How Not to Feel Lonely: 50 Science-Backed Tips Everyone Should Read
Whether chronic or transient, loneliness can be very complex; its antidote can’t exactly be boiled down to one simple course of action. Loneliness can, however, be a state of feeling that alerts us to our needs for social bonds. Here, we offer ideas on how to pursue social engagement, trusted resources to drawn upon, important (science-backed) truths to remember and voices of wisdom to guide us in our continual search for connection.
Remember: We all feel lonely sometimesOlena-Yakobchuk/Shutterstock
It has been reported that one in five Americans suffers from persistent loneliness. Knowing this can bring us some solace; the feeling of loneliness is something many others near and far face in various forms. Loneliness can be a physical distance from family and friends or it can be perceived emotional distance. A perceived sense of isolation can involve feeling alone in certain areas of life. Maybe we think we’re the only ones around us who worry about body image, suffer from embarrassment, or have financial woes. This is simply not true. Maybe success is a lonely experience for us. Maybe we’re the only entrepreneurs in our community or perhaps we just got promoted when everyone around us seems to be struggling. We may have different reasons for being lonely, but at one point or another, we’ve all felt it. (Don’t miss these 17 little things you can do to connect with others.)
Know what loneliness means to youRawpixel.com/Shutterstock
There’s a difference between company and companionship: one might involve polite small talk and the other an intimate heart-to-heart. When we’re feeling lonely, it’s likely we are hoping to experience the latter. That said, knowing what you need to not feel lonely is key. John T. Cacioppo, neuroscientist and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, writes, “Being with others doesn’t mean you’re going to feel connected, and being alone doesn’t mean you’re going to feel lonely.” You might be a solitude-enjoying introvert or you might, out of personal preference, avoid alone time in favor of being with others. A feeling of empty disconnection or a longing to experience a sense of belonging can be a form of loneliness that occurs in the presence of others. On the flip side, a peaceful awareness can arise when one is solo. Observe your emotions and define loneliness for yourself.
Accept your need for connectionMonkey-Business-Images/Shutterstock
Humans are social beings and we need one another. Cacioppo, also the founding director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, writes, “People who get stuck in loneliness have not done anything wrong. None of us is immune to feelings of isolation, any more than we are immune to feelings of hunger or physical pain.” Long-term loneliness endangers our health; leading to cognitive decline, weakened immune systems, and a host of diseases. Over time, the health risks of feeling chronically alone can be deadly. The feeling of undesired aloneness often coincides with emotional pain. This pain might be temporary or more long-lasting. It’s important to know that the desire to be with others in a meaningful way is a real need in the same way food or water is. Accepting this doesn’t change the reality but it can a starting place to figure out what comes next.
Don’t blame yourselfMonkey-Business-Images/Shutterstock
Since it’s known that lonely people tend to blame themselves or sometimes others for their isolation, it’s important to remember that loneliness is an epidemic shaped by many forces; the proliferation of social media, the scattered nature of American life, the transience of jobs, divorce, rise in single-parent homes, the popularity of living alone, and the hectic pace of modern society. Acknowledging these forces as influencing your feelings takes some of the burdens off yourself. Here are other ways you can be nicer to yourself.
Make eye contact404241190/Shutterstock
One baby step we can take toward connection just requires us to notice someone. Making intentional eye contact with a passerby is a warm gesture that has the power to make both parties feel a little more in touch with the rest of the human race. Researchers from Purdue University had volunteers test out this small but influential social cue when they asked one group to look directly at people within a well-populated path and another group to avert their gaze. Afterward they asked both groups to rate their levels of connectiveness; it turns out that simply being acknowledged makes a difference. Want to do more? Find out ideas for random acts of kindness that can change someone’s life today.
Join a cause-based communityESB-Professional/Shutterstock
Find an organization that supports a cause you care about so you can surround yourself with people who have hearts for the same mission. Dorothy Day, a legendary Catholic social activist, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” Volunteermatch.org might be a good place to search.
Join a running clubJacob-Lund/Shutterstock
Running groups offer a special kind of community; one that might lead to newfound exercise accountability and camaraderie. Since running is known for offering union between the body and mind, pushing yourself to physical limits with a group is bound to be a bonding experience. You can find a running group in your area through Road Runners or Meetup. Interested in combining running with charity? Check out Back on My Feet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless people gain independence and community. Here’s how starting a running routine changes your body and your mind.
Help people in needSajee-Rod/Shutterstock
Volunteering as an antidote to loneliness is not merely a means to meet others or do a good deed. It’s a way to feel needed. Helping others who need us is a wonderful form of intimate connection that is sure to reduce feelings of isolation. You can help others in unofficial ways like giving someone directions on the street or helping a neighbor rearrange furniture or you can get involved with an organization that delivers meals to the elderly or helps low-income populations with job applications.
Send someone a handwritten notebarang/Shutterstock
A note from a friend or loved one can be a pleasant surprise in a mailbox full of coupons and bills. Of course, it would be lovely to be on the receiving end of a thoughtful note, but being the one to send someone an unexpected message has its benefits too. In True Belonging: Mindful Practices to Help You Overcome Loneliness, Connect with Others and Cultivate Happiness, author Jeffrey Brantley, suggests telling one person that you love them. A letter is a great way to do this. Writing a message with the purpose of uplifting someone boosts your sense of belonging and self-esteem. Not sure who to write to? Try giving a note to a stranger. Need inspiration? Look no further than Hannah Brencher, author of If You Find This Letter and creator of The World Needs More Love Letters.
Don’t assume money will helpPKpix/Shutterstock
In our material-obsessed culture, we have the tendency blame disconnection on a lack of material possession. It’s even possible to think a financial boost would lift us out of a social rut. We think extra money would give us resources for fancy dinners out or lavish trips. We think this will make us happier and therefore, less alone. Not so fast. Keep in mind wealth doesn’t cancel out loneliness. A Boston College survey studied people with an average net worth of $78 million. Researchers found people with extreme wealth are not immune to anxiety, loneliness, and unhappiness.
Use social media wiselyKornvikan/Shutterstock
Instead of connecting us with others, social media is known to exacerbate feelings of isolation. It’s not so much that social media networks on their own are bad; it’s how we use them. One study explains that scrolling mindlessly makes us lonelier while actively engaging in social media, such as using it to plan offline events, can boost social capital.
Be kind to strangersl-i-g-h-t-p-o-e-t/Shutterstock
Writer Anne Lamont says, “If you want to have loving feelings today, do loving things: Be kind to people, especially the elderly and yourself.” Giving attention to others creates a kind of lighthearted high. In passing, try telling someone you love their outfit or think they have nice eyes. It’s even better to lavish attention on someone who may be overlooked, like that shy guy bagging your groceries. (See, even thinking about doing this makes you smile.) These stories about the kindness of strangers will melt your heart.
Find a hobbyRattanapon-Ninlapoom/Shutterstock
Shared interests are a great precursor to connection. We can’t guarantee that our fellow antique lovers will be our new best friends or that having the same taste in movies will make us feel connected to a stranger but we can say that getting involved in a hobby increases our chances of coming across like minded people that we at least have a starting point with. Not sure what you might like? Here’s how to find the right hobby for you.
The thought of traveling alone can be unappealing to some and alluring to others. Flying solo in a foreign land often puts a traveler in many circumstances (hotel lobbies, ride shares, local hangouts) that are ripe for striking up conversations with new people—that is, if you work up the courage to say hello. “It’s easy to imagine all the ways things will go badly or believe that this person doesn’t want to connect,” Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business told the New York Times. But if you reach out, he continued, “almost everybody reaches back.”
Ping someone in your lifeKaspars-Grinvalds/Shutterstock
When it seems like our needs for social connection aren’t being met as deeply as we hope, it’s important to “see” the comrades we do have. You don’t need to be super close to someone to say hello. Shoot a text to your old co-worker to ask how they’ve been. Write a quick e-mail to a long-lost cousin to catch up. Your gesture might get you in touch with people you have felt connected to in the past and bolster your sense of being someone with a social history. Plus your message could help someone else feel connected. Here are 24 little things you can do to be a true friend.
Sleep on itKamil-Macniak/Shutterstock
Sleep habits of people struggling with loneliness are often disrupted. Instead of reaping the benefits of being deeply asleep lonely people might awake during the night or experience fragmented sleep without realizing it. Some strategies for better sleep are limiting caffeine, writing to clear your mind, and trying a different position.
Write a personal storytaramara78/Shutterstock
You might love to keep a diary or the thought of putting pen to paper might make you cringe. Either way, like exercise, writing is good for us. When we write we have the power to shift our perception, especially when we use it to find new ways to interpret our emotions, experiences, and inner narratives. James Pennebaker, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin, is the leading researcher behind this study of “expressive writing.” He’s found that telling one’s story can help reframe lonely feelings. Polly Campbell, author of, “How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well, Do Good, Be Happy,” chronicled her experience writing through loneliness after the death of a close friend for the blog, Headspace. “Rather than being focused on all that I’d lost, the writing helped me recall all that I had gained from my friendship. My loneliness was replaced with bittersweet gratitude.” Here are some gripping memoirs to inspire you.
Organize your homeben-bryant17/Shutterstock
You know that feeling of calm that descends when everything is in order? It’s not just because your hangers are all facing the same way in your closet. When we clean up our physical space, our brain space also frees up. Melanie Greenberg PhD, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, California, an expert on mindfulness and relationships, and author of the Stress-Proof Brain and The Mindful Self-Express blog says, “Doing organizational tasks activates the ‘on task’ centers of your brain, which gets you out of cycles of rumination. Sitting and ruminating about how loneliness makes things worse. Doing an organizational task creates active engagement and also activates your logical brain, which can be the antidote to runaway emotionality.” Follow these organization tips for every room in your home.
Go to church, a synagogue, or mosquePaul-Matthew-Photography/Shutterstock
Science has taught us that regular attendance at a religious community helps ward off colds and lower blood pressure. Anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann found that social support among members of faith groups seems especially close-knit.
Do some friendship soul-searchingbikeriderlondon/Shutterstock
If you aren’t experiencing the depth, consistency, or endurance you crave in friendships, it might be worth doing some self-reflection. The Irene Levine, PhD, self-proclaimed “Friendship Doctor” suggests exploring possibilities that might be getting in the way of tightly-knit, reciprocal relationships. This could be evaluating your general preferences, temperament, and personality. Here’s how to make new friends as an adult.
Try a coworking spaceAfrica-Studio/Shutterstock
If you work from home, you know that it can be lonely at times. As more and more people begin to work remotely, there are more options than ever for finding co-working spaces. These office-for-rents offer more benefits than your local coffee shop or library: you can bounce ideas off fellow office mates, have access to collaborative spaces and office equipment, and the opportunity to network. A quick Google search for “co-working spaces” will help you find some in your area.
Listen to musicVadim-Georgiev/Shutterstock
Music is scientifically proven to make people feel happy. Upbeat tunes can shift our mood, get us in touch with positive memories, or inspire us in more ways than one (during a workout, while working at your computer, etc). Plus, there’s a chance certain lyrics can make us feel less alone or even more in touch with our loneliness. Maya Angelou said, “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
Be your own best friendArtFamily/Shutterstock
Talking back to your inner voice with a sense of humor and dose of kindness is beneficial anytime, but especially during a stretch of loneliness. “Learning how to be a best friend to yourself makes you less dependent on others for reassurance. Being aware of your own needs and feelings helps you be more grounded and present, which can relieve feelings of loneliness or emptiness,” Melanie Greenberg, PhD. told us. Being your own best friend is a process that can start by silencing that negative voice in your head.
Try to engage meaningfullyRoman-Samborskyi/Shutterstock
A lot of writing on loneliness pushes lonely people to increase their frequency of interactions with others; however, Cacioppo found that it’s the quality of interactions that matters most. So even if interact with a whole crowd of people but keep the conversation on meaningless topics, you are more likely to feel lonely. All it takes is a few significant conversations for a deep connection to form. Substantial interactions can carry us through our everyday life. Here are some solid conversation-starters to get things going.
See a counselorPressmaster/Shutterstock
While loneliness is universal, feeling lonely is an individual experience worth examining. A therapist can help sort you sort through feelings, understand past experiences and perhaps help you figure out an action plan to move forward. One place to search for mental health professionals in your area is through Psychology Today’s online directory. Already in therapy? Here’s how to evaluate your progress.
Enjoy serenity that comes with ageiJeab/Shutterstock
In an issue of Aging and Mental Health, Rebecca Ready, in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that older adults report more calming emotions even in times of loneliness than younger people do. Ready found that age brings positive emotions and less shame associated with feeling lonely.
Seek out a relatable storyPhotographee.eu/Shutterstock
Loneliness can be brought on by the death of a spouse, job loss, or personal struggle. If that’s the case, consider joining a support group for people facing similar struggles. The common closing statement for Al-Anon is, “Whatever your problems there are those among us who have had them, too.” Keeping this aphorism close to your heart can keep you aware that there are likely to be people who relate to what you’re going through.
Know the cure isn’t romances4svisuals/Shutterstock
When feelings of disconnection settle in, it can be easy to think that one might not feel lonely if they were in a romantic relationship or if they had a more idyllic partnership. Love isn’t a cure for loneliness as Kira Asatryan, author of The Art of Closeness, expressed on Psychology Today blog but closeness is. She wrote, “You can feel close to someone you’re not in love with. And if you’re in love but can’t access your partner’s inner world, it’s inevitable that the relationship will slide down the spectrum to distance.” Here are 14 little things you can do right now for a happier marriage.
Create a social ritualJack-Frog/Shutterstock
Life can get monotonous with a laundry list of tasks to get done. Creating something social to look forward to can be just what we need on a regular basis to stay emotionally healthy. Maybe once a month you have neighbors over for dinner or you host a weekly game night for co-workers. Baya Voce, TEDx speaker on The Simple Cure for Loneliness calls social rituals, “anchors of connection.” Voce says combating loneliness is not about trying something new but going back to something old. Whatever it is, make it something you enjoy and find solace in, whether it is a time to unwind, be entertained, or confide in others.
Make a list of your social needswavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Novelist Marilynne Robinson wrote, “Loneliness is an absolute discovery.” Since some research about loneliness points to a sense of perceived isolation, it’s worthwhile for the lonely to use this time to determine what your social needs are. What are some traits you are looking for in future friends? What has this alone time taught you about yourself and what you’re looking for from others?
Create a shared experience around your value systemrawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Putting in the effort to plan special experiences with others can be hard if you are feeling doubtful about the lack of close relationships in your life. Melanie Greenberg PhD, a clinical psychologist, told us that people often feel connected when they express and act on their values with others.Do you value justice? Decide what areas to target. Perhaps education is important to you. Reach out to your social-justice-oriented friend and sign up to tutor at after-school program together. Together you can work to lower our country’s literacy rate. Dr. Greenberg says, “Being part of a spiritual, community or political action group allows you to act on your values together with others. When you feel deep commonalities of value with others, this helps you to trust them and makes you want to get to know them better.”
Show up to social eventsRuth-Black/Shutterstock
If you’ve been disappointed with social situations in the past, it’s easy to want to skip the invite to brunch or RSVP “no thanks” to your friend’s birthday party. You know yourself and how you might feel in social situations. That said, it can be good to step out of your comfort zone by simply showing up when you can. Here’s how to ease social anxiety.
Deepen a relationshipUber-Images/Shutterstock
Feeling distant with a friend or lover? Harry Reis, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester told O, The Oprah Magazine, that level of depth in relationships is key to maintaining feelings of social closeness. “We need to interact with other people on a fairly deep level, and that’s what many of us are missing,” Try deepening a relationship by creating new opportunities to bond emotionally through a shared meal, learning about the other’s past, taking a long drive, or playing a game together.
Fight stigma with the factsNovikov-Alex/Shutterstock
Enduring the pain of loneliness can also mean facing the pain of stigmatization. In a study called “The Social Stigma of Loneliness,” published by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers S. Lau and Gerald E. Gruen found that lonely people are seen as less likable and less attractive than non-lonely people. Not only is this judgment unfair, it’s also untrue. In his book Loneliness, Cacioppo wrote, “There are extremes within any population, but on average, at least among young adults, those who feel lonely actually spend no more time alone than do those who feel more connected. They are no more or less physically attractive than average, and they do not differ, on average, from the non-lonely in terms of height, weight, age, education, or intelligence. Most important, when we look at the broad continuum (rather than just the extremes) of people who feel lonely, we find that they have the capacity to be just as socially adept as anyone else. Feeling lonely does not mean that we have deficient social skills.” Thank you, science!
Listen to a poemLDWYTN/Shutterstock
The best art can soothe our deepest sorrows. Tanya Davis’ poem, “How to be Alone” is an incredibly healing manifesto that brings a gentle voice to loneliness. Her words were put to film with the help of filmmaker Andrea Dorfman. Davis wrote, “Alone is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it.”
Start a book clubMonkey-Business-Images/Shutterstock
Literature is often created from a desire to connect. An engaging relationship between a writer and reader can work wonders for a person’s worldview. Loneliness often begins from a place of feeling misunderstood. The belief that no one else shares one’s point of view can be combated (or at least challenged) through reading, which is scientifically proven to produce empathy in people. In experiencing compassion through narratives, readers come across like-minded thinkers in the characters they come across. By starting a book club you might encounter someone who thinks like you. Don’t miss this list of book club reads to get you started.
Emotionally respond to yourselfRosa-Araci-Henriques/Shutterstock
In the book White Oleander, Janet Fitch wrote, “If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself.” We can grow in self-understanding through mindfulness. Feeling present, even in a state of loneliness, can allow us to tap into the fullness of the human experience.
Consider your childhoodKonstantinChristian/Shutterstock
Elizabeth Tillinghast, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons wrote, “Chronic loneliness can be the aftermath of early emotional neglect.” Even if our families seemed normal in many ways; we could have picked up on a caregiver’s emotional unavailability. Sometimes educating ourselves about our internal thought processes surrounding attachment can bring insight into our experiences and offer a new perspective on our relational habits.
Put your social rejection to useVGstockstudio/Shutterstock
Being rejected socially can lead to anguish, it makes total sense to struggle emotionally after a rejection, perceived or real. Sharon H. Kim, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, found that people who feel they have been socially rejected tend to be more creative. Kim wrote, “The experience of rejection may trigger a psychological process that stimulates, rather than stifles, performance on creative tasks.” Here are more proven ways to boost your creative thinking.
Connect with childrenRawpixel.com/Shutterstock
While catering to a child’s needs can feel like a nonstop overwhelming task, being there for little ones is often a way to feel needed and connected. Whether it’s holding their hand across the street or playing a game of tag, being around kids makes us remember how to be lighthearted, vulnerable and open to receiving help. Here are new ideas with play with your kids or how to get involved with the foster care community.
Suffering can lead to kind of beautyXiXinXing/Shutterstock
We never want to glamorize suffering but we do want to acknowledge that it does have the power to enrich us. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who worked with end-of-life patients, wrote: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
The poet Rumi says, “Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.” Cultivating a rich inner world through our imagination will allow for enjoyment of interior life. Mindfully processing thoughts, ideas, musings, and new information is a form of intellectual and emotional pleasure that can transport sadness into curiosity and meaning.
Stop lying to yourselfvfedorchenko/Shutterstock
When you are lonely it’s easy to focus on feelings of sadness or fill your brain with harsh lies. It’s time to be kind to yourself. You’re worthy. You’re lovable. Unwanted solo time can be hard enough without the negative feedback loop.
John T. Cacioppo, author of the book Loneliness came up with the acronym EASE for managing loneliness. EASE stands for the following:The first E stands for “extend yourself,” but extend yourself safely. Do a little bit at a time. The A is “have an action plan.” Recognize that it’s hard for you. Most people don’t need to like you, and most people won’t. So deal with that, it’s not a judgment of you; there are lots of things going on. Ask [other people] about themselves, get them talking about their interests. The S is “seek collectives.” People like similar others, people who have similar interests, activities, values. That makes it easier to find a synergy. And finally when you do those things, “Expect” the best. The reason for that is to try to counteract this hyper-vigilance for social threat.
Do something creativePressmaster/Shutterstock
Anais Nin, “Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” Sign up for a painting class. Make a DIY picture frame. Buy an adult coloring book. Only good things can come.
Beware of self-preservationMark-Nazh/Shutterstock
It’s not uncommon for the brains of lonely people to go into self-preservation mode. Avoiding others feels safer than engaging socially and potentially putting oneself in danger of perceived social threats. It’s important to be aware of hypervigilant fears about social exclusion, bullying or rejection. Ask yourself if your thoughts are rational before you decide to disengage.
Join a community gardenandyKern/Shutterstock
Starting or simply joining a community garden can help you connect with the earth and one another. This doesn’t even have to involve talking. Emily White, author of the memoir, Lonely, wrote, “When I joined a community garden, I found joy in simply staking up tomato plants with my neighbors. Silence doesn’t mean we’re not connecting. It means we are getting a break from being “on” all the time, that we’re making real contact by sharing real things—a common neighborhood, a plot of dirt.”
Host a potluckCharlie-Bard/Shutterstock
Potlucks are synonymous with strong communities. This is a step when you feel comfortable initiating a shared meal. Hosting a social event can be a brave step, but one that is likely to render positive results. A potluck could be a gathering with neighbors, colleagues, fellow volunteers, classmates, or old friends.
Take a warm bathJirat-Teparaksa/Shutterstock
It’s common for us to use the word “warm” to describe the feeling a hug gives us. There is a slight temperature rise in a tight embrace but the description is mostly another way we use physical language to describe something emotional. There is something bigger here happening than just an overlap in adjectives; we can trace back the feeling of physical warmth and comfort to when we were newborns being held by our caregivers. Our brains associate physical warmth with psychological feelings of connection. This explains why Yale researchers found that people who identified as lonely took longer baths. This shows that trying to feel warm and fuzzy perhaps isn’t all that different from physical warmth.
Building satisfying social ties takes time. In the meantime, keep writer Henri Nouwen’s words close to your heart: “Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life.” Feeling lonely or going through periods of disconnection can make us want to hold back. Nouwen also wrote, “Do not hesitate to love and love deeply.”
Stick with itnd3000/Shutterstock
Emily White, author of the memoir, Lonely, has the ultimate words of encouragement in The Guardian. “We can’t expect it to be easy. If we go looking for connection, we’ll run smack into all the things we like to avoid: discomfort, rejection, sheer social awkwardness. But if we stick with it—and searching for connection is so important that we have to—togetherness will be there in the end.”