We all feel lonely at times. Perhaps you felt isolated or alone in your family of origin—and still do. Maybe you experience loneliness within your peer group or work environment. You may want a close relationship with a friend or partner but don’t know how to reach out or get closer emotionally.
There is a stigma in admitting to feelings of loneliness, and if we lack meaningful connection to the people in our everyday lives, we may conclude that there’s something wrong with us, that we are somehow unlikeable or unlovable.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family in which emotional connectedness is not taught or encouraged can add to this burden. If children are not shown that they are safe and can trust their caretakers and families, it can lead them to keep a certain emotional distance.
While I have learned from my research on narcissistic families that loneliness and isolation are quite common, I found it profoundly interesting when U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently cited loneliness as a serious mental health hazard that impacts half the adults in our country. The findings link loneliness to billions of dollars of health care costs and show that loneliness has significant effects not only on mental health, but also on increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. The Surgeon General calls loneliness a new public health epidemic in an 85-page advisory report and admits that he, too, has suffered from loneliness.
Common sense tells us that this loneliness epidemic may be a part of our changing culture, exacerbated since the advent of the pandemic, the spread of electronic devices and social media, and more hybrid and/or working-at-home employment.
But, what about the stigma of feeling lonely? If people can’t admit it, talk about it, brainstorm about it, or ask for help, how can the 50 percent of Americans who report that they're lonely ever hope to combat their loneliness? Emotional connectedness with others we care about is the key to unlocking isolation and loneliness.
So, how does one begin to tackle the loneliness problem?
10 Tips to Combat Loneliness
- Stop telling yourself that you’re lonely because something is wrong with you and that you’re unlikable. Negative self-talk can keep you in a cycle of isolation.
- Start talking about loneliness to others. You’ll be surprised, if people are honest with you, how common it is.
- Reach out to others in small ways, such as offering a smile, helping someone at the grocery store, or talking to someone when you are out and about.
- Practice connecting with colleagues, friends, family, and loved ones on a deeper level, rather than sticking to superficial topics of discussion. Remember, it's the deeper connections that help you to feel close to someone.
- Teach your children how to emotionally connect with you and each other. This involves talking about your feelings, good or bad.
- Don’t fool yourself into believing you are connected to “friends” just because you have a lot of social media contacts or acquaintances. Such media connections are not the same as truly active friendships.
- When it occurs to you to follow up with someone who you want to get to know, just do it and see what happens. You’ll likely find that other people want to connect, too, and will appreciate your initiative.
- Get involved in activities that interest you and that involve other people. For example: church activities; volunteer groups; book clubs; dancing, sports, or any group activity that draws you in.
- When friends or co-workers invite you to a gathering, make yourself go—even for a short time. Being around people, even if you’re not initially inclined to do so, is good practice. Making friends will come gradually, and patience is the key.
- If you struggle with how to deal with your loneliness, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health practitioner. Be honest about what it feels like to be lonely and how it is affecting you. Having a sounding board and some support will help you get started on the path to feeling less lonely.
Remember: 50 percent of people in the U.S. are lonely. You are not alone. We are here on this human journey together, and we can help each other become more connected.
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.