For Ourselves

10 things to try if you're feeling lonely

Feeling lonely is something that happens to many of us during our lives.

The good news is that there are things we can do about it, and they don’t all involve throwing ourselves into scary social situations. The list below is a summary of suggestions from researchers and clinical experts.

1. Identify the cause

People become lonely for different reasons, so solutions to loneliness vary from one person to another.

Think about what is making you lonely, as that may help you understand what steps you can take to change your situation.

2. Learn about how loneliness can affect your thoughts and behaviour

Loneliness that goes on for a long time can lead to a pattern of increasing passivity and withdrawal.

Understanding how loneliness may be affecting your thoughts and behaviour can help you to gain back control.

The late Professor John Cacioppo was a leading world expert on loneliness and how it affects us.

In this blog, he offers a process to ease your way out of chronic loneliness by changing your thinking, making a plan, and taking manageable steps.

In this video, he talks about how to tackle loneliness, and explains how feeling lonely affects our thoughts and behaviour.

3. Be compassionate with yourself

Try to challenge any unkind thoughts you may be having about yourself, practise replacing these with positive statements, and avoid comparing yourself to others.

What people choose to share isn’t always an accurate picture of how life is really going for them.

In this TED talk, psychologist Guy Winch tells us how to practice emotional first aid, and protect our self-esteem through painful life experiences such as failure and loneliness.

4. Look after yourself physically

Think about your own wellbeing.

Things like getting enough sleep, eating good food, getting out of the house, taking some gentle exercise, and avoiding recreational drugs and alcohol can all help to lift your mood and energy, and can put you in a better position to take action on loneliness.

5. Make your bed

If our environment is disordered, it can add to feelings of loneliness, depression, and loss of control, and can also limit social interaction.

Simple routines like making your bed in the morning, or doing the dishes before going to bed can make if feel more comfortable to be at home alone, as well as increasing your confidence to invite others into your space.

6. Get comfortable with your own company

Seeking company out of desperation, because we fear spending time alone can mean that we settle for poor interactions that can lead to increased feelings of loneliness.

Learning to be comfortable with being alone means that we can seek company from a position of greater strength.

Doing something you enjoy can take your mind off loneliness, whether it’s getting absorbed in a book, listening to music, a creative hobby, or taking yourself out for a coffee, a movie, a walk, or a swim.

Other suggestions for lifting your mood include singing out loud, meditation, or keeping a daily gratefulness journal.

7. Take small, manageable steps toward more social connection

Just going out of the house to where there are people can be a first step, and can lead to brief, non-threatening interactions.

While you’re out, practice smiling and saying hallo to people you pass in the street, have a brief chat with a cashier, or exchange a comment about the weather.

Practising small talk in this way can make it easier to take part in conversations in more structured situations.

8. Make a plan

To make more lasting connections focus on what interests you, in order to meet people you are likely to get on with.

So, if you’re interested in reading for example, look for a book club or meetup to join.

Another way of connecting with like-minded people in a non-threatening way is to volunteer. Again, look for organisations and volunteer roles that interest you.

A third strategy is to reach out, and increase connection with people you already know, such as old friends, or members of your close or extended family.

9. Be realistic, but hopeful

In this blog John Caccioppo urged us to expect the best from other people, and work on reaching out to others with warmth, generosity, and goodwill.

All relationships will involve moments of friction, and it’s important to keep these in perspective, and remain optimistic and consistent in our efforts to connect. 

Ellen Hendrikson (clinical psychiatrist and author) advises that it takes 6-8 conversations before someone considers us a friend, so we need to be patient.

She adds that, as long as we are mutually kind, we tend to become friends with whoever we see most often. So we increase the likelihood of making friends if we put ourselves in situations where we see the same faces again and again.

10. Ask for help if you need it

All the above are self-help strategies. If you can’t see how to get started, or you’re trying things but not feeling better, it’s important to ask for help.

Loneliness can be complicated by other issues such as grief or depression which can make it harder to overcome, and the right help can make all the difference. 

If your feelings or situation are overwhelming, there are many organisations and people ready to listen. There are also organisations that offer opportunities and support for those wanting to connect with other people. Find out where you can Get Help Now.

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