Loneliness doesn’t care if you are in a crowded room full of acquaintances or a mansion all by yourself; it can creep up on you and consume your entire life, driving your thoughts and actions. Whether you are married or single, feeling lonely is a challenging emotion to overcome, primarily because it is self-reinforcing.
Social isolation and loneliness are not the same. Social isolation is the physical and emotional state of spending a majority of time alone. Loneliness is perceived disconnection from others, regardless of how many friends you have. Socially isolated people may not be lonely and lonely people may not be socially isolated. If you want to know how not to feel lonely, a good first step is to understand that loneliness is a state of mind.
The Effects of Loneliness
Loneliness is a vicious cycle; loneliness breeds more loneliness. If you are wondering why you feel so lonely, consider the wide-ranging negative effects of loneliness:
1. Pessimism about existing relationships:If you are feeling lonely in a relationship, you will likely attribute the feeling to your relationship(s). You may feel that your relationship is inadequate, your partner doesn’t share the same interests, or there is some sort of disconnect between yourself and your partner – even if nothing is wrong with the relationship.
2. Self-fulfilling prophecy:If you think others don’t like to be around you, you will naturally withdraw from social situations, which can make you feel even lonelier.
3. Loneliness is a visible stigma:When you are desperately lonely, you may project it through your communication style, body language, clinginess, or insecurity. If you allow loneliness to be your dominant emotion, others will likely be able to read it from miles away.
4. Loneliness is magnetic:If your primary emotion is loneliness, you may automatically attract other lonely people, whether you want to or not. Why? Because they can relate to you. For this reason, lonely people team up to form an enclave of loneliness that can exist on the edge of society. Their only commonality might be their anxiety about being lonely.
5. Isolation dulls your ability to connect:If you allow your loneliness to turn into physical isolation, over time, you could naturally lose your relationship-building skills, such as conversation starters, body language habits, and eye contact.
6. Loneliness triggers poor physical health:Loneliness increases your risk for chronic disease and premature death. For instance, according to a recent study, lonely ants die young because they don’t know what to do when they are by themselves. The biological cause of death? They eventually lose digestive function. Clearly, health problems and early death get in the way of social connection.
7. Decreased motivation to connect:Loneliness and depression go hand-in-hand. In fact, loneliness is a more significant predictor of depression than social isolation. Depression is characterized by decreased motivation and apathy to carry out day-to-day activities. Although you may desire deeper social connections, depression gets in the way.
Okay, okay, so enough about all the ways that loneliness causes more loneliness. How can you cope with loneliness? Here are several strategies to stop feeling lonely:
8. Accept and leverage your personality traits:One of the Big 5 Personality Traits is Extroversion/Introversion. Do you gain or lose energy during social interaction? Are you the first to leave a party after only being there an hour, or do you rage all night? Extroverted people gain energy from social interactions, and therefore are more equipped to party all night.
Both introverts and extroverts can feel lonely though – especially when culture clashes with their innate personality (i.e., an extrovert in East Asia or an introvert in the U.S.). Individualistic, loud, in-your-face societies are set up for extroverts. Quieter, collectivistic societies are better for introverts. Feeling out of touch with your culture can be a very isolating, depressing, and lonely feeling.
To overcome loneliness, you must learn to identify and value your natural tendency (i.e., introversion or extraversion). One is not better than the other; they are simply different. If society clashes with your tendency, don’t feel the need to explain away your “weirdness.” It’s not weird. Simply be who you are and find others who love you for it.
9. Understand that there is a genetic component to loneliness:While a loneliness gene has not been isolated, one studyfound that there is a genetic predisposition for loneliness, just as there is for depression. Once you recognize that the tendency for loneliness might be hardwired into your genes, you can work to overcome this genetic predisposition through behavioral patterns. Remember: Your genes are not your destiny.
10. Be physically present:It will be difficult to overcome loneliness (or social isolation for that matter) if you don’t give yourself a chance to connect with others. Attend church functions, community meetings, exercise groups, or a book club, even when you don’t feel like going. Take control; don’t let your loneliness rule you. When you the feel waves of insecurity associated with loneliness, give yourself confidence by repeating a mantra. Positive self-talk can do wonders for your confidence level.
11. Be emotionally available:Don’t just show up to things; share meaningful stories with others when you get there. Let people into your inner circle, and they will be more likely to let you into theirs.
12. Reconnect with old friends:Search your phone contacts or Facebook friends for old acquaintances and consider reconnecting with them. Unlike a stranger, these people share a piece of your past, no matter how small. Use this as a catalyst for building a stronger relationship. If you truly desire deep, meaningful relationships, reconnecting with people from your past can be very rewarding.
13. Overcome your fear of rejection by being realistic.Everyone – whether lonely or not – fears rejection. In fact, for many people, this fear is a reaction to a past experience of being rejected. But this fear has consequences of its own; you may try to protect yourself through isolation, which itself can cause loneliness. You can work to overcome this fear by acknowledging that you can’t be everyone’s best friend. There’s bound to be people who don’t particularly like you, and that’s okay. Treat everyone with respect but focus on building relationships with people who do like you.
14. Appreciate me-time:If you wonder why you feel so lonely, take a second to differentiate between being alone and being lonely. In our society, there are, unfortunately, many negative connotations connected to spending time alone. But everyone – even an extrovert – needs alone time to be healthy. Don’t let societal stigma cause you to feel lonely when you are alone. Embrace the time to reflect and grow as an individual. Don’t be afraid to fly solo at a movie theatre, a mall, a park, or even a restaurant!
15. Switch off the social media feeds:Anyone, no matter how connected to others, can feel overwhelmed and a little depressed when they peruse their social media feeds. Swarmed by pictures, videos, and statuses about other peoples’ happy lives, relationships, and accomplishments, you may begin to feel inadequate and lonely. But most people only paint the bright half of the picture on social media; they leave out the dark half. When you feel lonely, give yourself some distance from social media. It’s not doing you any favors.
16. Develop emotional intelligence:Did you know that there’s a proven pathway to success both in the workplace and in relationships? In fact, in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, the authors explain that emotional intelligence (not IQ) accounts for 58 percent of job success. The four domains of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Overall, emotional intelligence refers to your ability to harness, leverage, and control your natural emotions and identify and respond to others’ emotions. It is a powerful skill set. The best part? You can develop these skills by reading one of the many self-help books on emotional intelligence.
17. See an online counselor:Feelings of loneliness are hard to combat on your own. But if you feel trapped in a lonely box, an online therapistor counselor can provide wisdom and an outsider’s perspective to help you break the cycle of loneliness.
Now more than ever, people are turning online in search of a convenient way to speak with a trusted therapist without having to leave the comforts of home. Recent studies show that electronically delivered cognitive behavioral therapy reduced depression and anxiety symptom severity more effectively than face-to-face therapy. The analysis considered 17 randomized controlled study trials, “evaluating the clinical effectiveness of eCBT compared to face-to-face and considered a wide range of outcomes including severity of symptoms, adverse outcomes, clinically relevant outcomes, global functionality, participant satisfaction, quality of life, and affordability.”
BetterHelp counselors have assisted many people overcome loneliness and find more happiness.
The online therapy platform allows you access to trained professionals right from the comfort of your home, day or night. And, you can be in contact with them on a more regular basis, which can be a comfort during the tough times when you may need to speak with a trusted professional. Read below to see how BetterHelp therapists have helped people like you.
“Kathleen has been an immense help in a turbulent time in my life. I feel very comfortable talking to her, and it’s like talking to a friend but a friend with a plethora of knowledge and amazing substantial advice. Her support and advice have helped me short and long term, from daily tasks that she’s given me to breathing techniques and lifestyle habits that make a big difference overall. Her outlook, philosophy, and morals really abide with my own. I’ve found refuge in her support at a time where I felt very much alone.”
“I can not thank Steve enough for all his help and support. Steve not only hears what you have to say but he has the brilliant ability to understand what you mean. It has been very difficult for me to find someone who makes me feel understood. Who makes me feel like I’m not alone. Steve Schaick is helping to turn my life around, and I can’t thank him enough.”
Coping with loneliness is a difficult but attainable goal. By overcoming loneliness with the strategies in this article, you can combat the wide-ranging physical, mental, and social effects of loneliness. Remember: loneliness is self-reinforcing. But you don’t have to let it control your life.
If you feel lonely tonight, give some thought to the steps that you can take to connect or reconnect with others. Reach out for help and support if you are unsure about where to start.