Loneliness is something that affects people everywhere, yet so few of us feel comfortable talking about it. Research shows that in 2022 49% of adults in the UK were occasionally, often, sometimes, or always lonely – that’s over 25 million people.
Loneliness is complex and can affect people in different ways. Some people feel lonely when they’re in a room full of friends, while others feel lonely after the death of a partner, or when they move to a new area.
Acknowledging that you’re feeling lonely isn’t always easy. Some people judge themselves and avoid discussing their loneliness with others, due to embarrassment or fear about what people might think. But being hard on yourself and keeping your feelings bottled up can make it even more difficult to take steps towards solving the problem.
It’s entirely possible to overcome loneliness, and we’ll look at some potential ways to do so in this article.
We hope that these ideas set you on the road to feeling happier again.
What is loneliness and what causes it?
Loneliness is sometimes thought of as being synonymous with being alone, but it’s actually an emotional response.
People who feel lonely tend to feel unwanted, empty, and/or alone. They might crave human contact at the same time as feeling unworthy of the attention of others.
Some lonely people find themselves avoiding being social with others because their state of mind convinces them that they’re unlikeable.
Loneliness can have multiple root causes, and while there are people who feel lonely because they’re lacking human contact, it’s also entirely possible to feel lonely and isolated without actually being alone.
Common scenarios which might cause people to feel lonely include…
Having a great circle of friends, but missing the deep connection and intimacy that comes with being in a romantic relationship.
Having a great relationship with your spouse, but feeling that you don’t have many solid friendship connections.
Bereavement – when someone we love dies, or when we’re going through a divorce or separation, we can feel lonely.
- Empty nest syndrome – if your grown-up children have recently left home, this can leave you feeling pretty empty, and you might experience a loss of purpose. Many parents feel like they aren’t needed anymore when their kids leave home, which can bring on feelings of loneliness.
- Having positive relationships with a partner and with friends and family, but still feeling alone inside your head. This can happen when you don’t share enough of the same interests, experiences, and beliefs as the people around you, causing you to feel misunderstood or disconnected.
People in this situation sometimes describe having an out-of-body experience in social situations – as though they can see and hear themselves smiling, laughing, and chatting away, but inside they just feel empty.
Constantly comparing yourself to others. Have you ever felt quite content, until you spent an evening scrolling through your social media feeds and wondering why everyone seems to be doing something so much more exciting than you? Many of us have, and it can leave you feeling left out.
Feeling lonely during large-scale celebrations and events – such as the Christmas period – where social gatherings are more prevalent. For people who’ve lost friends or family members, or who don’t have friends or family to celebrate with, this can be an incredibly lonely time.
Feeling shy or struggling with social anxiety. This can make forming meaningful connections much more difficult. Even if you’re keen to get out there and socialise, you might avoid social situations or talk yourself out of them because you’re worried that you won’t know what to say or do.
How can loneliness affect health?
We all feel lonely sometimes, but if loneliness becomes the norm, it can affect both your mental and physical health.
Common symptoms of persistent loneliness (which researchers describe as feeling lonely more than once a week) can include…
- Feeling empty, unwanted, or alone
- Increased stress levels
- Low energy levels
- Feeling anxious or unable to rest
- Low confidence and self-esteem
- Increased attachment to material things (you might find yourself constantly buying things)
- Physical aches and pains, including muscle aches, headaches, and stomach pains
- Substance abuse
- Anti-social behaviour
7 tips for coping with loneliness
Loneliness is something we might encounter at different life stages, so it can be helpful to have a few tools to help you cope with loneliness – and where possible, overcome it.
Below are seven ways to try and tackle feelings of loneliness that we hope you’ll find useful.
1. Acknowledge how loneliness could be affecting your life
Loneliness can manifest itself in a number of ways and have several different root causes, so it’s not always easy to identify. It’s also not uncommon for us to be so busy with work and other commitments, that we simply don’t find the time to stop and acknowledge how we’re really feeling.
Not everyone realises that loneliness is affecting their life. Some people may attribute a low mood to depression, before realising that they are, in fact, lonely. You might find yourself binge-watching TV shows or repeatedly buying things online and wondering why you feel so empty.
People often do this because they’re trying to fill a void that would usually be filled by connecting with others in meaningful ways. Or perhaps, rather than enjoying social media, it just makes you feel deflated and left out – because you’re constantly comparing your social life to others.
It can be painful to admit that you’re lonely because, as humans, we thrive on forming and nurturing meaningful human connections. And when we acknowledge that we’re lonely, we’re acknowledging that this is something we’re lacking. But doing so can help you to carve a more positive path forward.
2. Try to foster meaningful, high-quality relationships
If you have plenty of people around you but still feel lonely – it’s likely because the majority of your relationships don’t run deep enough.
For example, you could have 50 acquaintances that you regularly say hi to and have a chat with. But, if you don’t have any shared interests or experiences, then you won’t be able to create strong and meaningful bonds with these people.
Similarly, if you have a loving family and partner but they can’t relate fully to something you’re particularly passionate about or are going through, you might feel lonely because you feel misunderstood.
As we age, we evolve and develop new interests and passions, and not everyone who’s already in your life will share these. So sometimes we have to make a conscious effort to create new friendships and connections as our interests branch out.
For this reason, it can be a good idea to do some self-exploration. Consider what really matters to you in life: what are your passions, interests, and core values? Once you identify these things it can become easier to connect with like-minded people.
For example, if you’ve recently developed a passion for oil painting, it might be helpful to join an art community or class, where you can meet other artists. Or, if you’re particularly passionate about fitness, you could try joining a running or cycling community – or attending a gym class.
Sometimes, your relationships can be like a jigsaw, where each high-quality relationship formed can act as an important piece of the puzzle. When there’s an aspect of your life that you’d like to share with someone but can’t, it can feel as though a piece of your puzzle is missing.
A helpful way to combat this is to try and get to the bottom of what aspects of your life are causing you to feel the most lonely. This will place you in a better position to start considering how you can form meaningful, high-quality relationships in this area.
3. Expect the best outcome - don’t assume that people will reject you
Overcoming loneliness can be more of a challenge if you assume the worst outcome for every social situation.
When we convince ourselves that we’re unlikeable or that we’ll be rejected if we show our authentic selves, we tend to either avoid situations where we could make solid connections with people or hold ourselves back.
If you’ve become accustomed to expect the worst from social situations, it can be tricky to steer away from this line of thinking. But, once you do, you’ll be much more likely to say yes to social invitations, initiate contact with others yourself, and build stronger bonds with people – all of which can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. So, next time you’re invited to catch up with an old acquaintance, try not to overthink it before you accept.
Often, the longer we ponder over accepting an invite, the more likely we are to overthink the situation and say no. If you find yourself dreading an event and worrying about it being awkward, try to put a positive spin on things. What if you really enjoy yourself and end up arranging to meet up again? And what if you have more in common than you initially thought?
When it comes to loneliness, it’s easy to trick yourself into feeling that you have to stay lonely, due to fears that you won’t fit in or be liked. But you can remove the power of these thoughts by shutting them down and replacing them with something more positive.
You might be surprised by what can happen when you choose to believe in a more positive outcome.
4. Try to focus on the positives of being alone
While it’s important to nurture meaningful relationships with others, it’s equally beneficial to feel comfortable being alone with yourself.
There are times in our lives when we will all find ourselves alone. But, this doesn’t always have to mean feeling lonely if you can learn to enjoy time by yourself.
As humans, we often want what we can’t have, so reminding ourselves of the positives of being alone can be a helpful way to reduce cravings of being somewhere else.
Part of being able to enjoy your own company involves learning how to manage some of the negative thoughts and emotions that might rush in when you’re alone.
Try to carve out time in your day – say 30 minutes – to deal with any draining emotions or negative thoughts that you might need to work through. If you’re a worrier, allocating a specific time slot for your worries will hopefully allow you to control and minimise them.
It can also help to focus on the perks of alone time. You get to stretch out, put the radio on loud, dance like no one’s watching and be 100% yourself.
Many people find that it’s actually the feeling of being wanted and included that stops them from feeling lonely – not the act of attending a social event. Have you ever sat at home alone on a Friday evening feeling lonely, only to have a friend invite you somewhere during the week? And then as if by magic, a night snuggled up on the sofa doesn’t feel so bad after all?
Often, just the fact that someone is thinking of you and wants to see you can give you the validation and reassurance that you need to not be plagued with lonely thoughts.
Becoming more comfortable with your own company will often make spending an evening at home alone seem okay, and hopefully ease feelings of loneliness.
5. Try not to compare yourself to others
Sometimes, loneliness develops when we spend too much time comparing ourselves to others.
The rise of social media has made this all the more common. People now spend hours scrolling through their social media feeds wondering why they don’t go out for dinner several nights a week, or why they aren’t jet-setting around the world like their friends or acquaintances. But this can leave you feeling stressed, left out, and inadequate.
The reality is that there’s no way of knowing whether the people you’re comparing yourself to are truly happy, or whether they’re just creating the impression that they are. Either way, their journey and experiences are no reflection of yours – so try to keep things in perspective.
When reflecting on your own goals and achievements, the only person you should compare yourself to is you. It’s tricky to find true contentment if you’re constantly wishing you had someone else’s life, so it’s a good habit to try and break.
6. Be brave and speak up - it'll get easier
It’s not unusual for people to experience loneliness because they feel invisible, and are afraid to express themselves or voice their opinion for fear of judgement. If this sounds like you, you might feel that it’s easier to blend in and keep quiet. But, often this can keep you living in a state of loneliness.
We all have thoughts, opinions, and beliefs – but it’s often only when we share them that our place in the world feels more established and our sense of purpose and self-assurance increases.
Speaking up can mean many things – sharing ideas at work, learning to be more honest with your friends and family, or finally having the courage to let people see the real you.
The first few times you speak up in uncomfortable situations can be nerve-wracking and take you completely outside of your comfort zone (expect sweaty palms and a racing heart!). But the more you do it, you’ll learn that your thoughts and feelings are valid and that other people are willing to listen.
Those first steps are always a little daunting, but they can be some of the most rewarding steps you’ll ever take.
7. Believe in yourself
It may sound trite, but believing in yourself can be a significant step towards overcoming loneliness.
Remind yourself that you have a lot to offer the world and are worthy of love and attention. Try to boost yourself up, rather than putting yourself down.
Being lonely isn’t a reflection of your character or something that has to be permanent. There are plenty of people out there who would be both appreciative and grateful for your company, so try to remind yourself of that whenever you need to. Why not pick the phone up right now and make an old friend smile?
It’s possible to work on reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation using the steps above. However, if you find yourself with persistent feelings of loneliness or are struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
If you’re feeling really low and struggling to pick yourself back up, it’s worth contacting your GP, who can talk you through any options that might be available.
Or, you can also contact The Silver Line (a free, confidential telephone service for older people), Samaritans, or Crisis Text Line which all offer 24/7 support to anyone who could use a listening ear.
Try to keep in mind that just because you feel alone, it doesn’t mean that you are, and things can get better with a little time and perseverance.
Do you have any additional tips on coping with loneliness? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.