Virtually everyone experiences loneliness from time to time. The feeling can be especially noticeable around the holidays, Valentine’s Day, and times of extreme stress.
The sheer number of adults in the United States who feel lonely is quite large—in a January 2020 survey of 10,000 adults by Cigna, 61% of those surveyed said they felt lonely.1 However, people don’t always talk about feelings of loneliness and don’t always know what to do with these feelings.
Other than being emotionally painful, loneliness can impact people in many ways:
- Depression: A 2021 study published in Lancet Psychiatry found associations between loneliness and depressive symptoms in a group of adults 50 years old and older.2 Research also suggests that loneliness and depression may feed off of and perpetuate each other.3
- Physical health: Several studies have linked emotional stress with depressed immunity.4 Other research links loneliness and depression with poorer health and well-being.5 Therefore, people who are experiencing loneliness are susceptible to a variety of health issues.
- Physical pain: Research shows that the areas of the brain that deal with social exclusion are the same areas that process physical pain, adding a scientific explanation to the oft-romanticized experience of a “broken heart.”6
How to Cope With Loneliness
If you’re experiencing loneliness, there are some things you can do about it. Below are nine strategies for dealing with loneliness.
Join a Class or Club
Whether it’s an art class, exercise class, or book club, joining a class or a club automatically exposes you to a group of people who share at least one of your interests. Check your local library or community college as well as city parks and recreation departments to see what’s available.
Joining a class or club can also provide a sense of belonging that comes with being part of a group. This can stimulate creativity, give you something to look forward to during the day, and help stave off loneliness.
Volunteering for a cause you believe in can provide the same benefits as taking a class or joining a club: meeting others, being part of a group, and creating new experiences. It also brings the benefits of altruism and can help you find more meaning in your life.
In addition to decreasing loneliness, this can bring greater happiness and life satisfaction. Additionally, working with those who have less than you can help you feel a deeper sense of gratitude for what you have in your own life.
Find Support Online
Because loneliness is a somewhat widespread issue, there are many people online who are looking for people to connect with. Find people with similar interests by joining Facebook or Meetup groups focused on your passions. Check to see if any apps you use, like fitness or workout apps, have a social element or discussion board to join.
You do have to be careful of who you meet over the internet (and, obviously, don’t give out any personal information like your bank account number), but you can find real support, connection, and lasting friendships from people you meet online.
A word of caution: Social media can actually increase feelings of loneliness and cause FOMO, or “fear of missing out” so be sure to check in with yourself if you’re starting to feel this way.
Strengthen Existing Relationships
You probably already have people in your life that you could get to know better or connections with family that could be deepened. If so, why not call friends more often, go out with them more, and find other ways to enjoy your existing relationships and strengthen bonds?
If you’re struggling to find the motivation to reach out to your loved ones, it might be helpful to start slowly. Come up with just one supportive friend or family member who you could imagine reaching out to. It’s also reassuring to know that strong social support is beneficial for your mental health.
Adopt a Pet
Pets, especially dogs and cats, offer so many benefits, and preventing loneliness is one of them. Rescuing a pet combines the benefits of altruism and companionship, and fights loneliness in several ways.
It can connect you with other people—walking a dog opens you up to a community of other dog-walkers, and a cute dog on a leash tends to be a people magnet. Additionally, pets provide unconditional love, which can be a great salve for loneliness.
Talk to Strangers
An easy way to find connections in everyday life is by interacting in small ways with acquaintances or strangers you encounter. In fact, research shows that doing so contributes to our social and emotional well-being.7 So next time you grab a cup of coffee or see your neighbor on a walk, strike up a conversation. You might just find you feel happier afterward.
Do you have a smartphone that you frequently check while out and about? Think about putting it away a bit more. Whether you’re looking up directions or checking the news while waiting in line, research suggests that technology can get in the way of social opportunities.8
When you’re feeling lonely, be sure you’re doing what you can to take care of yourself in other ways. Self-care is always a good idea, but especially when you are feeling down. Eating nutritious food, exercising, and getting enough sleep will only make you feel better in the long run. Bonus: Take a workout class or join a running club for exercise and social interaction.
Distract yourself from those feelings of loneliness and make a date with yourself. Do you have a hobby you’ve always wanted to take up or a home improvement project that’s been lingering on your to-do list? Take some time to invest in yourself and your interests and keep your mind occupied in the process.