How To Not Feel Lonely: 10 Things I Did When I Needed It Most
I am close with my immediate family and have always had friends, but I have experienced loneliness on and off throughout my entire life.
From moving halfway across the country from my hometown with my family at age nine to struggling with addiction and depression, to experiencing homesickness during law school to living alone during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have often felt isolated and out of place.
Although we may each experience loneliness differently, loneliness itself is somewhat ubiquitous.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to feel a little less lonely and a little more connected.
In this article, I’ll cover:
How To Stop Feeling Lonely – 10 Ways To Help You Cope
Just as there are many reasons you may feel lonely, there are also many potential ways to help you deal with loneliness.
Here are ten ways to help you stop feeling lonely:
- Practice acceptance
- Embrace alone time
- Replace expectations with gratitude
- Reach out to old friends
- Get involved in your community
- Pick a “third place”
- Get a pet
- Do something nice for someone
- Take a break from social media
- Address the root of your loneliness
1) Practice Acceptance
One of the most painful parts of loneliness is the shame that we often associate with it.
When I graduated from law school at age 24, I exited a long-term relationship and watched as almost every single one of my friends scattered across the country overnight – as I stayed put to start a new job.
I dated and made some new friends, but I didn’t make any meaningful connections.
I was extremely lonely during that time, my mental health was deteriorating, and I was drinking more alcohol than ever to cope.
It was hard for me to admit any of this at the time, even to myself. I felt an immense amount of shame, especially about feeling lonely.
My brain equated loneliness with unworthiness.
So instead of accepting my loneliness and figuring out how to stop feeling lonely and depressed, I tried to bury my feelings and make myself appear to be the self-confident, popular, fun-loving person I aspired to be.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t fun.
Eventually, I opened up to a few people that I trusted and started going to therapy.
Within two years, I got sober, moved to a new city, adopted a dog, forged some deeper friendships, and started a new relationship with a partner I now live with.
If you can let go of some of the shame you feel around loneliness, you can come to accept your feelings as your own and start working through them.
As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”
One way to accept loneliness is to remind yourself that you are not alone in feeling lonely.
As statistics show, it’s perfectly normal to feel lonely.
Another way to accept loneliness is to see the beauty in it, an approach we’ll discuss next.
2) Embrace Alone Time
One counterintuitive way to work through loneliness is to increase your enjoyment in the time you spend alone.
Embracing solitude is not the same thing as feeling alone.
What do you love about yourself?
What are you passionate about?
What do you enjoy doing?
Use your alone time to get reacquainted with the real you, be spontaneous, and explore whatever you think makes life worth living.
You may just discover that you like being alone.
3) Replace Expectations With Gratitude
Sometimes we feel loneliness the most acutely when we are around other people.
You may feel lonely if you don’t fit in with your coworkers, your friends are partnered while you are still single, or your family doesn’t show up for you the way you want them to.
Some of these experiences are simply unavoidable.
But the more you expect a different outcome from the same situation, the worse you will feel.
Instead, try shifting your focus from what you wish for to what you already have.
Do you have a close friend you can commiserate about your coworkers with?
Is there something you love about your friends’ partners that adds to your social group instead of detracting from it?
Do you have a neighbor that feels like family and is there for you when you need them?
Make a list of all the people and things you are grateful for and revisit it every time you find yourself disappointed by your current situation.
4) Reach Out To Old Friends
If you are feeling lonely and are struggling to make or connect with new friends, get in touch with someone from your past.
Do you have a childhood friend or former coworker you think of from time to time?
Reach out and invite them to catch up, either in person or on the phone (don’t just text or email – it’s not the same and we all know it!).
You never know, they may even be at a point in their life where they need you more than you need them.
5) Get Involved In Your Community
According to one literature review from 2015, loneliness and social isolation are often linked to vicious cycles that are bad for your physical health, like smoking, lack of physical activity, and poor sleep.
A great way to combat social isolation is to get involved in your community, either by volunteering with a local organization or taking an art or exercise class.
For example, I have volunteered with a tree-planting nonprofit, taken a pottery workshop, and gone to numerous yoga studios.
I connected with others during some of these experiences, but not all of them.
So be open to making new friends, but don’t make your happiness contingent upon it.
Just enjoy getting out there and immersing yourself in something active or creative.
6) Pick A “Third Place”
Have you ever heard of the “third place?”
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg invented the term to describe places where people go besides home and work, which for many of us are now one and the same.
It is important to have a physical third place where you can go to connect with others, especially in the digital age.
Classic third places include coffee shops, churches, parks, gyms, and hair salons or barber shops.
You can have more than one third place, but consistency is key to feeling a part of the community there, so be sure to visit regularly.
7) Get A Pet
Having a pet can be key to combatting loneliness.
I missed my family dog terribly when I left home for college, and it took me years to commit to a pet of my own.
But as soon as I adopted my dog Pepper, my feelings of loneliness and mental health improved.
Having a dog makes me feel needed, forces me to take frequent walks outside, gives me a reason to play, and puts me in the present moment.
Having a pet not only creates a bond between you and your pet, it also allows you to bond with other pet owners and people in the greater animal community.
There have even been studies showing animatronic pets helped participants feel less lonely overall and improved mental well-being and optimism.
If you struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness, consider adopting a pet.
If you are not in a place to adopt, you may want to try fostering instead.
8) Do Something Nice For Someone
You know what they say: doing esteemable acts builds self-esteem.
In other words, sometimes you need to do good to feel good.
Try doing something nice for someone you know or your community at large to alleviate your loneliness.
Here are a few ideas:
- If you’re crafty, make something crafty for someone you care about
- If you work in an office, bring pastries into work to share with your coworkers
- If you want to give back, volunteer at a local shelter or food bank
- If you love dogs, offer to take your neighbor’s dog for a long walk
9) Take A Break From Social Media
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, social media is a major culprit in the loneliness epidemic.
Although many social media platforms are meant to increase connections between people, they often leave people feeling more lonely, inadequate, jealous, and left out and less present in their own lives.
If you are willing to explore your relationship with social media and your phone in general, start tracking how much time you spend on your phone or certain apps, journal how you feel before and after going through your notifications, and log out of your social media accounts for one week.
You might be amazed to find how much more enjoyable life can be with less social media in it.
10) Address The Root Of Your Loneliness
If you can identify why you feel lonely, you may be able to address the root of your loneliness head-on.
Are you shy or afflicted with social anxiety?
Try developing an alter-ego to feel more comfortable in social situations or joining an introvert’s club.
Do you suffer from depression and have a hard time making or sticking to plans? Consider seeing a therapist.
Are you newly sober and struggling to maintain a social life without using alcohol or drugs?
Join a twelve-step group or research local sober events and connect with other sober people.
Does your living situation make you feel lonely?
Consider getting a roommate or moving into an apartment building where others like you live.
These may seem like oversimplified solutions to complicated problems.
But sometimes taking one step towards changing an aspect of your life is all you need to do to feel a little (or a lot) better, if not about your situation, then at least about yourself.
Why It’s Normal To Feel Lonely
Loneliness is not only normal, it is a necessary part of the human experience.
At the Roots of Loneliness Project, we have identified over 100 different types of loneliness.
This should give you an idea of just how widespread loneliness is.
Studies show that 52% of Americans feel lonely.
Similarly, a post-pandemic Harvard University study revealed that 36% of Americans surveyed reported feelings of loneliness almost all the time or all of the time in the previous month.
Survey participants also reported that their loneliness had increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Some reasons people feel lonely include:
- Major life changes, such as moving to a new city, settling into retirement, or getting divorced
- Acquiring or managing an existing chronic illness or disability
- Experiencing a social, intellectual, developmental, or emotional disconnect with others
- The aging process, including being a teenager or senior citizen
- Experiencing social rejection by others for being “too pretty”
- Facing the end of your life
- Having inadequate social bonds or relationships
- Situational circumstances relating to your employment
- Being in a codependent relationship
- Having limited social contact with others or perceived social isolation
- Having a spiritual awakening
- Questioning religious beliefs or not feeling connected to your religious faith
- Grief or miscarriage
- Social anxiety
- Being on the autism spectrum
- Mental illness, including borderline personality disorder
- Being single
- Going through pregnancy alone
- Becoming a mother or being a working mom
- Living in a sexless marriage or lacking sexual connection with someone
- Being childfree and alone
- Self-sabotaging your relationships
- Lacking connection in a marriage
- Experiencing frequent discrimination, prejudice, or oppression due to one’s race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.
- Dealing with a pandemic like COVID-19 and its effects — including living in quarantine
- Transitioning into a new stage of life (going to college, graduating, or moving away from family)
- Feeling lost about what to do with one’s life, especially when it seems like others don’t share that struggle
- The holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s
- Frequent use of social media, which can cause one to make comparisons to others
- Seeing another person experience loneliness, according to studies, can also trigger loneliness
The bottom line is, you are not alone in feeling lonely.
Where to Get Immediate Help
There are various resources available to get you or your loved one through the next day, hour, or minute.
And if you or someone you know is in immediate danger (or you worry someone might be), always call 911 or your local emergency number.
Loneliness is difficult and, to a certain extent, unavoidable.
But it is not a life sentence.
By choosing even just one of the methods we’ve described above, you can feel less lonely and perhaps help someone else figure out how to stop feeling lonely as well.