You’re not alone in your loneliness. Feeling lonely from time to time is natural and not uncommon.
But the fact that it is common doesn’t mean it might not feel overwhelming to you. This is why, if you’re experiencing this right now, you may be questioning why that is and how to stop feeling lonely.
You’re really not alone! In fact, according to a recent report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 36% of surveyed people reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time.”
Also, 61% of those between 18 and 25 years old noted miserable degrees of loneliness.
Whether you’re feeling empty or lonely, this is an emotion you can overcome. Understanding why you feel this way is a good place to start.
Feeling lonely, even when you’re surrounded by people, doesn’t mean something is wrong with you.
In fact, Dr. Leela R. Magavi, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry in New Port Beach, California, says everyone feels this way sometimes.
“I would contend that all human beings struggle with loneliness intermittently, whether they are aware of it or not,” she said. “Trauma, loss, and stress can exacerbate feelings of loneliness.”
This is why you could still feel lonely in a relationship or having a large group of friends.
“Individuals may feel lonely when surrounded by others when they feel like they cannot be themselves or have to fabricate the truth to please others [or] when the individuals around them have different ethical beliefs,” Magavi explained.
Other reasons you might feel lonely despite being surrounded by others include:
- depression or other mental health conditions
- health conditions, including disabilities, chronic conditions, and terminal illness
- loss and grief
- discrimination or racism
- migration to a new country
- existential crisis
- lack of meaningful relationships
- communication or attachment problems in a relationship
The pandemic and need to physically distance have also increased debilitating feelings of loneliness, says Magavi.
“Extroverts may struggle more than introverts,” she added. “Individuals with low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety may have an external locus of control and may rely on extraneous factors to feel whole.”
Your loneliness doesn’t have to last forever. Though it might be a process, there are ways to stop feeling lonely.
Here are some ideas for how to overcome this feeling.
Reframe thinking and regain hope
You can practice seeing things from a different perspective or associate them with positive emotions.
For example, you can treat alone time as an opportunity to grow, reflect, and connect with yourself.
“Healthy solitude allows us to process and conceptualize our life experiences, whereas chronic loneliness encompasses perseveration upon the voids we experience in life,” Magavi explained.
While chronic loneliness can lead to endless rumination, healthy solitude fosters clarity in thinking and can improve cognition.
“Much like feelings of anxiety and depression, feelings of loneliness can wax and wane. Imagining betterment and engaging in mindfulness activities can dissipate feelings of loneliness,” she added.
You could, for example, begin practicing yoga, meditation, or tai chi during your time alone. Looking forward to these relaxing activities might make you think about alone time in a positive light.
To combat feelings of loneliness and learn to be happy alone, Magavi suggests partaking in activities focused on self-compassion.
A few examples include:
- mindful walks
- physical activity
Taking care of yourself with patience and compassion might help you strengthen the bond with yourself, which in turn can help you ease the feelings of loneliness.
In time, you can learn to accept and embrace your moments of alone time, and use them to engage in self-reflecting and improvement activities.
Journal your thoughts and feelings
Recounting fun-filled memories in a journal can help bring joy to your life.
“Individuals could write a gratitude letter, which outlines all the things they love about themselves,” suggested Magavi. “They could list the things they love about [others], and share these things with family members and friends.”
Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper might also help you process them and look at them from a different perspective. Journaling can be a cathartic process.
Reaching out to old friends
Connecting with friends with whom you lost touch can help alleviate feelings of loneliness.
“Hellen Keller’s words of wisdom, ‘I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light,’ emphasizes the significance of friendship in dissipating the sense of loneliness, which life often brings to our doorsteps,” said Magavi.
Friendships motivate people to remain accountable and present for someone else, in addition to fostering creativity, she added.
Magavi’s patients of all ages have told her that the quality of their friendships have directly encouraged them to persevere in regards to their personal and professional goals.
“Friendships… are much like mirrors, which help individuals recognize and embrace their strengths, and concurrently, pinpoint and work on their weaknesses,” she said.
Reconnecting with people who have been present when you felt productive, happy, or at peace might also help you remember and reconnect with those aspects within yourself.
Invite a friend on a walk
There are few things like walking and talking.
Consider inviting a friend or neighbor to walk with you every few days.
Exercising will increase your endorphins and make you feel better. And doing it in good company can help you foster a sense of well-being that could help you overcome feeling lonely.
You can also make the walk extra special by following some of these ideas:
- Switch routes and scenery every day you go out to walk.
- Pick different times of the day so you can enjoy sunrises, sunsets, and mid-afternoons, if possible.
- Consider a drive to a park, forest preserve, or mall to walk in a new environment.
- Be mindful of what’s going on around you, focusing on things like the sky, people, sounds, and physical sensations.
- Consider setting a different goal for each day. These can include the duration of the walk, pace and rhythm, and conversation topics. For example, you could have a day where you only exchange jokes, and another walk could be a “vent day.”
Talk to people
If making new friends isn’t easy for you, start by trying to be open to others.
According to the renowned study, The BBC Loneliness Experiment, led by the BBC and The University of Manchester, respondents indicated the following effective strategies to combat loneliness:
- Start a conversation with anyone.
- Look for the good in every person you meet.
- Invite people without fearing rejection.
- Tell someone else you feel lonely.
Consider joining a club, organization, or online community
Respondents to the BBC study also noted that they joined a social club or took up new social activities and past times to help with feelings of loneliness.
Things to consider include:
- joining a walking or running club or another exercise-related group
- taking up a hobby, such as knitting, painting, or playing cards, and connecting with others who share the same interest
- finding online communities for gaming, movie buffs, book lovers, and other things you’re interested in
- attending church
- volunteering at a local charity
Engaging in activities with like-minded people who might have similar interests could help you stop feeling lonely.
Get a pet
Whether you’re a cat, dog, or reptile person, according to a survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 80% of pet owners think their pets make them feel less lonely.
Pets give you something to consider other than yourself, offer companionship, and dogs, for instance, can get you out and about.
Before you get a pet, though, consider what is needed to take care of them. This includes food, bedding, veterinary visits, and time and effort.
If getting a pet is not possible, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter.
Stay connected to those who have passed on
If grief and the loss of a loved one add to your feelings of loneliness, reconnecting with their memory might help.
- recounting memorable moments
- looking through photographs and letters
- partaking in the deceased’s favorite activity
- journaling about them
“Individuals who have children themselves can bring joy to specific anniversaries or occasions by creating beautiful memories with their own nuclear family,” she said.
Creating a tribute to those who have passed might also keep you connected to their memory.
You could, for example, do a photo collage with your favorite images or plant a tree in their name so you can visit and eventually rest under it.
Seek out professional help
If you feel you’ve done several things to stop feeling lonely, but you still do, it might be a good idea to seek additional support.
Magavi says that some signs it’s time to talk with someone else include:
- bouts of tearfulness
- episodes of irritability that interfere with work or family
- undereating or overeating in response to loneliness
- staying in bed all day, excessive sleepiness, or chronic fatigue
- loss of interest and motivation to take care of yourself, such as avoiding brushing your teeth and showering
“Loneliness can transform into demoralization and depression,” she said. “Individuals with significant mood and anxiety concerns and feelings of loneliness, which affect their functionality, should consider scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help identify your anxiety pattern and reframe your thinking so you can engage in coping behaviors.
“In some cases, medications are warranted to treat mood and anxiety concerns,” Magavi said.
This is not always the case, though. Sometimes, just having someone to talk with without apprehension might help you feel better. You can set your own goals for therapy, and it can only be about talking.
Feeling lonely is common and even necessary from time to time. As you become aware of what this emotion is communicating to you, you’ll be able to identify what you can learn from it.
If you have tried different strategies for a while to feel better but haven’t been successful, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
These resources might help you take the first step:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
- National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- Project Air
If you can’t afford a therapist or prefer to connect to a support group, consider the following: