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Despite being at the point in history when most people can connect with others remotely, loneliness is still a current issue. In fact, it is affecting an increasing number of people. Social distancing measures, quarantines, and lockdowns during the Coronavirus pandemic left many wondering how to feel less lonely.
But a person’s loneliness doesn’t only come out of isolation. You can feel lonely even when surrounded by people. If you’re grappling with loneliness, it is important to know that, as lonely as we may feel, we are never absolutely alone.
Here is some insight into the causes of loneliness, the role of isolation, and strategies to feel less lonely.
How social connection can help you feel less lonely
During the first weeks of the pandemic, the American Psychological Association published an interesting article on having meaningful interactions with those around us. These interactions could:
- Improve our mood and our sense of belonging to our community
- Have a positive impact on those people by generating a kind of implicit network of support and connection
A casual conversation with the person who serves you at the supermarket can improve your environment, even if only through a glance.
That said, quality alone time is also beneficial, especially if you’re more introverted. Depending on your personality, it can be exhausting to socialize. So take the time you need to recharge and reflect. Try journaling, reading, or meditating to retain the feeling of control over your time.
What are the main causes of loneliness?
Though uncomfortable, this emotion functions as a reminder of the importance of human connection and being close to others. Human beings are social beings, and it is in our nature to connect. There are lifestyle factors and life events that can contribute to the feeling of loneliness:
- Moving to a new area
- Starting a new job
- Extended isolation
- The death of a loved one
- A lack of work-life balance
These are just a sampling of the various ways loneliness can take occur. But as you may notice, these are experiences that many people have. So you can rest assured that if you are feeling lonely, other people likely are too.
12 ways to feel less lonely
There may not be a magic bullet “cure” for loneliness. Still, there are healthy ways to cope and reconnect socially and regain a sense of belonging.
1 Acknowledge your feelings
It’s important to take a moment to recognize that you are suffering from loneliness. Understanding where your feelings are coming from is an excellent first step in finding ways to get back on track.
When we feel lonely or isolated, we often feel confused, disconnected from the world, and even helpless in daily situations. Being aware that these feelings are part of social isolation is the first way of coping with loneliness.
Once you have this knowledge, remember to practice self-compassion. Loneliness can happen to anyone at any time. So be gentle with yourself.
2. Reach out to people you already know
When the unpleasant feeling of loneliness appears, the first thing you may want to do is to connect with your loved ones. Thanks to technology, we can simultaneously see and hear someone on the other side of the world.
Taking the leap and reaching out can help recharge your energy by strengthening a sense of belonging. And this is even more important if you find yourself physically far away from your family or loved ones. Share a moment in physical or virtual company with someone you care about.
Set aside a few hours a week to connect with friends and family. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific reason to call those we care about. A familiar look or a loving smile can change our experience instantly, even if we are far away or unable to see each other.
3. Reconnect with people from your past
Consider old friends, family members, and connections that you lost touch with over the years. You can try reaching out to them and re-establishing that connection. It might feel awkward to call them out of the blue, but a message on social media can help start a conversation with less pressure.
4. Connect with people you haven’t met yet
Sometimes, the most unpleasant feeling is to feel alone surrounded by people. The problem is not so much the lack of people but, again, the lack of a feeling of belonging and connection.
Meeting people through a group activity such as hiking, a book club, or volunteering makes you part of your community. This connection to where you live and the people you’re surrounded by can give you a feeling of belonging. It can also have a very positive impact on your environment and those around you.
If you’re feeling isolated at work, try setting up regular coffee chats with co-workers outside your direct team. This can strengthen professional relationships or even make friends at work and help you meet more people across the company.
5. Take up a new hobby
Clay working, painting, screenwriting, or bird watching are fine hobbies. If you’re feeling stuck, try learning something new. You can invite friends or acquaintances you want to get to know better.
Alternatively, you can go alone and meet people who share at least one interest of yours.
6. Get moving
Sometimes, the most helpful way to handle loneliness is to shake things up. Try taking an exercise class, a pickup basketball game, or joining a running group.
If sports or group classes aren’t your thing, a simple walk around your neighborhood or an online yoga class can help. There is a myriad of virtual workouts and exercise apps to get you inspired and motivated. The key is to get your body moving. So put try putting on some comfy shoes and move in a way that makes you feel good.
7. Practice living in the present
Often, when we feel lonely, we tend to feel sad. And sometimes very focused on the past, what happened and no longer happened, or what did not happen and should have happened. Other times, we are very focused on the future and what will happen or what will not happen, making us feel anxious.
Connecting with the present helps fully put our attention and desire into what we do. We can enjoy the small daily interactions that keep us together and aware of all the social support available to us. Spending a few moments listening to my neighbor’s “good morning” can make a difference, no matter how small this gesture may seem.
8. Volunteer with animals
The benefits of animal companion therapies are well recognized. Dedicating time in the day to an animal or shelter can reinforce a feeling of support and belonging. Additionally, it feels good to help others — even our non-human companions.
9. Take time to reflect
Connecting with yourself can be a solution — or it may even be what we are most afraid of. Sometimes, we worry about being alone because we find it hard to detach from difficult emotions. If this is the case, it may be good to ask for professional help or support from your loved ones.
10. Practice self-compassion
When we become our best allies, we can feel less alone even if we are not with anyone else. And one way to achieve this is by practicing self-compassion. It’s the ability to be kind to ourselves in good and not-so-good times. This is not a one-day process — it requires dedication — and its results can be a before and after in your life.
By dedicating time to self-care, we will dedicate effort and desire to love ourselves. We will feel well-being and a sense of home being in our own company.
11. Assess your lifestyle
There's always an advantage to picking up good habits. First, take some time to reflect on the way you spend your time. How it satisfies you and what you would like more or less of. How can you use your routine to feel less lonely?
Once you have an idea of where you are and what you want your future to look like, you can make small lifestyle changes to move in that direction.
Building habits and noticing their impact takes time. But if you stick with it, and adjust when needed, you should feel some positive effects.
12. Seek out a mental health professional
At times, we may find the need to ask for help. Far from being a weakness, this is a great strength. It empowers us to contact people who specialize in our mental well-being and are willing to help us regain it.
Where loneliness comes from
Sometimes we underestimate the role that socialization plays in our health. Being connected is not just something that happens when we have a family get-together or go out to dinner with friends. We connect to others when we say hello to a neighbor while running errands or by sharing a smile with a stranger.
Research has shown how feeling isolated has negative consequences on our mental health. Here are some scientific facts:
- One of the first studies on the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted loneliness as having a significant psychological impact on the health of the population.
- Another study by the University of Sussex on the interaction between loneliness and physical and mental illness showed the connection between loneliness and mortality and morbidity (the state of being unhealthy for a particular disease or situation).
For this reason, it’s essential to devote time and energy to taking care of our mental and emotional health. Feeling stressed can be directly related to the situations we find ourselves in. Combined with economic, political, and social uncertainty, this can lead to significant health problems.
You can start dealing with loneliness
As described above, doing activities that make you feel good just for the sake of doing them is one of the best ways to feel less alone.
In addition to doing yoga or working out at home, other activities can connect you to something you are passionate about. Creative activities include working with clay, writing, musical composition, painting, or cooking.
It could involve preparing thematic film sessions, doing activities related to nature or deepening, and learning more about a specific topic we have wanted to delve into for a long time. The options are endless.
Even volunteering can be an option to connect with others in a meaningful way. Participating in an organization that aligns with your values can be a way to connect to like-minded people with similar values as your own.
At BetterUp, we love helping individuals thrive. See how BetterUp can help you on your journey to better yourself.
BetterUp Care Coach, MSc Clinical Psychology and Researcher