Do you ever feel lonely? It’s an emotion that more and more of us have been experiencing over the past two years, as we increasingly become settled into routines that lack the frequency and intimacy of social contact we had prior to the pandemic. Since 2020, loneliness has come to the forefront of our collective attention, and methods for overcoming loneliness have become more and more recognized as important to maintaining mental health.
Yet even if we’ve been at the routine of working or studying from home for a while now, and have adapted well, loneliness can come out of nowhere. And sometimes it can really knock the wind out of you, causing you to wonder why you suddenly feel this way, when nothing situationally has really changed that much. The feeling that there is nobody who cares about you, or that your life doesn’t matter to anyone else in the world. You might find yourself thinking those thoughts over and over again until they become a part of your daily routine. If this sounds like something that has been happening to you lately, then we’re here with some tips for coping with loneliness!
Loneliness can be hard to define because it is such an individual experience. For some people, loneliness might mean feeling isolated from others or feeling like they don’t have anyone to talk to. For others, loneliness might be more about a sense of emptiness or not belonging anywhere. The important thing is that if you are feeling lonely, it’s okay! Regardless of how it shows up for you, there are some really effective ways to cope with loneliness. What follows are 5 tips for overcoming loneliness I know to be the most reliable, and the most fun.
1. Get involved in activities that create Flow
Flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. It’s characterized by complete absorption in what we’re doing, a sense of effortlessness, and a feeling of control over the situation. Originally identified by the late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the concept has become one of the foundational pillars in the field of Positive Psychology.
In order to achieve Flow, we need to be challenged just enough – not too much, and not too little. Flow occurs at the boundary between what we know and are good at, and what is unknown and new. If we’re too challenged, we become frustrated, while if we’re not challenged enough, we become bored. Hitting the sweet spot is difficult to do, but when we get there, we definitely feel it.
There are many activities that can create a state of Flow. Some people may find it in sports or outdoor activities, while others may find it through creative endeavours like painting or writing. The important thing is to get involved in something that truly interests you and that you can lose yourself in. When you’re fully engaged in the task at hand, distractions tend to fade away and time seems to fly by.
2. Be around the right people.
Loneliness, like other mental states, is in some ways contagious. Not contagious in the way that the common cold is (you can’t “catch” depression) but we do pick up on the emotions of others. If you spend a lot of time around people with whom you don’t share much in common, or who are also lonely, chances are that you’ll feel lonely–even though you aren’t alone.
Conversely, if you spend time around people who are supportive and positive, you’re more likely to feel good about yourself. These people can be friends, family members, or even strangers. It’s important to find at least one person with whom you can connect on a deeper level. This doesn’t mean that you have to become best friends with them overnight, but simply having someone to talk to can make all the difference.
If you don’t have anyone like this in your life currently, try looking for support groups (even, yes, online!) where you can share your experiences with others who might understand what you’re going through. In these times, many people are struggling with loneliness too, and also taking the initiative to reach out, so it’s just a matter of finding them. But this ties in with my next point here.
3. Join a club or organization that interests you.
Do something to help your community, whether it is helping at an animal shelter or working for an environmental cause – just do what makes the world seem like a better place because you were there doing good deeds! Volunteering not only gets you out of the house, but it gives your life meaning. Being more connected with yourself and others is one of the best ways to combat loneliness gently without feeling overwhelmed or too pressured into doing something that makes no sense for you.
And if there’s nothing in your community that interests you, start a new club! Get some friends together who are also motivated by whatever goal this club has set out to achieve–being creative or getting involved in an activity where everyone can feel at their most comfortable level will definitely be helpful on all levels when trying to find people who share similar interest. This way, even though they might not necessarily have anything else in common besides having fun playing video games every Friday night, you’ll at least feel more connected.
4. Spend some time getting lost in books.
Take yourself away from reality by immersing yourself into another world where connection always wins out over loneliness, even when times get tough. You can become anyone and be anywhere when you read. Whether it’s a new city or entirely different world, there is something to learn from every book that will help you grow as an individual if you let it in.
It’s not just adults who reap the benefits of reading either; children who are exposed to books and stories from an early age tend to have larger vocabularies and perform better in school. In fact, one study found that children who were read to every day scored almost three grade levels higher on average than those who weren’t.
Reading has been linked with better mental health outcomes, including reducing stress and anxiety levels. Part of the reason is because it activates the areas of the brain responsible for empathy, the exact circuits that counteract stress caused by loneliness and help us to feel connected. One study even showed that reading for just six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a few minutes out of your day to read – it could make all the difference.
5. Connect with friends and family members online.
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth pointing out: loneliness can feed itself. When we feel down, we lose the energy and motivation to do the very things most likely to help us feel better. So the things that most obviously will help us–connecting with people we know we feel connected to–can feel very difficult to do.
But it’s important that we connect in the right way. Checking Facebook again may feel like the easiest thing in the world to do when you’re feeling lonely, but it’s also one of the worst things for your mental health that you can do. It becomes a vicious cycle: loneliness leads us to disconnect from people who might help us; this makes us more likely to continue avoiding connection in meaningful ways, or looking for support online where that support isn’t healthy; then our feelings of isolation are exacerbated by seeing all these other people connecting with each other while we’re not connected at all… and so on and so forth.
Sometimes it’s hard to be around people in person, so reach out video chat or by phone. You may be surprised to remember how much just hearing a friendly voice can brighten your day!
I hope that these tips help you with overcoming loneliness that might be plaguing you right now. Just remember that you are not alone in feeling this way – many other people, perhaps even a majority of people are going through the same thing right now. Reach out for help if you need it, and know that we are always here for you. Until next time!