A proven way to supplement our in-person contact is to maintain our long-distance relationships using technology.
Fortunately, there are dozens of options available in this digital age: audio calls, video chat, online chat, email etc. We know that learning a completely new digital platform can be challenging, but once you get the hang of it, its advantages include accessibility and convenience. The best thing about these tech-based communication channels is that most of them are free or included with other bills you’re already paying, such as phone and internet.
But use technology only to strengthen your relationships, not as a foundation, because it can also be isolating.
Adopt a pet
Pets, especially cats and dogs, offer so many benefits, and preventing loneliness is one of them. Rescuing a pet combines the benefits of companionship and altruism and fight loneliness in several ways.
You can connect with other people – walking a dog help you communicate with the community of different dog walkers, and a cute dog on a leash tends to be a people magnet. Besides, pets provide you with unconditional love, which can be an excellent salve for loneliness.
Talk to strangers
The most straightforward and easy way to increase your connections is by interacting in a small way with strangers or acquittances. Research shows that it contributes to our social and emotional well-being. So next time you see your neighbour on a walk, start a conversation. You might find you feel happier afterwards.
See a therapist
As we mentioned earlier that loneliness and symptoms of depression could perpetuate each other, meaning the lonelier you’re, the more depressed you feel.
Sometimes just talking to strangers and meeting new people isn’t enough. You might feel lonely when you’re around them, which could be a sign of social anxiety or depression. If you’re in such a condition, it may be a good idea to seek therapy to help with feelings of loneliness.
There are several forms of therapies, especially cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), that can help you change your thoughts and your behaviour to help you not only experience less loneliness but have more tools to prevent it.
So, there you have simple tactics you can implement today. Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy. But by taking small daily steps, you can rewire your behaviour and create a healthy experience for yourself.
Whatever you do to fight loneliness, know that you’re not alone, and there are many things you can do to feel more connected.