Why Am I Lonely? Possible Answers And Solutions
Loneliness can be an incredibly isolating feeling. Many of us think we are the only ones experiencing it, but research suggests that chronic loneliness and social isolation have become an "epidemic." Experts even believe that the potential consequences of loneliness are comparable to the detrimental effects of health issues like obesity and smoking. Loneliness can be a painful feeling, but it is an emotion that can be soothed and overcome. Feeling lonely does not mean that you are alone, and there are many ways you can learn how to feel connected again.
What Is Loneliness?
Loneliness can be difficult to measure or explain. At its core, loneliness is a feeling of being alone, even when others are around. In other words, it has more to do with what you feel inside than with your relationships with other people. Since humans are social creatures, we need support, interaction, and connection with other people. Feeling alone can mean feeling misunderstood, unloved, or unwanted by your family, friends, or peers, or it can mean you do not have anyone with whom to connect or speak face-to-face.
Why Am I Lonely?
There are different schools of thought pertaining to loneliness and feeling isolated; some assert that loneliness has an evolutionary basis (to prompt species propagation) while others argue that loneliness has far more to do with genetic factors than environmental ones. So, why might a person be lonely? And why do we crave close bonds with other people? Here are some possible explanations:
Biology. Those who argue for the evolutionary definition of loneliness might say loneliness is the way nature ensures people continue to make new connections, mate, and produce offspring, thereby perpetuating the human species.
Your genetic makeup. People who argue for genetic causes might say it is ingrained in your DNA and is as much a part of your humanness as the color of your eyes.
Social media. Some contend that the advent of social media and countless other ways to communicate makes it far more difficult to experience satisfaction with yourself, your surroundings, and your relationships, which can all contribute to feeling lonely.
Your age. Despite increases in communication across numerous devices and channels, loneliness has continued to grow in recent years and seems to be particularly intense for people in their late 20s, mid-50s, and late 80s. If you are within these demographic blocks, research shows that you may be at a greater risk for loneliness. One study characterizes loneliness as "subjective distress," which is another way of describing the difference between the social connections and relationships you have and the ones you actually crave – and how this can make you feel isolated. This highlights a painful but powerful truth: you can have numerous friendships, a wonderful family, and several intimate relationships, but you may still find yourself feeling lonely because you do not have the relationships and connections you hope for.
Although the epidemic proportions of loneliness can be overwhelming for scientists, researchers, and mental health professionals, there are some things that are proven to be beneficial for people experiencing loneliness. Most of them are not terribly difficult to do and do not require large amounts of time or effort. The most significant of these, though, is forging meaningful connections. As often as possible, even if it means talking with your local grocery store clerk, connect with people in your social environment.
Other Possible Causes Of Loneliness
In addition to the usual suspects, there could be other reasons for feeling lonely, such as a mental health disorder. Loneliness has been linked to depression and depressive disorders. The presence of a depressive disorder could explain consistent and unexplained periods of feeling lonely. Anxiety can also be a root cause of loneliness, as different forms of anxiety can create symptoms that increase isolation and withdrawal.
Anxiety and depression can both be characterized by loneliness, though the reasons are usually different. In depression, loneliness is often caused by embarrassment, shame, and confusion regarding symptoms. On the other hand, loneliness may be linked to anxiety because this condition often encourages people to hole up, whether that holing up is literal (such as someone who cannot leave the house) or figurative (only interacting with others on a superficial level).
Ways To Decrease Loneliness
It can be difficult to cope with loneliness, but you can take your happiness into your own hands, to some degree, by taking steps to ward off loneliness from your life. Below are some of the most effective ways to potentially banish these feelings, or at least give yourself some relief.
Seek comfort. Feeling lonely is your body and brain’s way of telling you that something feels like it’s missing. While you might prefer the feeling of someone's arms around you, try to find comfort in spending time doing the activities and hobbies you enjoy. Read a good book, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, take a long walk, or curl up and write down how you're feeling.
Reach out. When you're feeling lonely, reach out and connect with another person. The fear of rejection can make this an intimidating step to take, but you never know what might happen. See if a coworker you’ve been getting along with wants to get some coffee, for example, or ask your friend to chat for a few minutes. Maybe you can meet a new friend by joining a book club or an exercise class – most people find it easier to talk and connect with someone new when they share similar interests.
Evaluate your behaviors and habits. You may have cultivated habits that are contributing to your loneliness. For example, do you tend to draw inward in times of stress instead of moving outward? Do you go home immediately after work or school and shut other people out? Do you try new things and seek new friendships, or do you clamor to get away from them? Putting yourself out there can be an effective way to combat loneliness.
Evaluate your health. Mental health conditions and your physical health alike can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness, so check in with yourself to figure out how you’re feeling. Are you experiencing anxiety or depression consistently enough to warrant concern? Are you feeling unexplained aches and pains, or are you experiencing fatigue that doesn’t seem on par with the amount of energy you’ve been expending? Mental and physical health issues can both contribute to feeling lonely.
Volunteer. Volunteering allows you to meet people with common interests, spend time with other volunteers, and form new relationships. You get to help someone in your community and feel positive about yourself. All of these can compound to create stronger feelings of contentment and well-being.
Although no single action can immediately and permanently cure feelings of loneliness, you can develop habits and practices that offer a healthier and more positive understanding of yourself, others, and the world around you. These habits can help you feel more connected and aware, even amidst being alone. Loneliness can give you a window into your own mental state and illuminate unmet needs in your life that you may need to focus on.
Online Therapy With BetterHelp
While there are steps you can take on your own to move past your lonely feelings, sometimes you may need to enlist the help of a professional. Connecting with an online counselor through BetterHelp can give you the tools you need to cope with your emotions and find your sense of purpose. Your therapist can help you discover the root cause of your loneliness and work with you to combat the difficulties you’re facing.
Loneliness has a way of breeding more loneliness. If you’re already feeling isolated, you may be tempted to stay home and away from other people. However, you may still want a way to get support, which is where online therapy can be beneficial. Online therapy allows you to get care whether it’s through a phone call, video chat, or live messaging feature.
The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
Research has shown that online therapy can be an effective solution for coping with feelings of loneliness or isolation. According to a study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy, a peer-reviewed journal of cognitive and behavioral therapy, many people experiencing depression or anxiety avoid seeking help. The study focused on university students, examining whether internet-guided therapy could be a solution to the lack of accessibility to care (and/or the desire to seek it) among people dealing with depression, anxiety, and stress. Researchers noted that students participating in online therapy showed a significant decrease in almost all symptoms. They also found that the positive results were maintained after six months of completing the program, suggesting online guided therapy can be a useful tool for managing emotions such as loneliness.
Read below for reviews of online therapists, from people who sought counseling.
"Jessica has been amazing! She's been supporting me for over 2 years now, I can call her a friend. I don't know how I'd be getting along through all the struggles life has thrown at me; it really helps to have someone in your corner helping you through. She's been my lifeline when I feel alone or just need someone I can trust to help me through."
"I'm so grateful that I have someone who genuinely just wants to support me in whatever this journey has to offer. Robert has an instinct on how to navigate when to ask me questions and when to listen. Robert's nonjudgmental energy is very present which creates a space of freedom and comfort to be totally transparent. I feel I can talk to him about anything and never feel embarrassed or ashamed no matter the subject which leaves so much openness and room for me to discover more layers to uncover I never knew existed. Best part is that I never feel that I'm doing this alone and I know he'll always be there. Thank you, Robert Beckett. I appreciate you so much!"
Sometimes feeling lonely gives you an opportunity to find comfort, self-love, and self-confidence on your own. Though we all need healthy, close connections with other humans, it’s also vital to learn how to be okay with being alone. If your loneliness is ever too much to bear, there are many things you can do yourself to alleviate these feelings, and places you can turn to for help. Whether you utilize your own tools or enlist the help of an online therapist, solutions for loneliness should pave the way to greater mental health, greater self-care, and more awareness of your own needs.