What is it?
Loneliness is a state of mind that becomes distressing when the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships Since loneliness is a state of mind, being physically alone is not necessarily a sufficient condition to experience loneliness, though it can make things feel worse if a person is already feeling lonely. One can be around many individuals in a physical setting whether it be at work, home, school, but may still feel lonely.
What Symptoms Might You Notice?
- frequent low mood
- socially removing yourself from others
- Increased negative thoughts of self (i.e. “I am not good enough,” “No one wants to be around me,” etc.)
- Anxious feelings regarding the quality or quantity of relationships
- Anxiety or fear of losing old or new relationships
- increased irritability or easily frustrated
- loss of or increased time sleeping as well as a decrease in quality of sleep
- Increased feeling of stress about relationships
- Inability to regulate emotions
How Prevalent is Loneliness?
Loneliness can be experienced by anyone regardless of age, gender, race, physical location, etc. However, there are groups of individuals who have been researched that may experience loneliness more than others. Individuals in the age groups of 15-25 and over 65 tend to have the highest reports of perceived loneliness. Research also indicates that anywhere between 15-30% of the general population experiences chronic loneliness.
Things you can do to cope with loneliness:
Before trying to alleviate loneliness, it may be worth assessing why you may feel lonely. As described previously, being physical alone is not the same as being lonely. We can feel connected and well while being by ourselves. Therefore, it may be helpful to first ask ourselves what kind loneliness we may be experiencing. Some examples of different kinds of loneliness can be from being in a new place, feeling different from others, not having a romantic relationship, believing “no one has time for me,” learning some friends can no longer be trusted, or no longer having people just being in the same space as you.
Understanding where our potential feelings of loneliness come from, you can use some of these more concrete methods that may assist you further. These methods may not completely remove unwanted feelings right away, but consistent and regular use can make significant changes.
- Talk, talk, talk. Simply talking to others, even if you are not very close to the individual, about anything can help improve mood and sense of connection. Initiating things can be scary and difficult but like riding a bike, the more you practice, the better you will get at it.
- Schedule “social time.” Often we get bogged down by our work, classes, and daily lives that we may put our connections to the side. Therefore, setting any amount of time in your day to spend time with others, whether in person, with technology, or even letter writing, can go a long a way.
- Increase number small moments of social connection. Simply increasing the number meaningful connections that come from your heart, no matter how small, can lead to improvements over time. Some examples could be volunteering for organizations you enjoy, giving a compliment, striking a small conversation with a cashier, playing with animals etc. These many small connections can add up and may lower feelings of loneliness.
- Set at least 1 small social goal a day. Setting goals has been shown in research to improve motivation. If a goal is to reduce feelings of loneliness, then what are those small steps/goals to reach that big goal? This item is similar to #6, but the idea behind this technique is to be exact and list what you want to accomplish for the day. An example can be “I plan to FaceTime my brother for 30 minutes today.” Meeting goals can improve mood and also give a sense you are accomplishing what you want.
- Use a journal to keep track of unwanted thoughts/feelings as well as things that went well. Keeping track of thought we don’t like can help monitor what triggered them to occur in the first place. Also keeping track of our successes, when we felt good, and how we felt good, is just as important as it can help us see what we have done previously to make our mood improve.
- Limit time on social media and “passive scrolling.” Loneliness can occur when we compare ourselves to others and see people in groups. These feelings can increase as we passively scroll through our phones and see hundreds of individuals/groups in a matter of minutes. Using social media to connect and engage for a certain amount of time, rather than to pass the time and sit with potential negative feelings, may be helpful.
- Put yourself in the shoes of others. Individuals may feel like others do not reach out to them as often as they would like. It is important to remember and reflect that your connections may have things going on and may not be able to reach out as easily.
- Be patient. The process of developing and growing social connections takes time. It is important to reflect on what went well in your social interactions and focus on doing those things more while recognizing your feelings in the moment, rather than thinking “what could have gone better” or “will this be liked by everyone.”
Apps that help:
- Insight Timer: Sleep, anxiety, and stress
- Youper: The ai app can be used a place to process thoughts quickly, assess levels of anxiety and depression, and potentially give a sense of connection.
- Wysa: The ai app can be used to have conversations to process thoughts quickly.