What to do When You Feel Lonely: 6 Practical Ways to Cope
Loneliness, that ever-present shadow that creeps into our lives when we least expect it, has become an unwelcome companion to many of us. Still, learning what to do when you feel lonely can feel like a daunting task.
In 2021, it was reported that 58% of U.S. adults considered themselves lonely. With the rise of social media and the pandemic, feelings of isolation and disconnection have become more prevalent. However, loneliness is not just limited to physical isolation. It can also stem from a lack of meaningful connections or a sense of belonging.
Thankfully, there are practical ways to cope with loneliness and regain a sense of connection and fulfillment in your life. In this article, we will explore six practical ways to cope with loneliness and find meaningful connections in our lives.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. It can be both a transient feeling and a chronic condition, affecting people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Often misunderstood, loneliness is not always about being alone. More accurately, it’s the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most. This means you can feel lonely in a crowd or even when you’re surrounded by people.
Factors we don’t usually consider when discussing loneliness include its subjective nature and the potential for positive outcomes. Loneliness is deeply personal and can’t be objectively measured – what might make one person feel lonely might not affect another person the same way.
Furthermore, we often overlook the potential benefits of loneliness. It can serve as a signal for us to reestablish social connections, or offer opportunities for introspection and personal growth.
Why Do We Get Lonely?
Just like hunger and thirst, loneliness is a biological signal. When we are physically isolated, our bodies perceive this as a risk. This can be traced back to our ancestors, where isolation often meant danger.
Therefore, our body triggers feelings of unease and discomfort, urging us to seek social connection. Sometimes, however, we experience loneliness not because we are physically isolated, but because we are not emotionally connected to those around us.
This can happen when our social interactions are not meaningful, or when we feel misunderstood or unappreciated. It’s important to remember that these feelings are very personal and can vary significantly from one person to another.
Our personal history, self-esteem, and even our ability to relate to others can affect how we experience loneliness.
Why are We Ashamed of Feeling Lonely?
The shame associated with feeling lonely is a societal construct that has more to do with our perceptions and less with reality. This shame often originates from the notion that being alone signifies weakness or a lack of social skills.
In a society where we are constantly connected, being alone can be perceived negatively, making people feel uncomfortable admitting their loneliness. The fear of judgment or being perceived as socially inadequate can often deter us from sharing our feelings of loneliness.
However, it is important to remember that loneliness is a universal human experience and not a personal failure. Acknowledging and sharing these feelings can be a powerful step towards overcoming loneliness.
Examples of Loneliness
Loneliness can manifest in various forms, each unique to the individual’s experiences and circumstances.
- Relational Loneliness: This can occur even when surrounded by family or loved ones if you feel that there’s a lack of understanding or closeness. Despite being physically present, the emotional connection may be lacking, leading to a feeling of isolation.
- Social Loneliness: This usually happens when someone feels disconnected from their social group or community. It’s not about the quantity of social interactions, but the quality and the sense of belonging.
- Chronic Loneliness: A persistent feeling of loneliness that doesn’t seem to fade, irrespective of social interactions. This could be a symptom of deeper psychological issues like depression.
- Transient Loneliness: A temporary feeling of loneliness that comes and goes. It could be triggered by specific events or changes in your life, like moving to a new city or the end of a relationship.
- Existential Loneliness: This is a profound, more philosophical type of loneliness where one may feel an overwhelming sense of isolation and solitude in the universe, often triggering existential questions about purpose and meaning.
Each example underscores the fact that loneliness is a deeply personal experience, affecting individuals differently depending on their unique situations.
What to do When You Feel Lonely
Overcoming loneliness might seem daunting, but it can be achieved with the right mindset and a few practical steps.
- Acknowledge Your Feelings: The first step towards dealing with loneliness is acknowledging it. Accept that it’s okay to feel this way and understand that it is a temporary state, not a permanent one.
- Reach Out to Others: Try to make an effort to connect with others. Engage in conversations with people around you, join clubs or social activities, or reach out to old friends.
- Stay Active: Regular physical activity can help reduce feelings of loneliness by boosting your mood and providing distractions. Exercise can also help you sleep better and improve your self-confidence.
- Volunteer: Volunteering in your community can provide a sense of purpose and help you feel more connected to the people around you.
- Limit Social Media Use: While it’s a great tool for staying connected, excessive use of social media can often lead to feelings of isolation. Try to limit your time on these platforms and focus more on real-world interactions.
- Seek Professional Help: If feelings of loneliness persist, it could be a sign of something more serious like depression. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and help you navigate through your feelings.
Remember, it’s okay to feel lonely, and there’s no need to be harsh on yourself. Give yourself the space and time to heal, and take steps at your own pace. You’re not alone in this journey.