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How to Relieve Loneliness When No One's Around

You can alleviate your loneliness even when you're alone.

Source: Actionvance/Unsplash

With COVID rates surging, many of us are opting to ditch our travel plans and spend the holiday alone. But that doesn't mean the holidays have to be lonely. Science reveals that there are ways to feel more connected, even when no one's around. Here's how:

1. Engage in a Hobby: Research finds that a distinguishing characteristic of people who are alone but not lonely is that they feel in control. It's not that they are without friends; it's that they choose to be alone. Other research finds that people who spend time alone of their own volition experience less loneliness and higher well-being. These studies suggest that when we can relate to our time alone as an offering, then it's less likely to sting like loneliness. We can do so by engaging in a hobby. Cooking, crafts, house projects: these are activities that will transform our alone time into something that feels meaningful and fulfilling.

2. Avoid watching TV and scrolling social media: In the book Bowling Alone, author Robert D. Putnam examines various factors that explain why our social engagement has been shrinking over the last few decades. Is it our longer commute times? Residential mobility? Increased gender parity in the working world? According to his extensive research, none of these explained decreased social engagement as much as the creation of the TV. "If TV steals time, it also seems to encourage lethargy and passivity," Putnam argues, a phenomenon my friends and I call "the plop effect," plop down on your couch and you'll never get off, no matter how lousy it starts to feel. His book came out before the rise of social media, but it's likely that scrolling on social media has the same effects, given studies that link a sedentary lifestyle to increased loneliness. While technology is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to distracting us from our loneliness, it'll only make us more lonely in the long run.

3. Look for the beauty in everyday things: In one intervention, people were told to go on an "awe walk" for fifteen minutes a day, during which they spent their time noticing everyday beauty, like the vibrant colors of the fall leaves, or the breeze against their face. At the end of the intervention, this group felt more socially connected than a control group of walkers. Other research finds links between gratitude and loneliness, suggesting that if we look for things to be thankful for, or relish the beauties of life, we'll feel more connected, even when we're alone.

4. Practice loving-kindness meditation: Loving-kindness meditation involves us meditating on the love we have for those around us and has been found to increase feelings of social connection, even when only done for a few minutes (my favorite loving-kindness video is here). This research reveals that loneliness isn't just determined by whether we are in another's presence, but also by the internal feelings of connectedness we cultivate, even when alone.

Note: This article is cross-posted on my friendship blog, where you can take a quiz to assess your friendship strengths.