Remember: We all feel lonely sometimes
It has been reported that one in five Americans
suffers from persistent loneliness. Knowing this can bring us some solace; the feeling of loneliness is something many others near and far face in various forms. Loneliness can be a physical distance from family and friends or it can be perceived emotional distance. A perceived sense of isolation can involve feeling alone in certain areas of life. Maybe we think we're the only ones around us who worry about body image, suffer from embarrassment, or have financial woes. This is simply not true. Maybe success is a lonely experience for us. Maybe we're the only entrepreneurs in our community or perhaps we just got promoted when everyone around us seems to be struggling. We may have different reasons for being lonely, but at one point or another, we've all felt it. (Don't miss these 17 little things you can do to connect with others
Know what loneliness means to you
There's a difference between company and companionship: one might involve polite small talk and the other an intimate heart-to-heart. When we're feeling lonely, it's likely we are hoping to experience the latter. That said, knowing what you need to not feel lonely is key. John T. Cacioppo, neuroscientist and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection,
writes, "Being with others doesn't mean you're going to feel connected, and being alone doesn't mean you're going to feel lonely." You might be a solitude-enjoying introvert
or you might, out of personal preference, avoid alone time in favor of being with others. A feeling of empty disconnection or a longing to experience a sense of belonging can be a form of loneliness that occurs in the presence of others. On the flip side, a peaceful awareness can arise when one is solo. Observe your emotions and define loneliness for yourself.
Accept your need for connection
Humans are social beings and we need one another. Cacioppo, also the founding director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, writes, "People who get stuck in loneliness have not done anything wrong. None of us is immune to feelings of isolation, any more than we are immune to feelings of hunger or physical pain." Long-term loneliness endangers our health; leading to cognitive decline, weakened immune systems, and a host of diseases. Over time, the health risks of feeling chronically alone
can be deadly. The feeling of undesired aloneness often coincides with emotional pain. This pain might be temporary or more long-lasting. It's important to know that the desire to be with others in a meaningful way is a real need in the same way food or water is. Accepting
this doesn't change the reality but it can a starting place to figure out what comes next.
Don't blame yourself
Since it's known that lonely people tend to blame themselves or sometimes others for their isolation, it's important to remember that loneliness is an epidemic shaped by many forces; the proliferation of social media, the scattered nature of American life, the transience of jobs, divorce, rise in single-parent homes, the popularity of living alone, and the hectic pace of modern society. Acknowledging these forces as influencing your feelings takes some of the burdens off yourself. Here are other ways you can be nicer to yourself
Make eye contact
One baby step we can take toward connection just requires us to notice someone. Making intentional eye contact with a passerby is a warm gesture that has the power to make both parties feel a little more in touch with the rest of the human race. Researchers from Purdue University
had volunteers test out this small but influential social cue when they asked one group to look directly at people within a well-populated path and another group to avert their gaze. Afterward they asked both groups to rate their levels of connectiveness; it turns out that simply being acknowledged makes a difference. Want to do more? Find out ideas for random acts of kindness that can change someone's life today
Join a cause-based community
Find an organization that supports a cause you care about so you can surround yourself with people who have hearts for the same mission. Dorothy Day, a legendary Catholic social activist, "We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community." Volunteermatch.org
might be a good place to search.
Join a running club
Running groups offer a special kind of community; one that might lead to newfound exercise accountability and camaraderie. Since running is known for offering union between the body and mind, pushing yourself to physical limits with a group is bound to be a bonding experience. You can find a running group in your area through Road Runners
. Interested in combining running with charity? Check out Back on My Feet
, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless people gain independence and community. Here's how starting a running routine changes your body and your mind
Help people in need
Volunteering as an antidote to loneliness is not merely a means to meet others or do a good deed. It's a way to feel needed. Helping others who need us is a wonderful form of intimate connection that is sure to reduce feelings of isolation. You can help others in unofficial ways like giving someone directions on the street or helping a neighbor rearrange furniture or you can get involved with an organization that delivers meals to the elderly or helps low-income populations with job applications.
Send someone a handwritten note
A note from a friend or loved one can be a pleasant surprise in a mailbox full of coupons and bills. Of course, it would be lovely to be on the receiving end of a thoughtful note, but being the one to send someone an unexpected message has its benefits too. In True Belonging: Mindful Practices to Help You Overcome Loneliness, Connect with Others and Cultivate Happiness
, author Jeffrey Brantley, suggests telling one person that you love them. A letter is a great way to do this. Writing a message with the purpose of uplifting someone boosts your sense of belonging and self-esteem. Not sure who to write to? Try giving a note to a stranger. Need inspiration? Look no further than Hannah Brencher, author of If You Find This Letter
and creator of The World Needs More Love Letters
Don't assume money will help
In our material-obsessed culture, we have the tendency blame disconnection on a lack of material possession. It's even possible to think a financial boost would lift us out of a social rut. We think extra money would give us resources for fancy dinners out or lavish trips. We think this will make us happier and therefore, less alone. Not so fast. Keep in mind wealth doesn't cancel out loneliness. A Boston College survey
studied people with an average net worth of $78 million. Researchers found people with extreme wealth are not immune to anxiety, loneliness, and unhappiness.