What It Means When We Say “I Feel Alone”
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated October 22, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley
Feeling alone can happen anywhere. It is not the same as physically being alone. Each of us is capable of spending time alone with ourselves and not feeling lonely. By contrast, sometimes we can be in a crowd of people and still feel alone. The feeling of loneliness comes from inside ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions. It is not an external factor. And because it is not, we cannot seek external solutions.
Loneliness is a normal emotion that everyone feels occasionally. It's only when you feel alone too often that it becomes an issue. When that happens, loneliness can lead to stress, depression, and other negative health consequences. By understanding how to recognize the feeling of loneliness and what you can do to cope with it, you can begin to feel better about your life, both when you are alone and when you are with others. As we explore deeper, we'll give you a few tools to help you combat your loneliness and the side-effects, as well.
Why Do I Feel Alone?
Many life situations can lead you to feel alone. Periods of life change are times when many people are especially prone to feeling lonely. For example, when you move to a new place, start a new job, or end a relationship, you may feel especially lonely. In these situations, you lose support systems you previously had in place, and may find yourself looking for new people to spend time with and depend upon. When you are taking care of your mental health, you may feel lonely in these situations for a little while, but eventually, you will adjust to your circumstances and start to feel better. If you find that it's been several months and you are still feeling lonely, you might consider reaching out to someone to talk to about why you can't shake the lonely feeling.
Another reason you may find yourself constantly feeling lonely is if you are lacking purpose in your life. If you don't know what you want or where you are going, it can be hard to find a place where you fit. And you also may not know what to do with your time when you are alone because you don't have any goals or motivation. When you lack purpose, feeling lost and alone is not uncommon. What you need is not necessarily someone else to fill the empty space. Instead, you may need to find yourself.
A lack of satisfaction with oneself goes hand-in-hand with a lack of purpose. It's hard to feel good being alone with yourself if you don't like the person you are with. The bottom line is that it is an essential part of mental health to learn to be happy and content when you are alone. You should have activities and hobbies that you enjoy doing by yourself.
Signs That You Feel Alone
Maybe you don't even realize that you're engaging in activities designed to dodge loneliness. Many of us instinctively try to avoid feeling lonely, so we cover the feeling up with activities that make us feel less alone. These distracting behaviors do not really address the emotional issues under the surface. If you notice yourself using these avoidance strategies, it may be time to learn better ways of coping with feeling lost and alone.
Excessively Checking Social Media
Social media is a wonderful way to connect with people, but it does not replace face-to-face interactions. If you're feeling lonely in a relationship, whether a friendship or a romantic relationship, you may want to step back and look at how much real-world time you are actually spending time with the people you care about. Sometimes, constantly scrolling through social media feeds is an indication that you are not actually very close to your friends and family. It also indicates that you may not be comfortable being in the company of yourself.
Looking for Attention on Social Media
Not quite the same as the above, when you feel alone, you may find yourself reaching out for someone to pay attention to you. Social media makes it easy for you to call out to many people at once to increase your chances that someone will help fill that void of loneliness.
Spending Money on Objects
Becoming attached to inanimate objects can be a sign of loneliness. Some people try to substitute their love of possessions for the more satisfying love found in family, close friendships, and intimate relationships. Unfortunately, you may like your possessions, but building collections does not increase real happiness, and it certainly does not make you feel less alone.
Surrounding Yourself With Self-Absorbed People
It's hard to stop feeling lonely when most of the people you associate with are mainly concerned with themselves. Strive for mutual friendships and other relationships in which the person shares information about themselves and asks you to do the same.
Some people will use food as a comfort mechanism for dealing with their feelings. It is true that a tasty meal can make us feel good. However, that high is temporary. The food will not solve your emotional issues. Additionally, turning to food to self-soothe could lead to a number of weight-related health problems, as well as damage your self-image.
Long-term loneliness can lead to depression, and that's why it's important to learn to recognize loneliness, and know how to cope with it. If you have been struggling with feeling lonely for more than a month, you may want to talk to a mental health professional to help you learn how to address those feelings. A professional therapist can also check for other signs that you may be depressed.
What to Do When You Feel Alone
When you start to recognize that you feel alone, you can take steps to begin feeling better about yourself and your situation. By utilizing the strategies below, you will not only feel better about your current situation, but you will build the mental strength to get over future bouts of loneliness quicker. In fact, a combination of these techniques is helpful for everyone to feel more content with their lives.
Allow Your Feelings to Be Felt
It may seem paradoxical, but one of the quickest ways to let go of an unpleasant feeling is to allow yourself to feel it. Sometimes, we try to hide or avoid acknowledging our negative emotions, thinking that it will make them go away if we just don't look. Unfortunately, emotions don't work quite like that. You have to allow yourself to feel lonely before you can learn to accept it and move past it to cultivate more positive feelings. Allowing yourself to feel lonely—and acknowledging that it is how you feel—helps, whether you are having difficulty physically being alone, or you feel lonely even with others around. In a way, you have to identify the problem before you can really know what you need to do to fix it.
You have a lot of options for practicing self-love. The practice of self-love simply means taking care of yourself. Often, we don't do the things for ourselves that we would do for others to make them feel better when they are down, or feeling lost and alone. Even if what you need is to find people you can relate to, the first step is learning to treat yourself the way you would treat a friend. Be kind to yourself, and don't be too hard on yourself about how you are feeling.
Practice self-soothing activities. You may be alone, but you can generate the same mental responses in your mind that you get from feeling comforted by another person. One study showed that when people who were feeling lonely did things that warmed them up, the physical warmth created the same good feelings as emotional warmth from another person. Some things you can try are snuggling up in a blanket, taking a hot bath, or drinking a hot beverage. The feeling of warmth may help you to feel better.
Build New Thought Patterns
Dwelling on the negative, such as your feeling of being alone or how few friends you can count on, does not help you to feel any better. Continuing to focus on the negatives will likely make you feel even worse, and make it harder to stop feeling this way. So, you need to learn to have a different relationship with those negative thoughts. It will be difficult at first, but the more you practice techniques for taking the focus off negative thoughts, the easier it will become.
One way to do this is to change the focus of your thoughts. If you are actively concentrating on something else, it is more difficult to hold those negative thoughts in your mind. For instance, you can imagine your bookshelf, thinking about what order the books are in. Imagine each book in its place. Or imagine a drive through your town, and list the street signs you pass. It only takes a short time doing this to distract your mind from negative thoughts, and if you keep doing this concentration activity every time the thought returns, you can train your brain to go somewhere else rather than focusing your concentration on the negative.
You can also try writing the negative thoughts down on a piece of paper, then throwing them away. The physical act of throwing away the thoughts can help you form a pattern of letting them go and not thinking about them anymore. Also, consider doing a visualization where you write your worries in a book and then close the book and walk away. As you learn to stop focusing on the negative, you can begin learning to have gratitude for positive experiences rather than ruminating on the negative.
Learn to Be Good With Being Alone
Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. Many people thoroughly enjoy their time spent alone. It's an opportunity to learn about yourself and explore new hobbies. You can start by taking yourself out on a date. Go somewhere that you would normally go with someone else, just to treat yourself. Try going to a movie or a restaurant by yourself. Don't take out your phone. While you're in the process of getting comfortable with yourself, you may just find yourself having an interesting conversation with a server at the restaurant, which helps you get used to making contact with people.
Ultimately, feeling lonely is about lacking a clear view of what keeps you going. That is something that only you can find for yourself. It can help to take some time to consider what motivates you and what you find meaningful in your life.
Finding Meaning in Life
Looking for meaning in life is a process most people go through. You may go through the process of determining what is meaningful for you many times. Feeling lonely is sometimes a good indicator that you need to take a look at what is important to you. That feeling can mean that you are feeling disconnected from yourself as well as from others. Here are some tips for finding your purpose in life.
Find Your Strengths
Most of us find that certain skills come more easily than others or appeal to us more. It's not always about natural ability. Sometimes, having an interest in particular areas for many years allows you the practice in that skill to make it a strength. Strengths can also be more inherent parts of your personality, like optimism, hope, or determination
Take the time to think about where your strengths lie. What achievements have made you feel good about yourself? What projects do you gravitate towards? Finding meaning in life does not have to mean starting completely from scratch. You may begin to see where your life direction lies by looking at the path you've already been following. You just need to consciously take a look at the map and plan a route.
Learn New Things
Continuing to build on current strengths is essential, but so is learning new things as you go. Sometimes a newly learned skill combined with your previous strengths can generate goals and motivations that work better for you, bringing those old skills back to life. Striving serves to decrease feelings of stagnation, boredom, and dissatisfaction with ourselves, even when we are doing something that may be challenging and new.
Finding significance in your daily life is an important step to discovering meaning for yourself. If you spend a significant portion of your days at work, it's important to be able to place meaning in your career. You can do this by stepping back and taking a look at the work you do with fresh eyes. Why is it important? What essential role do you play? What satisfaction do you receive from it?
If you can't come up with answers that are good enough for you (and your opinion is what's relevant here), then it's time to ask yourself what it is you would rather be doing for work. Where do you feel you can actually be content with the work you do? If you're stuck on this, go back to the previous two tips. Think about where your strengths lie and what jobs would allow you to utilize them, and find out what new things you need to learn for those jobs.
Try a Little Compassion
Giving to others is actually a great way to feel connected. Think of something you can do to help your family or community, and do it. This is also a way to build meaning and purpose.
Develop Your Personal Goals and Interests
Once you've looked at your strengths and interests, it's time to make some goals for them. Having goals keeps you focused on what you really want and having a focus to go back to helps keep you out of the mindset of feeling all alone.
As an adult, making new friends can be more difficult than it was when you were young. School and activities made natural grounds for finding and establishing friendships. As an adult, those dynamics change. Also, many people become more self-conscious as adults. Although work provides a place to socialize, you may not always find people with similar interests where you work. Hobbies that get you out of the house are a good way to meet people outside of your work circle. Meetup groups that fit with your interests or goals are also a great way to socialize with a wider group and increase your chances of finding people you get along with well.
Find People Who Reflect Who You Want to Be
When you start looking for people to spend time with, it's a good idea to know what kinds of people make suitable friends for you. The wrong kinds of friends can end up decreasing your happiness and mental health. Interestingly, we tend to become more like the people we hang out with most. When you choose people to spend time with, you should choose people who reflect on some aspect of who you are and the kind of person you would like to be. This doesn't mean everyone you call a friend has to be perfect or exactly like you, but you should find some quality in them that you admire.
Deciding to meet with a new group of friends or try out a new activity can be hard at first. You may feel awkward or embarrassed about putting yourself out there. However, most people are just as eager to make like-minded friends as you are. The discomfort of being the one to extend an invitation or take the step to try new things will get easier over time, especially after you've made that first new connection. Many people will feel grateful to you for taking the first step.
Seek Professional Help
Chronic loneliness can be a sign of depression, and loneliness itself can be difficult to deal with if it has been left unacknowledged over a long period of time. If the strategies discussed above don't help you get over feeling alone, it may be time to reach out to a therapist. A trusted and qualified professional can help you to overcome barriers to connecting with others, and provide a safe place for you to practice being open about yourself.
Research shows that those who experience loneliness and related emotions can benefit from the resources and counseling services provided by online therapy platforms. A study published in Behavior Therapy, a peer-reviewed academic journal, found that internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can soothe feelings of loneliness. The study specifically notes that there was a correlation between the amount of time participants spent in therapy and a decrease in loneliness (as well as an increase in quality of life). Online CBT programs provide the tools to help reframe intrusive thoughts that can create a sense of isolation, making way for stronger relationships and better social connections.
If you’re busy, online counseling can often be a more desirable option, as you don't have to travel to find a therapist who is the right fit for you. Just get on your couch or a chair, jump online, and start during a time that works best for you. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to communicate with your therapist any time of day, not just when you’re in a session. Send a message to your licensed counselor, and they will get back to you as soon as they can. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Jeni is one of a kind. She is caring, compassionate, professional, respectful, easy to talk to, and she makes you feel like you are not alone. When we are communicating, whether it be via email or video sessions, she always makes herself seem relate-able. I really enjoy working with her and think she is great at her profession!"
"I would recommend Ashley to everyone seeking help. She asks the right questions and lets you know you are not alone, and she validates your feelings. I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails, and in a few weeks, I have calmed and been able to step back and look at my situation."
Feeling lonely may be overwhelming, but it is important to know that you are never alone and can recover from these feelings of loneliness. Make a plan to help you gain sure footing and seek out help when needed. Take the first step today.
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