What To Do When You Feel Lonely
Spending time alone can be a beautiful thing. It often means focusing on yourself, doing exactly what you want to do, and having that all-important "me time." But if you feel lonely, none of that will sound appealing. Instead, you'll be faced with difficult emotions, and the desire to remedy the situation, ASAP.
"To understand why loneliness is such a painful emotion, it's important to understand how it's different from [being] 'alone,'" Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher MA, CAGS, LMHC, a psychotherapist and owner of Polaris Counseling & Consulting, tells Bustle. "We can physically be alone and not feel lonely, or worse, be around people while feeling lonely."
It's often more a state of mind than it is about actually being by yourself. "Feeling the emotion of [loneliness] signals to us that we aren't feeling particularly connected, heard, or understood by those around us," Weaver-Breitenbecher says. "It can feel painful because it sometimes affects our self-worth and how we view ourselves."
Loneliness can, however, be as simple as not having people around you, which might happen when you move to a new city, start a new job, work from home, drift away from a group of friends, etc. It's a common occurrence, Weaver-Breitenbecher says, and it happens to everyone. But rest assured there are plenty of ways to cope with it. If you've been feeling lonely, read on for a few tips from experts, that can help you feel more connected.
1. Reach Out
While this might seem simplistic, remedying loneliness can be as easy as calling a friend and making plans to hang out. But it can be tough to see that when you're feeling isolated, or if your self-esteem has been impacted by your loneliness.
"Sometimes patients tell me 'no one ever calls me to do anything,' but when I ask them how often they call their friends, they often respond with 'never," Weaver-Breitenbecher says. It's common to wait around for a phone call, but that isn't the most proactive step.
It's important not to make assumptions about whether or not a friend would want to hear from you, Weaver-Breitenbecher says, but instead take it upon yourself to be the one to reach out. Chances are they'll be thrilled, and you might end up rekindling a friendship.
One of the best ways to feel connected is by volunteering, even if you only do it for a few hours on the weekend. "Volunteering will give you social contact, increase your skills of connection, and help boost your self-esteem," Bridget Bertrand, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "We are social animals and the more connection we can seek out the better we will feel."
To find a place to volunteer, search for local charities. Choose a cause you care about, and see if there are ways to get involved. You could help out at an animal shelter, sort donated clothes at a thrift store, do a beach clean-up day — whatever strikes your fancy.
3. Get Out In Nature
If you're going through a lonely time in life, or aren't sure how to reconnect, start by stepping out outside. "Nature has many ways of offering relief from disconnection," Melanie Gonzalez, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle.
Stroll through your local park, read by a fountain, or find a pretty trail and go for a hike. This will help you reunite with the world, Gonzalez says, and you might even meet someone new while out and about. Either way, it'll help ease any negative feelings you've been experiencing, and make your current state of loneliness feel more manageable.
4. Acknowledge Your Loneliness
While it's great to find ways to move past loneliness by seeking connection, it's also OK to sit with your loneliness on occasion, and observe it as one of the many human emotions we all experience.
"Allow yourself to be in a lonely state and feel it," Kim Egel, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Being introspective about your loneliness is important."
You can feel it and let it drift away. Or, if it's an ongoing emotion, you might go so far as to assess where it's stemming from. "A great technique is to talk to your emotions, as if it were a friend," Egel says. "A great question to ask is, 'what are my lonely feelings trying to tell me?'"
You might realize you'd benefit from spending more quality time with a partner, she says, looking for a more like-minded community of friends, or searching for a job that feels more fulfilling. Loneliness can be painful, but it can also teach you a lot.
5. Sign Up For Therapy
Since loneliness can be difficult to cope with, there's no need to try to tackle it by yourself. Calling in the help of a professional, by signing up for therapy, is a great way of figuring it all out, and learning ways to cope.
"This can help uncover the source of your loneliness as well as some of the negative beliefs you have about yourself, others, events, and memories that impact your ability to feel connected," Natalie Mica, MED, LPC, CART, CDWF, a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle.
A therapist can also help you assess your current relationships, and whether or not they're working for you. And, if something like social anxiety has been holding you back from making friends, they can help you begin to manage that, as well.
6. Join A Local Club
If you don't have anyone to reach out to at the moment, it may be a good time to begin the search for new friendships. Because, even though it would be nice for them to happen organically, they often require effort to create and maintain.
"Look to join a local social club or special interest group where you can meet new people," Vinay Saranga, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatrist, tells Bustle. Consider joining a book club, taking a class, or attending a meet up, and getting to know everyone else who's involved.
Don't be deterred, though, if you need to take smaller steps. "Many people also relieve their loneliness and find friends online around the world to speak to," Saranga says. "It’s the modern-day version of having a pen pal that we used to write letters to," and is a great way to feel connected.
7. Focus On Exactly What You Need
Joining clubs, reaching out to friends, and attending therapy are all going to helpful, when it comes to dealing with loneliness. But don't forget to focus on yourself, too.
"Loneliness isn't always a sign that it's time to make a connection with others," Brittany A Johnson, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. "In fact, it is often a sign that you need to practice self-care and refill or refuel yourself."
Consider spending some time doing exactly what you need to do, even if it isn't social. Have you been skipping out on a hobby that means a lot to you, or have you been working too hard? Making an effort to slow down may be just what you need to do in order to reconnect with yourself, which in turn will make it even easier to connect with others.
Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher MA, CAGS, LMHC, psychotherapist and owner of Polaris Counseling & Consulting
Bridget Bertrand, MA, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Melanie Gonzalez, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Kim Egel, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Natalie Mica, MED, LPC, CART, CDWF, licensed professional counselor
Vinay Saranga, MD, psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatrist
Brittany A Johnson, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor