Why Am I Lonely? Possible Answers And Solutions
By: Corrina Horne
Updated December 23, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Loneliness can be a painful feeling, but happily, it is an emotion that can be soothed and overcome. Loneliness may seem to affect only a select few, but some experts believe it has become an "epidemic". They believe the potential health effects of loneliness are comparable to the detrimental effects of health issues like obesity and smoking. Even though this sounds serious, know that you are not alone if you feel lonely sometimes.
What Is Loneliness?
Loneliness is difficult to measure. At its core, loneliness is a feeling of being alone, even when others are around. Feeling alone can mean feeling misunderstood, unloved, or unwanted by your family, friends, or peers, or it can literally just mean you do not have anyone with whom to connect or speak. There are different schools of thought pertaining to loneliness; 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 you be 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, you may be at greater risk for high levels of loneliness. One study describes loneliness as "subjective distress," which is another way of saying the difference between the social circle and relationships you have and the ones you actually crave. This is an important distinction in evaluating and identifying loneliness because it highlights a painful but powerful truth: you can have numerous friends, a wonderful family, and a trusted spouse, but you may still find yourself feeling lonely because you do not have the relationships and connections you hope for.
- Evolution. Why does loneliness exist? Those who argue for the evolutionary definition of loneliness might say loneliness is the way nature ensures people continue to 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. Still others might argue 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.
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 suffering from 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 connections. As often as possible, even if it means talking with your local grocery store clerk, connect with the people around you.
Ways to Decrease Loneliness
It can be difficult to deal with loneliness, but you can take matters into your own hands, to some degree, by taking steps to ward off loneliness. Below are some of the most effective ways to potentially banish these feelings, or at least give yourself some quick relief.
- Seek Comfort. When you are feeling lonely, your body and brain are telling you that something is missing. While you might prefer the feeling of someone's arms around you, try to find comfort in things 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! The fear of rejection can make this a difficult 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, or ask your friend to chat for a few minutes. Call a family member, and catch up on their life. Any form of connection can help.
- Evaluate Your Behaviors and Habits. You may have cultivated habits that are contributing to your loneliness. 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, or do you clamor to get away from them? Putting yourself out there is one of the simplest ways to combat loneliness.
- Evaluate Your Health. Mental and 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 feeling exhaustion that doesn't seem on par with the amount of energy you've expended? Mental and physical health issues can both contribute to feeling lonely.
- Volunteer. Sharing your time with someone less fortunate can go a long way in mitigating loneliness because it has multiple benefits: you spend time with other volunteers, you help someone in your community, and you feel good about yourself. All of these can compound to create greater feelings of contentment and wellbeing.
Although no single action will immediately and permanently cure feelings of loneliness, you can develop habits and practices that offer a healthier understanding of yourself, others, and the world around you. These habits can help you feel more connected and aware, even in the midst of being alone. Loneliness does not have to be a curse; instead, it can give you a window into your own mental state, and illuminate needs that are perhaps not being met. If you find that you still feel lonely, online therapy can help you feel less lonely, and reduce symptoms of depression.
You may read the full study here: Depression: Effectiveness of a Multimodal Digital Psychotherapy Platform for Adult Depression: A Naturalistic Feasibility Study.
Other Possible Causes of Loneliness
In addition to the usual suspects, there could be other reasons for feeling lonely. 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 a perfect storm of symptoms that increase isolation and withdrawal. Anxiety and depression are both characterized by loneliness, though the reasons are usually different. In depression, loneliness is often caused by embarrassment, shame, and confusion regarding symptoms, while loneliness may be linked to anxiety because this condition often encourages people to hole up, whether that holing up is literal (think of someone who cannot leave the house) or figurative (only interacting with others on a superficial level).
Managing Loneliness Through BetterHelp
Research has shown that online therapy is an effective method of dealing 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) amongst 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 6 months of completing the program, suggesting online guided therapy is a useful—and accessible—tool for managing emotions such as loneliness.
Unlike with traditional therapy, through BetterHelp’s online platform, you can match with a therapist who will help you deal with feelings of isolation from the comfort of your own home. Sometimes, a shift in perspective and a healthy dose of self-esteem can help feelings of loneliness abate—so you can also message your therapist any time, day or night, and he or she will respond as soon as possible. Online therapy can offer you a perspective shift, and a path to improved confidence. 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!"
Not all loneliness needs to be cured; some forms of loneliness can be embraced while you give yourself more space to find comfort, self-love, and self-confidence. At times when loneliness is 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 to ease loneliness or enlist the help of a therapist to learn more effective ways to cope, loneliness does not have to generate feelings of fear and embarrassment. Instead, it can pave the way to greater mental health, greater self-care, and a greater awareness of your own needs.
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