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HomeHealth TopicMental Health

How to Deal With Loneliness: 7 Strategies for Coping With Isolation

Katrina WoznickiMona Bapat, PhD, HSPP
Written by Katrina Woznicki | Reviewed by Mona Bapat, PhD, HSPP
Updated on April 17, 2023

Key takeaways:

  • You may feel lonely when you are disconnected from other people physically or emotionally.

  • Loneliness not only affects your mental well-being but also may also increase your risk of medical conditions like heart disease.

  • Learning how to deal with loneliness can help you feel more connected and confident in your relationships. Strategies like taking a class or volunteering may help. 

Portrait of a woman near tears, her hand is covering her mouth.
NickyLloyd/E+ via Getty Images

Humans are wired for connection, so we all need companionship, closeness, and understanding. Our need for connection is so strong that the neuroscientist John Cacioppo equated loneliness to hunger. Without adequate relationships with others, over time, loneliness can affect a person’s physical and mental health. 

If there’s a silver lining to understanding loneliness — especially during times of crisis — it’s knowing that you’re not the only one feeling disconnected and that there are ways to cope. In this article, we'll discuss what it means to feel disconnected and how to deal with loneliness

How can I deal with loneliness?

Loneliness is the feeling of being isolated or disconnected from other people. You might feel lonely when you're physically alone. But loneliness can also occur when you're with others but feeling a lack of emotional connection and intimacy.  

Though loneliness is hard, there are ways you can cope and help prevent it from happening in the future. Feeling connected in ways both big and small is key to combating loneliness.

“It’s important to have close friends, but don’t dismiss community groups or casual acquaintances either,” Adam Brown, an associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York, told GoodRx Health. “The goal is to be doing something that’s collaborative and constructive.” 

When that’s not an option, Brown said that the healing benefits of remembering times when you felt connected to others can help. Listening to a favorite song, flipping through a family photo album, or talking to others about shared past experiences can foster a sense of connection and reduce loneliness. 

“Thinking about good times, even if they were long ago, can bring about positive feelings that counter negative feelings,” Brown said. Small steps like practicing gratitude with a daily journal may also help. 

If you're unsure where to start, here are seven strategies to help you cope with loneliness.

1. Look for local activities

Participating in local events is a great way to connect with your community. And there are many options, from farmers markets to music festivals, that can help you find a sense of belonging. You can look for activities at spiritual or religious facilities, cultural or community centers, or local schools.

2. Sign up for a class

Classes are another setting where you can meet new people while pursuing a common interest, whether it's painting, cooking, dancing, or something else. Resources like Meetup can connect you with people who share your interests. Or you can check places like art or dance studios and culinary schools for options. 

Taking a class is one of many activities that can help you work on your social skills. These skills allow you to communicate and connect with others, both verbally and nonverbally. And they can help build your confidence. 

3. Help others

Volunteering may improve your mental health by giving you a sense of purpose and boosting your self-esteem. VolunteerMatch can help you find causes you care about and community groups that could benefit from your support.

4. Move your body and mingle 

The benefits of regular exercise for your body and mind can't be overstated. Physical activity can boost your mood and reduce your risk of depression and anxiety. And that can be particularly helpful when you’re dealing with loneliness, which has been linked to these mental health conditions. 

Bonus points if you make exercising a social activity, which may decrease feelings of isolation. You can join a gym or use resources like ZogSports that connect you to like-minded amateur sports enthusiasts.

5. Try meditation and other relaxation techniques

Finding healthy ways to manage stress may help you deal with loneliness. This includes mindfulness-based practices, like meditation, that have been shown to increase relaxation and decrease feelings of loneliness

6. Spend time in nature

Going outside and spending time in nature has been linked to better mental health and well-being. One study found that exposure to a natural environment –– like seeing the sky and hearing birds chirping –– reduced participants’ risk of loneliness by 28%. Try adding nature walks to your weekly routine to replicate these benefits. 

7. Get professional support

There are lots of self-help resources out there. But sometimes, it's best to seek out professional support. A licensed therapist can help you manage, build, and sustain relationships to help combat loneliness. 

How can you prevent loneliness? 

You may not be able to avoid loneliness altogether. But it is possible to reduce your risk of feeling isolated. These tips may help: 

  • Make time for daily connection. Regular human interaction is key to combating and avoiding loneliness. Spend at least 15 minutes every day talking with or writing to someone. Small, regular moments of connection, like checking in on a neighbor or asking someone how they’re doing, add up.

  • Create quality interactions. Limit distractions and focus on one activity or person at a time while spending quality time with friends or loved ones. Practicing mindfulness and being present can improve the quality of your interactions and strengthen your existing relationships. 

  • Spend time with pets. Research suggests that having pets may reduce loneliness. They’re not a replacement for humans, but they can help keep you company.

What does loneliness feel like?

Everyone talks about loneliness, but what does it really feel like? Loneliness is a mental state characterized by feelings of isolation or emptiness. It's possible to feel loneliness when you're physically alone, though that's not always the case. You can feel lonely even when you're surrounded by people. 

According to Brown, loneliness can affect your emotions and behaviors. While that looks different for everyone, you may recognize some of these signs of loneliness:

  • Experiencing mood changes, such as feeling sad, irritable, or worried

  • Having low self-esteem, doubting yourself, or feeling like you’re not good enough

  • Feeling stuck in a bubble or disconnected 

  • Feeling misunderstood or like others don’t quite “get” you

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless about your present and future life

  • Lacking your usual energy or interest in everyday activities

  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough

  • Experiencing body aches and pains

  • Having a change in appetite or eating more or less than usual

What should you do if you experience chronic loneliness?

Most people feel lonely from time to time. But if you have worsening or persistent feelings of isolation, you might be experiencing chronic loneliness. Although chronic loneliness isn’t a diagnosis, it may indicate other mental health issues, like social anxiety or depression.

Professional therapy can help you uncover the cause of your extreme loneliness and work to heal. Consider talking to your healthcare provider if you notice signs of chronic loneliness, such as: 

  • Social fatigue, anxiety, or depression 

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep 

  • Increased drinking or substance use 

  • Excessive shopping or binge-watching television 

Does loneliness impact your mental health?

When you feel lonely, it can impact your mental health. In the short term, that may cause you to feel down or less motivated than usual. But over time, you may notice those feelings don’t go away. Loneliness can be a symptom of a mental illness, or it may contribute to the development of a mental health condition. 

Common mental health issues associated with loneliness include: 

There may also be physical health risks linked to loneliness. Researchers have found that the health risks of ongoing loneliness can be similar to the risks of smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Loneliness may be associated with a higher risk for conditions like:

  • Obesity

  • Heart disease

  • Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease

The bottom line

Loneliness — not having enough close, quality connection to others — is an experience everyone has now and then. Ongoing, extreme loneliness, however, may put you at risk of developing a mental or physical health condition. So knowing how to deal with loneliness is important to your overall health and quality of life. 

You can build strong connections that reduce loneliness through various strategies and activities. Examples include maintaining regular contact with loved ones, joining a class or club, and finding ways to give back to others. 

References

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Campagne, D. M. (2019). Stress and perceived social isolation (loneliness). Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.

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GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

For additional resources or to connect with mental health services in your area, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. For immediate assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

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