Feeling lonely? You're hardly alone. With cell phones, social media, air travel and the internet, people are more connected now than ever before. In fact, thanks to technology, a mom in Florida can speak with her child in California in an instant. But that doesn’t mean people feel seen, heard or even less lonely. Millions of Americans experience feelings of longing and isolation. Why? Because America is facing a loneliness crisis. According to a 2018 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22 percent of Americans say they constantly feel alone and that number is only rising.
“Loneliness can be defined as a pervasive sense of disconnection from family and friends,” Jason Woodrum, a licensed therapist at New Method Wellness, tells Parade. “It can manifest in a sense of actual physical distance between ourselves and others, but it’s not required. We can have a profound sense of loneliness in a room full of those that matter to us.”
Wondering how to not feel lonely? The good news is that you don't have to struggle alone. Here's what to do when you feel lonely, according to experts.
What To Do When You're Feeling Lonely, According to Experts
Acknowledge your feelings
The first and perhaps most important step to overcoming loneliness is to acknowledge it. “Recognize not only that you are feeling lonely, but acknowledge the specific reasons why that might be the case,” Woodrum says. “Did something change in your life that this can be attributed to? Have things been status quo? Either way, be easy and patient with yourself.”
Healing takes grit and perseverance. It also takes time.
Make plans and stick to them
While it can be difficult to make plans and follow through with them when you’re feeling lonely, it’s imperative that you push through the discomfort. The only way to overcome loneliness is to do things with others. “Make plans with a friend or family member,” Woodrum suggests.
Schedule a coffee date with a friend or a call, go on a walk with a neighbor or a bike ride with your family or friends. “While going out and seeking others might run contrary to how we feel, it is an active way we can change the thoughts and feelings around our loneliness,” Woodrum says.
Identify the cause of your loneliness
Once you’ve identified your feelings and have taken tangible steps to improve your mood, you need to identify the cause of your loneliness. According to Dr. Diana Concannon, a licensed psychologist and the dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, asking yourself why you're lonely is an important first step.
“If loneliness is the result of the loss of a loved one, for example, there may be a need to engage in a ritual that celebrates life and/or to simply create a space that honors loss," she says. "If a lack of quality relationships is the cause, seeking out individuals and/or creating new relationships is key. And if loneliness doesn’t seem to stem from situational factors, it is important to reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or mental health professional.
Write out a relationship inventory
Taking stock of what you have can be hard, particularly when you’re feeling down and out, but feelings aren’t facts, and taking a relationship inventory can help put things in perspective.
“Write out the people you have a relationship with in your life, including friends and family. Then, note on a scale of 1 to 10 how close [to] them you feel. This gives you helpful data to note what relationships you need to foster more than you currently are,” Dr. Lauren Cook, a therapist, speaker and author, says. It will also let you know which relationships you may want to distance yourself from.
Give yourself time to “grieve” and a night to be lonely
While it is imperative you work through your loneliness, sometimes it's helpful to sit with it. “Allow yourself time to be sad if that's how you feel and take the time to reflect on why you feel lonely,” Cook explains. “Understanding the why behind it can help you figure out how to work through it.”
Engaging in physical activity isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your mind. Running, swimming, walking and cycling are just a few ways to reduce stress. Physical activity can also reduce loneliness. According to a 2018 study, physical activity interventions may improve your psychological well-being and help with loneliness.
Writing can be very cathartic, especially if you're feeling sad or lonely, because doing so gets the negative thoughts out of your head and heart. “If you are finding it difficult to feel hopeful about the future, take a moment to write down three things you are grateful for,” says Dr. Derek Richards, a clinical psychologist and the Chief Science Officer SilverCloud Health. “This could be as simple as the weather, a pleasant chat with a neighbor or a tasty meal. Research shows that actively focusing on the positive elements of your life can help to change your outlook and improve your well-being and resilience.”
Much like writing and exercise, meditation has proven health benefits: i.e. meditating can improve your focus, concentration, self-awareness and self-esteem. It can also lower levels of anxiety and stress. “Mindfulness meditation can offset loneliness by increasing one’s connection with their inner self,” Dr. Bankole Johnson, a licensed physician and board-certified psychiatrist, explains.
Not sure where or how to begin? Check out these meditation apps, videos and programs.
Related: 92 Ways to Stress Less This Week
Care for or adopt a pet
If you’re feeling lonely, you may want to consider volunteering at an animal shelter and/or adopting a pet. “Taking on something that involves both physical and emotional bonding, such as caring for or looking after a pet, can be very cathartic,” Johnson says.
Do something creative
While coloring, cross-stitching and crocheting will not alleviate loneliness—at least not directly—engaging in a creative activity can distract you and reduce stress. So grab a jigsaw puzzle, start a DIY project or make a collage.
According to Dr. Concannon, gratitude is like a superpower. “When we remind ourselves of the people, experiences, situations and possessions for which we are grateful, we elevate our mood, strengthen our resilience, and enhance our ability to meet the challenges of the day. We are also able to realize the many meaningful connections to our lives, which serve as an antidote to loneliness.”
Volunteer your time
Another way to combat loneliness is to volunteer. Why? Because dedicating your time to others isn’t just helpful, it helps get you out of the house and out of your head.
When we feel lonely, we often wait for others to approach us. It’s habitual. Our mind tells us there is no one we can reach out to, and that makes us feel more alone. However, Cook believes the best way to combat loneliness is to take control.
“Get your phone out and call a friend, invite someone to dinner, or make the ask to spend time with a loved one,” Cook says. “Taking action over your loneliness will help you feel more empowered about your social life.”
While journaling, exercise and meditation are all forms of self-care, the importance of this act cannot be overstated. “With all the stressors these days, I can’t say enough about self-care,” William Schroeder, LPC, NCC, and the co-founder of Just Mind Counseling, says. “It’s so important to take care of yourself during stressful and lonely times. What does this mean to you? A hot cup of tea and a feel-good book or movie? Getting enough sleep and taking a 30-minute walk?”
The "what" doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take time to honor, soothe and care for yourself.
Sit under a weighted blanket
While hiding beneath a blanket may seem like a strange way to combat loneliness, weighted blankets have proven health benefits. “A hot bath or a weighted blanket can be seen as a bio-hack—one that mimics the way the body feels when it is embraced by someone else,” Kelly Edwards, a licensed marriage and family therapy associate at Just Mind Counseling, explains. Of course, this is not a cure for loneliness. However, weighted blankets can help relax the body and alleviate stress.
Focus on making your environment comfortable
You're probably spending a lot of time at home if you’re lonely, but there are a lot of things you can do to make your experience more comfortable and tolerable.
“Think about how you can make your home a more pleasant place to be,” Richards says. “Can you clean or declutter your space, or decorate it with photos or pictures? What about the smells and sounds in your environment?”
Improving your living space can improve your mood.
Join a group or club
Another great way to combat loneliness is to join a group or club. “Joining activities or hosting events with like-minded people can... help improve your mood and build significant relationships,” Lisa McGrath, a teacher, author, speaker and life coach, says.
Treat yourself as you would others
While it may seem obvious, treating yourself with love, patience and kindness is imperative, particularly when you’re down and out. Find a way to do something for yourself every day because you’re worth it. You are enough. Don’t let negativity consume you, and treat yourself as you would a close loved one or friend. Remember it’s okay to just be and breathe.
Work with a mental health professional
Loneliness can’t always be combated with tips and tricks. Sometimes, self-care and meetups with loved ones aren’t enough. If you’re still feeling sad and desolate and lost in a sea of people—or alone in a crowded room—you may want to seek professional help. Make sure to contact a mental health professional if intense feelings of isolation and loneliness last more than two weeks.
Kaiser Family Foundation: "Loneliness and Social Isolation in the United States"
Pilot and Feasibility Studies: "Physical Activity Intervention for Loneliness"
Jason Woodrum, licensed therapist at New Method Wellness
Dr. Diana Concannon, licensed psychologist and the dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University
Dr. Lauren Cook, therapist, speaker and author
Dr. Derek Richards, a clinical psychologist and the Chief Science Officer SilverCloud Health
William Schroeder, LPC, NCC, and co-founder of Just Mind Counseling
Lisa McGrath, a teacher, author, speaker and life coach