Sometimes loneliness is brought on for reasons you can expect, like breaking up with your significant other or moving away from your friends and family, but other times it seems to just creep up out of nowhere. What’s more, loneliness is more common in today’s digital age than in generations past, so much so that it’s being called an epidemic in many Western countries like the U.S.
“For many people, social media has, to a large degree, replaced face-to-face contact,” says Aimee Bernstein, a psychotherapist, executive coach, and mindfulness-in-action teacher and author of Stress Less Achieve More. “As a society, we’ve become more inclined to sub in ‘likes’ for the exchange of energy and physical touch, both necessities for well-being.”
But unlike being alone, which is a choice, feeling alone is not and thus brings on other feelings like sadness and isolation, Bernstein explains. While there may be no long-term solution for whatever’s causing your feelings of loneliness, know that it shall pass. In the meantime, here are some expert-approved strategies for reducing feelings of loneliness while they’re present.
Recognize your emotions
Instead of hiding your emotions or shaming yourself for what you are experiencing, Tanya Otterstein-Liehs, an empowering movement and mindfulness coach, suggests acknowledging that it is quite normal to feel this way. “Accept that it's a normal human emotion, and try to hold onto positive thoughts, knowing that you won’t feel like this all the time,” she says.
Log off social media
It’s hard not to experience FOMO when scrolling through your news feeds, but don’t forget that most people post only their best moments and conceal the bad. “When only seeing the highlight reels, it can be so easy to compare your life to others and think about how full theirs looks,” says Elsie Storm, MA, transformational life coach and spiritual psychologist. “Social media also gives the perception that we are connecting with others, but oftentimes it leaves us feeling more unfilled socially than connected.”
Grab a journal
One of the best things you can do for your peace of mind, whether you're feeling particularly happy or suddenly sad, is to write things down. “Journaling gives us space to get our thoughts out of our minds and onto paper, where we can really put them into more perspective,” explains Storm. “Writing can also help us get clearer in understanding the things that we want to change in our lives.” What you write can be entirely up to you, but a great starting point is to scribble down how you’re feeling in detail and perhaps some reasons as to why you might be feeling this way.
Try something new
When you’re feeling lonely, sometimes all you need is to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people, whether it’s joining a gym, a social club or taking yourself to a Meetup event. “There's a good chance that when engaged in an activity that you enjoy, you'll meet others with similar interests,” says Bernstein. “You may not find your BFF, but there is a good chance that during the time you spend in the activity, you won't feel lonely.”
Research has shown that volunteering just a few hours a week can help reduce loneliness. “Volunteering helps facilitate social engagement and the formation of meaningful relationships with others,” says Kerri Axelrod, certified integrative nutrition health coach and yoga instructor. Not sure where to find the right volunteer opportunity? Google places nearby and activities that interest you. Love to cook? Sign up to work in a soup kitchen. Love working with children? Volunteer for an afterschool program. The opportunities are truly endless.
Even if exercise is not your favorite way to kill time, it might be just the thing that helps reduce your feelings of loneliness. When you raise your heart rate during a sweat session, your body releases endorphins that make you feel good — not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, too. These endorphins, Otterstein-Liehs explains, leave you with an increasing feeling of self-love and confidence. “Whether you choose to move your body by simply stepping out of your front door and going on a walk or you prefer more of a gym setting, whatever works for you is key,” she says. “By the time you change into workout clothes, exercise, cool-down, shower, and get dressed again, your sense of loneliness most likely will be replaced with happiness and determination.”
Call a friend
Sometimes all we need when we’re feeling down is a reminder that we are loved. Storm suggests phoning a friend the next time lonely feelings permeate — and don’t hesitate to get real about why you are calling. “While it can feel vulnerable to open up and share honestly with another person, doing so will likely support you in feeling more connected and less alone,” she says. “As you begin to open up and share more vulnerably from the heart, it gives the other person permission to do the same, which results in you feeling less alone in your problems." Knowing that you aren’t the only person out there whose life isn’t perfect, she says, is key to overcoming negative emotions.