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Depressed and Single? 14 Ways to Cope and Reclaim Your Life

How do you set yourself up for success in singlehood, and a future relationship?

Key points

  • How to cope with the distress of singlehood.
  • Tips for single people to manage their thoughts and emotions.
  • How to connect with others and build a strong social network.

The only true safety nature offers is loving connection. —Susan Johnson

Single people who come see me for therapy tend to struggle. As humans, we're wired to need safe emotional and physical intimacy.

Despite its perks, singlehood is usually challenging for most people (it was for me too back in the day) and fundamentally unnatural to our social brain circuitry and mammalian survival drive to bond intimately, romantically, and sexually. The pain of aloneness and disconnection can be just as bad as physical pain, if not worse (Coan, 2006; Johnson, 2019).

In my quest to be of more help to my unhappily single clients, I've compiled go-to strategies that seem to help, at least to a degree, many of which are based on research.

I've found that, depending on the person, some work more than others—you can build from the ones you like and discard those you don't. The below strategies can also become sources of personal growth, resilience, insight, and self-initiative: Developing these qualities can also help you find the intimacy you so deeply crave and need. Understandably, self-work helps us succeed in intimate relationships.

How to Manage Distress Related to Singlehood

1. Focus on your positives.

The research on confidence, growth mindsets, and focus (as Dr. Michael Yapko says, "what you focus on, you amplify") is very clear. Ask yourself, like my father used to ask me when I was depressed about my dating life: What do you bring to the table?

What are your strengths and positive qualities? Take a few moments to think about them—and don’t settle on just one or two; there are almost certainly more, possibly hundreds. What would those who love you most say they love about you?

The more in touch you are with your positive attributes, the more confidence and clarity you’ll bring to your dates, future partner(s), and perspective on your romantic history. Partners in successful relationships are always well-aware of the assets they bring to the table.

2. Stay aware of past negatives.

If you were in prior relationships that didn't work out, it's important to reflect on why. What was not working with your ex(s)? What needs weren’t met? How deep was the quality of your connection, especially when there was a conflict? It's tempting to idealize one's past relationships, especially when one is feeling lonely. But it's vital to have as complete and objective a view as possible.

3. Check your thought patterns.

Look for the following thinking distortions that tend to run rampant for suffering singles (Cawthorne et al., 2022; Cruwys et al., 2022):

  • Futurizing is thinking it will always be this way because it is now. An example is, “I’ll be single forever.”
  • Generalizing is when you reach sweeping conclusions, like that you’re unlovable, from just one event, like a discouraging break-up. One event or relationship shouldn’t shape your view of yourself too much. Temporarily being single or alone, even when you feel surrounded by other people's “happily ever after,” does not imply you aren’t lovable. Almost everyone has felt lonely at one point in time.
  • Polarized thinking is when you're stuck in an all-or-nothing, black-or-white frame—you may think, for example, that every day would be perfect if you were partnered. There’s much more gray in life; happily partnered people can have the worst days together and singles can have the best ones. Looking out for black-and-white thoughts can help you not catastrophize and acknowledge that unpleasant things happen. With practice, you’ll be better able to recognize when thoughts are irrational and shift your internal monologue.

4. Conquer social media.

I know it sounds like a no-brainer, and it's been discussed ad nauseam, but recent research suggests that it's still worth underscoring (Prasad et al., 2023). If seeing many seemingly happy couples on social media is dragging you down, you can shift your behavior to be more intentional and proactive with your social media use, instead of logging on reactively or habitually. You can also actively unfollow couples on social media and more actively control your feed's algorithm.

On social media, but also in general, make an effort to manage your self-comparisons. Comparing ourselves to others is part of being human—so if you can't help it, make sure that you're down-comparing as much as you're up-comparing. Yes, there are many happy partnered people—but also many in miserable relationships, and many in even worse situations than you.

5. Mindfully feel.

Mindfulness is also overly discussed in recent years, but ongoing research, including some I've conducted, shows that it can help bolster resilience (Linder & Mancini, 2021).

Often, trying to distract yourself from the pain of a recent breakup, for example, only serves to make it worse. Instead, it may be helpful to periodically carve out time to feel the pain for a few moments or minutes.

When you find the courage, it’s worth trying to open up to your pain and noticing what you feel in your body and mind. See if it’s as bad as you think. Often, anticipating or avoiding the pain is worse than just feeling and noticing it mindfully, like trains passing by at a train station.

Life will always throw curveballs at us. Being able to accept, notice, and be with painful experiences, even briefly, is another vital psychological muscle you can build.

6. See the big picture.

Remember that you are much more than your relationship status. Romantic relationships are just one of many key areas that make life worth living—so are helping others, physical and mental health, career, social life, family life, and spirituality, among others. Defining your identity from just one of these, like your romantic relationship status, sets you up for failure, in dating, and life.

7. Connect to others.

Use the reminders of love that pop up at this time of year as opportunities to connect to the other important people in your life—like your family, your friends, your colleagues, and yourself. Celebrating human connection doesn’t always have to be romantic or sexual.

8. Reflect on your dating history.

No. 8 is similar to No. 2 but expanded. What's gone well in your previous dates and what hasn't? Reflect, especially, on how your and your partners' emotional needs changed over time. Relationships often begin to crumble when one partner’s emotional needs shift—that is when the foundation upon which the relationship was built no longer supports each other’s growth. This includes addressing any past dating, family, relationship, or attachment trauma you've been through and using EMDR therapy, if appropriate.

9. Host or plan a single's party.

There are always other single unpartnered people out there to bond with; find them and get together. Play games, if you like, or just cultivate cohesion, laughter, and fun.

10. Practice altruism.

Volunteer at a soup kitchen, local church, school, or hospital, or do something nice for someone that needs it without focusing on the reward. Remember, the quality of all your connections, not just your romantic ones, reflects the quality of your life.

11. Prepare.

If you're currently struggling with a breakup, anticipate and prepare for the emotional difficulties that happen when you see a reminder of your ex(s). Think of yourself like a skilled athlete preparing for an upcoming game; training and preparation can do wonders for helping you preserve your relational and mental health. This also includes learning about what healthy relationships look like by reviewing books such as Attached (2010) or Hold Me Tight (2008).

12. Connect to yourself on a deeper level.

The more connected you are to yourself, the greater your capacity to connect to others. Do something fun or special alone—if you can enjoy it, it may even help set you up for success in dating because it will foster self-reliance and self-assuredness.

Another way to connect to your internal self is to practice journaling. Feeling the urge to text your ex? Write it in your journal instead. I can’t tell you how many times I thought sending something was a good idea only to see how absurd it looked on the page a few hours or days later.

This practice also gives you a snapshot of how your mindset changes day to day. Odds are that months later, you’ll notice a lot of interesting patterns replete with self-insight.

13. Learn about context-based relationships.

Were your previous relationships context-based? Such relationships are forged under unique conditions in an otherwise unnatural setting (Linder, 1992). They came together in a particular context of shared experiences, challenges, and purposes that deepened their connection.

In the short term, the context may have forced them to have to stick close together, be in sync, and rely on and trust each other unconditionally—a situation most conducive for full expression and engagement with each other.

But in the long term, the context will inevitably change—and therefore, it doesn’t make for a solid foundation. The greatest strength of a context-based relationship is thus its greatest weakness.

The pandemic is a prime example. For many, it shifted the way relationships begin, develop, and succeed or fail. Ask yourself: Would your past relationship have been just as viable in our "new normal"?

14. Talk to someone who specializes in what's troubling you.

With the help of a mental health professional, you can get even better and tailored recommendations and insights into your dating challenges that will help with healing after a relationship breakup and excel as a single. To find help near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H. S., & Davidson, R. J. (2006). Lending a hand: Social regulation of the neural response to threat. Psychological science, 17(12), 1032-1039.

Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. Little, Brown Spark.

Johnson, S. M. (2019). Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. Guilford Publications.

Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2010). Attached: the new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find--and keep--love. Penguin. Chicago

Linder, D. A. (1992). Dating: a guide to creating intimate relationships. Self-published.

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