I am feeling lonely and isolated. What can I do?
More and more people are feeling lonely and isolated than ever before. In May 2023, The U.S. Surgeon General published an advisory about the “Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation," which has developed over the past several decades and worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chronic feelings of loneliness can negatively impact our physical and mental health, and many people report feeling depressed and anxious because they are lonely.
It’s easy to be discouraged that so many people are feeling this way. The good news is that you are not alone in wanting to connect more with other people, and there are a lot of different things you can do to feel less lonely aside from making new friends. We hope that the information and resources below will help you learn more about loneliness, find ways to connect with other people, and change the way you spend your time alone so that you feel more connected, content, and fulfilled.
Loneliness vs. solitude
There is a difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness describes the feeling of discomfort or sadness that comes from being alone. If you don’t feel seen or understood, it’s possible to feel lonely even when you are in a room full of people. Solitude, on the other hand, is the state of actually being alone. Solitude means being content just to be alone with yourself. While social connection is crucially important to our mental and physical well-being, research shows that solitude is also important. Solitude can foster self-esteem, creativity, and self-reflection. It can also help you feel more curious, content, and fulfilled during your time alone. With this difference in mind, here are two things that you can do to feel less lonely:
- Connect with others to make friends, build a support network, and spend less time alone
- Explore what solitude means to you so that the time you spend alone is more restful, meaningful, and fulfilling
Connect with others
- Join a support group: Support groups connect people who share similar experiences and circumstances. There are many different types of support groups you might wish to explore depending on your identities and experiences. Learn more about NAMI’s mental health support groups at https://nami.org/Support-Education/Support-Groups and check out supportgroups.com to explore other support groups that may be of interest to you.
- Reconnect with old friends: Try reaching out to people you may have lost touch with. You can let them know they are on your mind or consider sharing a picture, meme, or story that made you think of them. Reconnecting with people you were once close to can feel just as rewarding as making new connections.
- Explore local clubs and organizations: Your community might have a gardening club, a fantasy sports league, or a number of other groups that you can join to meet other people who share your interests. Call your local library, check out your local newspaper, or search on social media for groups and clubs in your area.
- Attend classes or workshops: Sign up for a class or workshop to meet new people in a structured environment. It could be a fitness class, an art workshop, a cooking class, or any other activity you might enjoy. Participating in a class or workshop can help you meet people who share your hobbies and interests. Groupon is a good place to find nearby classes or workshops at a discounted rate.
- Check out Meetup: Meetup is a social networking site that allows you to find and join groups that host in person events for people who share your personal interests.
- Use a friendship App: There are Apps specifically designed for you to meet new friends. Bumble BFF and Meet My Dog (if you're a dog owner) are two examples.
- Join online forums and discussion groups: Join online forums and discussion groups related to your hobbies and interests. Interacting with people who are passionate about the same things as you can help you feel more connected and less lonely, even if you are only interacting with them online.
- Volunteer: Consider volunteering for a cause that you care about to make an impact in your community and meet people who have similar passions. VolunteerMatch and JustServe are two websites that can help you find volunteer opportunities in your area.
- Connect with your local library: Libraries are great community gathering spaces to meet people in your area. Libraries also commonly organize or advertise local groups and events going on in the community, like book clubs, town halls, and celebrations.
Note: it’s important to be safe when meeting new people in person or online. Do not share highly personal information with someone you have just met. If it is your first time meeting someone in person, consider meeting them in a public setting and tell a friend or family member where you are going.
Explore what solitude means to you
- Reconnect with your purpose: Is there a cause, mission, or set of values that is important to you or has been important to you in the past? You can reconnect with your purpose by reflecting on what is really important to you, whether that be certain causes like helping other people with mental health conditions or specific values like kindness, ease, or adventure. You may find that engaging with things that are meaningful to you during your alone time helps you feel less lonely than if you were to spend your time doing something like scrolling online or watching TV.
- Engage in fun hobbies and activities: Have you started to find things that you used to enjoy boring or uninspiring? Consider trying new hobbies and activities that you haven’t tried before, or get back into hobbies and activities that you may have liked in the past. You don’t have to be good at the hobby to enjoy it, but building a sense of mastery can help you feel more fulfilled and less lonely when you spend time alone.
- Spend time outdoors: Spending time outside can have numerous benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Being outdoors can help you take notice of the beauty and life surrounding you, which helps you feel more connected to others even if you are alone.
- Practice gratitude: Studies have shown that gratitude can help us think more positively, have stronger relationships, and feel better both physically and emotionally. Next time you’re alone, take a look around you and reflect on what makes you feel grateful. You might notice the feeling of sun on your skin, the sound of birds chirping outside, or the sense of comfort you feel in your room or home. Other ways that gratitude practice can help you feel more connected include writing a gratitude letter to someone you are grateful for, keeping a gratitude journal to note down things you are grateful for as you notice them, or writing down 3 good things that happened each day before you go to bed at night.
- Adopt a pet: Not only can having a pet give you company and help you feel less alone, but training, bonding with, and caring for a pet each day can be a very fulfilling way to spend your alone time. Taking care of a pet can increase feelings of connectedness and help you feel a sense of purpose. If you can’t adopt a pet yourself, consider volunteering at a local pet shelter or adoption event.
Connect with help if you need it
If being lonely is causing you to feel sad, anxious, and upset, consider speaking with a therapist or other mental health professional. A therapist can provide you with a safe space to share how you’re feeling, help you learn skills to approach new people, and identify challenges that might be in the way of exploring what solitude means to you. Visit NAMIHelpLine’s I need to see a Psychiatrist/Therapist. How can I find one? Knowledge Article to find resources for connecting with a mental health professional in your area.
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