Feeling lonely is normal – no matter what our life situation is. Single, married, divorced, widowed, childless, child-laden, doesn’t matter who or where we are. We all struggle with loneliness sometimes. And feeling lonely isn’t just sad and painful, it’s actually bad for your health!
After I wrote Hope and Help for Living Alone After Your Husband’s Death I discovered a professor’s statement about the health effects of loneliness, I decided it was time to gather tips on how to cope with being alone. “Loneliness is a greater risk for morbidity or mortality than cigarette smoking,” says Nicholas Epley, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago. Research also shows that loneliness can accelerate aging, increase blood pressure, and create anxiety.
Life coach and author Martha Beck describes three types of loneliness: 1) Separation loneliness, which results from being physically distant from family and friends; 2) Absolute loneliness, resulting from the belief that nobody understands – nor do they want to; and 3) Existential loneliness, “a bedrock fact of the human condition: the hollowness we feel when we realize no one can help us face the moments when we are most bereft.”
One of the best ways to stop being lonely is to figure out which type of loneliness you’re struggling with. For instance, I’m often existentially lonely but rarely feel separation loneliness. What about you?
Stop being lonely by reaching out to people
Basic human contact – such as chatting with the barista in a coffee shop – can help with separation loneliness. Connecting with kindred spirits or close friends could ease absolute loneliness. Gardening, music, or any type of artistic connection may reduce existential loneliness. Different types of lonely need different tips for overcoming loneliness.
Pet a robotic doggy – or get a real live dog
Though Aibo (not pictured) is a three dimensional robotic dog, he wags his tail and responds when people call.
William Banks, professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University, monitored Aibo and a live dog called Sparky in elderly nursing homes, then assessed feelings of loneliness and companionship. “The most surprising thing is that they [Sparky and Aibo] worked almost equally well in terms of alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments,” said Banks.
Anything that creates a connection can help stop you from being lonely. Walking my dog every day helps me overcome loneliness because I am getting to know my near-and-far neighbors.
Consider getting a dog. I wrote Should I Get Another Dog? after I adopted one and had to return her to the shelter. It was awful – but we adopted another dog and love her so much! She definitely helps reduced my feelings of loneliness.
“Anthropomorphize” your loneliness away
Research shows that giving pets or things (such as plants) human traits offers powerful psychological and physical benefits. Dr Epley from the University of Chicago found that the objects don’t even have to be yours to increase feelings of connectedness. This explains why Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away lived for four years on an island with only a volleyball called Wilson for company. Without Wilson, he probably wouldn’t have survived with his mental and physical health intact. A creative way to stop being lonely is to make friends with objects…but don’t let that become a substitute for real people!
Pick a project – it’ll distract you when you feel alone
Almost everyone has a list of things they’ve always wanted to do, but they never have the time. Organize your CDs, go through old photos and put them in albums, clean out your closet, plant some flowers. Projects like these may not stop you from feeling lonely, but they can distract you from your feelings.
That’s why setting and achieving goals is so important! A sense of purpose and achievement can alleviate feelings of low self-worth, which sometimes accompanies loneliness.
If it’s the holiday season, read Lonely This Christmas? 9 Ways to Overcome Loneliness on my New Beginnings blog.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone
The adventures in your city range probably range from open mic poetry nights to wine tastings to Bingo fundraisers. There may be laughter yoga, volunteer opportunities for special events, museum or art gallery lectures, or “Teasersize” dance classes. Don’t worry about going alone – it’s better if you participate in these activities alone because you’re more approachable and open to conversations with new people. Learning how to make conversation with people will help you feel less awkward.
Are you lonely because you get anxious in new situations? Read How to Overcome Shyness, Social Anxiety for College Students – maybe it’ll motivate you to go back to school, which will help you cope with loneliness!
Decide if you’re an introvert or an extrovert
People with introverted personality traits enjoy solitude and socializing with one or two others (crowds drain them). Introverts may have a more difficult time making small talk. People with extroverted personality traits are energized by people – the more, the merrier!
If you’re an introvert struggling with existential loneliness, going to a boisterous bar or kickboxing class may increase your discomfort. If you’re an extrovert wrestling with separation loneliness, gardening alone may not be effective. When you’re figuring out how to stop being lonely, consider your personality.
If you struggle to make small talk, read How to Make Conversation for Introverts – Tips for Small Talk.
Tell someone they have a cool hat
“The best method to break out of solitary confinement is to seek to understand others, and help them understand you,” says life coach Martha Beck.
To connect with a new person, compliment them sincerely and ask a question. “Cool hat. Where’d you get it?” Share information about yourself, such as your reluctance to wear hats because they make you look fat. This is a creative tip for loneliness because it forces you to interact!
Start a group
If you enjoy walking, baking, or writing, spread the word. “A friend and I started a book club because we felt isolated, and we knew people who felt the same. Now we meet regularly at someone’s home, keeping it casual and inexpensive,” says Donna, a freelance writer in Australia. Starting a group gives you a focus and connects you with like-minded people.
Just be lonely (a surprising tip on how to stop feeling alone)
Not all uncomfortable feelings need to be overcome, expressed, or fixed. Sometimes you’re lonely or sad – and that’s a healthy part of being human. Simply sitting with negative emotions can be the healthiest thing to do. After awhile, your lonely feelings will go away.
If you find it difficult to make friends, read How to Find New Friends After Moving to a New City (even if you haven’t recently moved to a new city!).
What do you do when you feel lonely? Comment below – it’ll help you feel less alone.