How to Deal With Loneliness and Feelings of Isolation
Maybe you’re new to a city and struggling to make friends. Or the people you love seem to be in a different phase of their lives than you. Or you’ve got all the friends you could possibly want, but you still don’t feel connected. At one time or another, everyone has felt lonely.
“It’s something every human being has gone through or will go through,” says Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California. But chronic loneliness can have serious health impacts. In fact, a study analysis in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests this feeling is involved in everything from depression and alcoholism, strokes, decreased immune system, and early death.
Here’s how to deal with loneliness when you inevitably get hit with the blues.
1. Create a list of activities you can do by yourself.
Ironically, if you only ever try to cure your loneliness by surrounding yourself with people, it can be remarkably short-lived. “As soon as that person leaves, you’re lonely again,” Bahar explains. Instead, have a list of simple activities you enjoy or would be willing to try when you’re lonely: A puzzle, playing on your phone, crocheting, quilting, watching movies, painting, screenwriting. The goal is to distract from the acute loneliness in a healthy way.
Better yet, date yourself, says Kate Balestrieri, a licensed psychologist in Los Angeles, California. “We can use [loneliness] as an opportunity to get to know ourselves better,” she explains. Take yourself to dinner, a movie, the park, a museum, a place you’ve always wanted to go. Many people look to relationships to regulate their emotions, Balestrieri says, and feeling lonely can be an opportunity to learn to do that for yourself.
2. Look for activities where you can be alone with other people.
Think MeetUp groups, library clubs, city events, and so on, Bahar says. If you can establish a new hobby that puts you with like-minded people, even better. Always wanted to hike or paint or learn photography? Look for classes or groups that are welcoming to beginners. The goal is to find a place where you’ll be around people, even if you’re not necessarily making friends. If you happen to meet somebody great there, even better.
3. Make a list of the people you can be with when you’re lonely.
Is it a friend, family member, or an acquaintance who keeps things positive? Give yourself a list of people to lean on when you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to. You want to keep your options open, Bahar says, so list as many as you can. Avoid leaning on a single person, if you can — it can put too much pressure on the relationship and leave you reeling if they’re not available when you call.
4. Try to be social sometimes — even if you don’t feel like it.
Does the idea of talking to new people make you break out in a cold sweat? That’s not unusual. Loneliness has a way of making social interaction seem pointless. “At some point, you just have to make yourself do it,” Balestrieri says. Daily affirmations, like positive “I” statements, could help. “I am interesting, I have things to offer, I am not afraid of rejection” are a few good examples, Balestrieri says.
5. Try giving back.
Maybe it’s volunteering to play with cats at the local animal shelter, dog walking, serving meals at a homeless shelter, or visiting people in nursing homes. Contributing to your community in a way that feels good can be wonderful for loneliness. The interactions can help build positive connections with new people — or pets — who are happy to see you, without leaning too heavily on a friend group, Bahar says.
6. Find a way to move your body that you enjoy.
It’s not so much about exercise as it is about getting in touch with your sensory system, Bahar says, which can encourage a state of connection and flow. “What you’re trying to do is engage your body and engage your mind out of the loneliness,” she explains. Surfing, soccer, sailing, walking barefoot in sand or grass — all of these can help you pay attention to the sensations in your body.
7. Consider going to therapy.
Even if you’re skeptical of therapy’s other values, it can be helpful for loneliness simply because you’re being heard and valued. “Sometimes it’s just about somebody listening to you,” Bahar says. “And that’s very important.”
8. Remember loneliness is temporary.
Even if you’re feeling lonely now, that doesn’t mean you’ll always feel lonely or you’ll never find a community that nourishes you. “You are the architecture of your future,” Balestrieri says. “You get to go out and make new bonds.” She adds that absolutely everyone has something to offer in relationships. You’ve just got to go out and create them.