“I’m So Lonely”: How To Build Meaningful Social Connections

Updated December 2, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Social support is vital to our emotional, mental, and physical health. A support system can provide us with care, help us succeed, and make life more enjoyable. For various reasons, though, we sometimes have trouble maintaining solid bonds with others, which can cause us to feel isolated and disconnected. While loneliness can have an impact on our daily lives, its effects can be reduced when we build fulfilling connections with others. If you’re feeling lonely, read below for potential causes and ways you can develop healthy, meaningful relationships.

Why Do We Feel Lonely?

Social Support Can Be A Crucial Aspect Of Everyday Life

Loneliness has several potential causes. Some people may feel lonely because they have recently gone through a major life change, such as experiencing the loss of a loved one or moving to a new location. Others may feel lonely because they do not have the resources that they need to go out and meet friends. 

Additionally, a mental health condition like social anxiety or depression can make social interaction difficult. Loneliness and disorders like depression often have a bidirectional relationship, which means that the presence of one will often lead to the development or exacerbation of the other. For example, those who live with depression may experience increased loneliness due to trouble leaving the house or reaching out to others; and those who are lonely often develop symptoms of depression, such as sadness and increasing isolation.  

Other people who are lonely may have relationships that do not meet their needs, which can be just as difficult to deal with as a lack of relationships. If you have relationships that are one-sided, stress-inducing, or otherwise unhealthy, you may experience loneliness despite having several connections. 

It’s important to remember that being alone and feeling lonely are two different things. Many people can spend time on their own and not feel lonely, while others can experience loneliness when they’re surrounded by friends and family. The issue isn’t necessarily being on your own, but feeling as though your interactions with others aren’t as fulfilling as you’d like.

Social media may also play a role in increasing feelings of loneliness. For some, consistently seeing other people’s relationships online can make them feel like their own connections should be stronger. 

There are many other potential sources for loneliness. If you’re unable to determine the origins of your loneliness, consider assessing the various areas of your life in which you socialize (e.g., work, school, family settings). Asking yourself, “What kind of relationships do I want in the different aspects of my life?” may help you see where you can address loneliness. 

How Does Loneliness Impact Our Health?

Research shows that social interaction and support is a vital part of our lives, helping to reduce stress, decrease the likelihood of depression, and improve overall quality of life.  Conversely, loneliness can negatively affect our mental and physical health. Some of the mental and physical health complications of loneliness include:

  • Depression

  • Impaired sleep

  • Difficulty maintaining focus and concentration

  • Cognitive decline

  • Immune system impairment

  • Cardiovascular health concerns

  • Decreased interest in self-care 

  • Increase in alcohol use

  • Obesity

It can be hard when we’re faced with loneliness and isolation, but there are ways to overcome these feelings and begin to form satisfying relationships with those around us.

How To Build Meaningful Social Connections

We don’t always know where to begin when it comes to building relationships. Luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can begin connecting with others and addressing feelings of loneliness. The following are helpful tips for building fulfilling social bonds in your life.

Seek Out Public Spaces

Jumping headfirst into dealing with feelings of loneliness can be daunting for those who are not accustomed to interacting with others. Rather than putting yourself in a specific social situation, where you may not yet feel comfortable, start by going out into public areas, where you could be around people without necessarily having to interact. 

Simply being in the presence of others may make you feel less lonely and help build your comfort level up for future social situations. And, if you do interact with another person, you could end up developing an unexpected friendship. To start, consider visiting libraries, parks, downtown areas, or other public spaces where you’re likely to be around people. 

Engage In Group Activities You Enjoy

One issue we can run into when looking to meet friends is that we sometimes don’t have a conversation starter (or know whether someone has the same interests). To address this concern, you can seek out group events and meetups where you can engage in activities that you enjoy, with people who you already know at least one interest with you. This can be a great way of meeting several new people at the same time. 

Consider seeking out volunteer opportunities with a non-profit you support, joining a sports team, or finding meetups for groups and organizations that are based around your interests (e.g., book clubs, alumni organizations). If there aren’t many opportunities for meetups in your area, you can even start a group of your own.

Strengthen Current Relationships 

Feeling like you are lonely when you are surrounded by people can be a hard experience to navigate. While there may be several reasons for this feeling, it could be that you are simply not close enough to anyone in your circle. If this is the case, try figuring out how you can develop closer bonds. 

Consider whether you have a relative you’ve always felt close to, a friend you’ve lost touch with, or a coworker you’d like to get to know better. You can reach out to some of these people in your life and ask if they’d like to get a cup of coffee or just talk on the phone. If you create opportunities for current relationships to grow, you may end up with stronger bonds.

Get To Know Yourself Better

Social Support Can Be A Crucial Aspect Of Everyday Life

If you feel like you aren’t close with others, you may first want to become closer with yourself. Research shows that a negative self-image is linked to loneliness. So, working on your relationship with yourself may help you overcome some of the negative feelings that you experience when you’re on your own. 

Take some time to dive deeper into your thoughts, beliefs, likes, opinions, and other aspects of yourself. You can do this by journaling regularly, practicing mindfulness meditation, or working with a mental health professional. Additionally, consider nurturing your body and mind through self-care, celebrating yourself when you achieve goals, and forgiving yourself when you make mistakes. Developing a healthy self-conception can improve the way you feel toward others. 

Take The Initiative To Make Plans   

You don’t have to wait for the people in your life to invite you out when you want to spend time with them. Showing initiative can let others know that you care about them and want to foster a strong relationship. It can help to be proactive in this regard—consider reaching out to people well in advance and scheduling time to connect. This can help you feel more comfortable putting yourself out there and building the relationships that may help you feel less lonely. 

In our modern age, there are many apps to help you connect with people who are also trying to meet others. Similar to dating apps, these are tools for connecting with people who are in your area. Unlike dating apps, though, they aren’t solely based around romantic relationships. 

Talk To A Professional

Sometimes, feelings of loneliness are connected to a mental health condition, such as depression or social anxiety. In that case, addressing the internal factors that can contribute to loneliness may lead to stronger relationships. A mental health professional can provide you with support as you work through complicated emotions related to loneliness and give you advice for how you can better connect with others. 

Online Therapy For Loneliness

Research shows that online therapy can be a beneficial method of treatment for those who are feeling lonely. For example, in one study, researchers found that online cognitive behavioral therapy can effectively reduce feelings of loneliness and symptoms of social anxiety, while also improving overall quality of life. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely accepted form of psychotherapy that helps individuals reframe negative thought patterns that could lead to maladaptive emotions and behaviors, such as those related to loneliness and isolation. 

If you’re feeling lonely, consider adding a licensed therapist to your support network. By utilizing an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with one of thousands of mental health professionals, who practice across a range of specialties and areas of expertise. When you sign up, you’ll fill out a questionnaire and get matched with a therapist based on your specific preferences and concerns. Because there are no costs associated with office space or similar forms of overhead, online therapy is an affordable option—BetterHelp registration start at $60 per week (billed every 4 weeks), and you can cancel anytime.  

Takeaway

Developing strong relationships can help you stay connected with loved ones, provide you with a support network, and improve your mental and physical health. If you’d like guidance as you work through feelings of loneliness and strengthen your bonds with others, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist online. With the right support, you can develop fulfilling relationships and take the next steps on your mental health journey.

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