While loneliness is a natural emotion and it’s something we all feel, it’s not something any of us want to feel.
Plus, more and more research is showing that loneliness in and of itself may lead to negative mental and physical consequences. For example, loneliness has been shown to affect the brain similarly to feeling physical pain, it’s been shown to have a negative effect on sleep, it’s been shown to increase your risk of dementia, and it’s even been linked to heart disease and premature death.
So, whether you’re prone to loneliness or you’re experiencing it as the result of missing a loved one or place, it’s important to try to alleviate it. Here are 13 things you can do to reduce and/or avoid loneliness.
1) Know That You’re Not Alone In Feeling Lonely
It’s a perfectly normal emotion. Everybody feels it at one time or another. This might seem obvious, but I put it here because it’s very important to realize there is nothing “wrong” with you if you’re feeling lonely.
2) Understand Why You’re Lonely
This might seem self-evident on first glance, but it’s an important step. Why are you lonely? This answer might actually give you a solution to the problem right away. If it’s because you’re missing a particular person or place, the solution might be more introspective. If it’s because you want more friends, the solution will likely be to step out and meet new people.
3) Understand That Time By Yourself And Loneliness Are Different Concepts
It can be easy to confuse loneliness with simply spending time by yourself, especially if you tend to be an extrovert (i.e. ‘people person’). Loneliness is a feeling of missing someone or something and it should be remedied. Spending time alone, however, is actually important, healthy, and necessary. You don’t need to fill every waking moment in the company of others.
4) Avoid Addictive Traps
Using negative coping behaviors like drinking, smoking, drug use, over-eating, and even shopping to excess can be common for someone who is feeling lonely. While these behaviors temporarily ‘cover up’ the lonely feelings, they tend to exacerbate them in the long run. It’s much wiser to address your emotions (and the underlying causes) directly.
5) Avoid Staying Home All The Time
It’s often the simplest solution to just stay home, curl up on the couch, and go on a Netflix binge. And, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with doing that occasionally. But, becoming dependent on your sofa or bed is a sure recipe for loneliness.
Sometimes just the act of going out and changing the scenery, even if you don’t interact with others, is enough to shake up how you’re feeling. Plus, you’re giving yourself the chance to interact with others.
6) Spend Time In Nature
This is an extension of getting out of the house, but rather than just changing up the scenery, consider getting out into nature. And, while it might seem counter-intuitive to go on a hike by yourself to reduce loneliness, the sunshine, fresh air, and exercise can often do wonders by increasing your endorphins and getting your blood flowing.
7) Focus On Your Sleep
Trouble sleeping (taking a long time to fall asleep, waking frequently, or feeling sleepy during the day) is actually a big marker for loneliness. Additionally, sleep deprivation in its own right is a major cause of lowering people’s moods. So, it’s essential to focus on getting enough (and high-quality) sleep.
8) An Intimate Relationship And A Social Circle Are Different
Many people require both an intimate relationship AND a social circle. They are not the same. You might have a significant other but realize you’re craving friendships or vice-versa. Take the time to ask if this is the case. One of the two might not be enough for you.
9) Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
If you’re shy or introverted, this can be a real challenge. However, if you want to meet people, you might have to push yourself a little bit. The good news is that this is easier than ever before. What are you interested in? There is almost certainly a group in your area that’s into doing it too. Finding like-minded people with a common interest is a great (and relatively comfortable) way to begin meeting people.
10) Lend A Helping Hand
One of the very best ways of moving beyond loneliness is to find ways of helping others. It’s hard to stay inwardly focused on negative feelings when you’re outwardly focused on helping someone else. Are there causes that are important to you? Go lend a hand!
11) Avoid Social Media
Remember, Facebook isn’t real life. It’s a glimpse (and almost always a highlight package glimpse) into others’ lives. Comparing yourself to others’ highlight reels is a bad idea in general, and it’s about the worst thing you can do if you’re feeling lonely.
12) Loneliness Is A Feeling, Not A Fact
Remember, just because you’re feeling lonely now doesn’t mean you will always feel lonely. In fact, one of the best things you can do is to really “own” your loneliness feelings as they’re happening. Don’t try to numb the feeling. Accept it. Understand that it’s part of being human. Understand that you’re normal. It’s not you…it’s just a feeling. Sometimes this level of acceptance (rather than pushing it away) can be the opening needed to alleviate the loneliness.
13) Get Help If You Need It
The ideas above are simply a helpful list. There are a million other things you could do (go to the gym, write a blog, listen to music, go kayaking, get a pet, etc, etc.) The point is to acknowledge, accept, and re-direct toward a more positive feeling.
With that said, if your loneliness is starting to feel all-encompassing or out of control, you might need some professional support from a caring therapist.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It’s NOT a sign of weakness…it’s a sign of strength.
If you have questions or would like more information about overcoming loneliness, please contact my office at Amanda.Itzkoff@gmail.com.
To schedule an appointment, call our offices at 917-609-4990.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff