HUMANS ARE SOCIAL ANIMALS — IT’S IN OUR NATURE TO WANT TO CONNECT WITH OTHER PEOPLE. WHEN THOSE NEEDS AREN’T BEING MET, IT’S COMPLETELY NORMAL TO FEEL LONELY. HERE’S HOW TO TURN THAT FEELING AROUND.
Humans are social animals — it’s in our nature to want to connect with others. When those needs aren’t being met, it’s completely normal to feel lonely. Loneliness is a universal emotion; we all feel it at one point or another. Sometimes it stems from us being isolated from other people. But often it sneaks up when you feel disconnected or misunderstood by the people around you. Feeling like you don’t “fit in” — with your classmates, with your friends, with society in general — is normal at any age.
Even though loneliness is something we can all identify with, we all experience it differently. What makes you feel lonely may not phase another person, and vice versa. There are also many different types of loneliness. You might have a really close group of friends, but wish you had that one go-to best friend. Or maybe you have both of those, but miss being in a romantic relationship. You might struggle to connect quickly with strangers and end up feeling lonely in new environments. The loneliness you feel, no matter your situation, is completely reasonable and valid.
Sometimes you might feel lonely because of something in your environment. You might feel lonely after moving or going through a breakup. Or you could be going through a rough patch in your life and wish you had someone to support you through it. Loneliness can also be a sign of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. (If you’re worried about your mental health, take one of our mental health tests!)
Are you feeling lonely?
Do you look around and see nothing but happy couples, families and groups of people hanging out together?
Do you feel like you are the only ‘single’ on the planet?
Loneliness is officially recognised as a ‘disease’ and is a real threat to your health and wellbeing. In fact, loneliness has been linked to specific life threatening conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, risk of stroke as well as cardiovascular disease. And it’s not just affecting the elderly! Gone are the days when we each had a role to play in our community, where there was a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. In a world where technology replaces person to person communication, financial worries often leave you feeling powerless and ‘real relationships’ are sometimes short-lived, loneliness has become an issue of our age.
How many smiles hide broken hearts?
“I smile all the time so nobody knows how sad and lonely I really am.”
We spend so much time ‘being entertained’ that we have forgotten how to create connections with others and more importantly with ourselves. And the lonelier we feel, the more we reach for the instant distraction of technology which keeps us in a cycle of isolation.
So how can you break the cycle?
1. Acknowledge that you’re lonely
Change often starts with admitting how you’re feeling — even just to yourself. Try to identify why and how you’re feeling lonely. Once you have a better understanding of your own experience with loneliness, it’s a lot easier to figure out what steps to take to feel better.
2. Boost the connections you already have
Loneliness can be all-consuming, making it hard to recognize the relationships right in front of you. Do you have coworkers who seem nice but who you aren’t very close with? Maybe there’s a new student in your class who is probably looking for a friend too. Or that person you’ve never really talked to even though you always “like” each others’ social media posts. Try reaching out to one of these people, or a friend you lost touch with a few years ago.
You might be surprised at how willing some of these people are to connect on a deeper level. Even if they don’t become your new best friend, it’s nice to feel a little more connected to the people around you.
3. Join a club or take a class
What if you want to meet new people? Get involved in activities that revolve around your interests. It’s easier to start a friendship with people you have something in common with. Find a book club, a sports team, or an art class. You can even start taking a workout class at the same time each week—you’ll likely see some of the same faces regularly. And don’t forget about online groups! If you can’t find a good local group, there’s probably a great online community for whatever hobby or interest you can think of.
4. Take care of someone else
What’s really missing when you feel lonely is a sense of belonging. Helping others can help you feel needed. Maybe you have a neighbor or family member who would love someone to vent to. See if your local retirement home or animal shelter (yes, puppies count as “someone else”!) could use a helping hand. Giving back to your community is a great way to feel less alone in the world.
5. Spend time in public
If having a conversation sounds intimidating, do your best to just get out in public. Being around others, even if you don’t interact with them, can lessen the intensity of your loneliness. If you need to get homework done, head to the library instead of doing it in your bedroom. Planning to mindlessly scroll on your phone for 30 minutes? Go grab a snack and a table at your favorite coffee shop and spend your social media break there.
(Of course, this looks a little different during the coronavirus pandemic. Be sure to follow social distancing guidelines. Still, stepping outside to get some fresh air can help you feel like a part of your community and less of a shut-in.)
6. Enjoy your own company
Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely. Community is important, but so is your relationship with yourself. Make sure you’re speaking to yourself kindly and giving yourself the same credit that you’d give someone else. Lean into the solo activities you enjoy — work your way through that list of movies you’ve been meaning to watch, or get yourself a starter kit for that new hobby you want to pick up. Take time to reconnect with who you truly are: your strengths, your weaknesses, your goals, and anything that makes you, you.
Bonus: when you get to know yourself better, it’s easier to feel good about yourself when you do go out and socialize.