Even introverts know what loneliness feels like. There is a key difference between being alone and feeling lonely. “Alone” is a state of being by oneself without others around, and can actually be a healthy phenomenon. Everyone needs a little time away from others to plan, consider, and simply to rest. Loneliness is a different matter entirely.
While it’s normal to feel lonely or isolated from time to time, too much loneliness can be unhealthy or even dangerous. Numerous studies have linked excessive, ongoing feelings of loneliness and isolation to depression, mental illness, and even physical problems such as insomnia, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
The good news is, loneliness is a condition that can be fought against and overcome! Here are 10 things to do when you feel lonely that will make you feel healthier, more integrated, and less painfully alone.
1. Take a walk.
This may seem disingenuous, but walking has been proven to offer many great health benefits both for the body and the mind. Any form of exercise would do as well, but walking is better because it allows one to explore their town or the area around them in a way a car simply does not allow. While walking, take a different route than you usually would to get to a usual goal point. Even better, simply pick a direction at random and start. Just the feeling of walking down the street, surrounded by traffic and other people, can make you feel more involved in the pulse of your city or town. Besides, you may discover something new you didn’t know your town had to offer!
2. Join a club.
Everyone has an interest or passion, and sometimes a fresh point of view can help you enhance your talents or interests in new and surprising ways. Even the smallest town usually has at least some clubs. Perhaps you are interested in public service, in which case the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, or the Lions Club might be a good fit. Maybe you enjoy chess and would like to play with others to sharpen your skills. You could even consider something you’ve never tried before: pottery, writing, wine tasting, or even dancing are all good ways to interact with others and try new things. If your area doesn’t have any clubs that interest you, why not start one of your own? Odds are good that if you have an interest, someone else in the area is likely to share it.
3. Talk to people.
Isolation is a new hallmark of our paradoxically “connected” society. Between texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, email and the phone, people are more connected than ever before. The problem with all these kinds of communication is that they omit the face-to-face element of socialization. This can lead to situations like someone observing, “I have 6,000 friends on Facebook, 4,822 Twitter followers, and who knows how many people watching me on social media…and I don’t have one person I can call to go out for the night!” Try getting out and talking to your neighbors, the cashier at the convenience store, or even total strangers. Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. This is a great way to make new connections, or maybe meet people who share your interests and hobbies.
4. Go to the coffee shop.
These days you can’t throw a rock without hitting a coffee shop, especially in the larger cities. Coffee shops are a great place to meet people and make contacts. As with any other social situation, it’s not enough simply to sit there sipping on your venti mochachocafrappalottaccino with half-fat soy and extra espresso. Compliment someone on their purse, their shoes, their tie, or even their laptop. A compliment is a good way to start up a conversation and might just make you a new friend.
5. Be alert to verbal and nonverbal cues.
90% of all communication is nonverbal, based upon eye contact, body language, facial expression, and unconscious gestures and motions. These cues, when taken with verbal indicators such as word choice, tone of voice, and overall “projection,” create communication. Look for people with positive, open body language. These people carry themselves with their heads erect and make direct eye contact. They don’t keep their hands in their pockets or move aside more than necessary to allow others to pass on the street. A smile could be an invitation to talk. Be ready to accept it!
6. Try nurturing others.
Caring for others matters, even when it’s only done in small ways. Reading to the elderly or being a child or teen mentor is excellent for not only curing your own loneliness, but someone else’s as well. Visiting, conversing with, or reading to the elderly makes them feel more connected and useful, especially if they live in an assisted-care facility. Serving as a child or teen mentor can help you pass on knowledge and information to the next generation, whether it’s practical advice and skills such as how to work a polynomial equation, or giving them life lessons like how to get over a broken heart or dealing with indifferent or unfriendly peers and authority figures. By caring for others, you can also care for yourself by showing you have something of value to contribute to your world and the people in it.
7. Get a pet.
Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, once remarked in one of his comic strips, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” This seemingly simple idea is actually backed by a wealth of scientific and anecdotal data. A fuzzy animal like a cat, dog, or even a ferret makes a great companion and confers health benefits. Studies indicate that simply petting an animal reduces blood pressure, anxiety, and may actually be an effective non-medical treatment for certain forms of depression. In addition, the playful antics of a puppy or kitten and the joy of training them to perform various tricks and tasks more than makes up for any inconvenience they may cause while housebreaking. If possible, choose a pet from the vast number of rescue animals in shelters around the world. You may just save a life, making you feel even happier about your choice and winning you a loyal companion you’re sure to cherish.
8. Try to figure out what’s missing.
The state of being alone simply means no one else is with you. Loneliness, especially when it’s a persistent state, is a warning sign that something essential is absent from your life. The first step to curing the problem is to figure out what’s missing. Do you isolate yourself, by accident or design? Do you work in a career that doesn’t allow for much one-on-one human interaction? Do you have any friends, family, or loved ones you can talk to? If the answer to any of these is negative, it’s time to take positive steps to correct that. Join a dating site. Get the contact information for your cousin you haven’t talked to since adolescence. Ask that server at the local diner if she’s free for dinner one night. Even if the answer is no, you’re taking positive steps to alleviate your loneliness.
9. Is something making you lonely?
Introverts like their own company, but it’s easy to get too much of it. When this happens, ask yourself what’s changed. Are you with someone who makes you feel lonely even when they’re right next to you? Are you in a new town, job, or living space? Do your surroundings or routines feel stale and overdone? What’s making you unhappy with the situation? In some cases, people feel lonely because something is missing. In others, people feel lonely because something needs to be subtracted. This can be harder to identify, because we always try to hold on to the things we believe make us happy and define us. A big part of overcoming loneliness is defining oneself on one’s own terms.
10. If all else fails, seek help.
If you’ve tried some or all of these things and nothing seems to be helping, it’s time to see a doctor. Depression frequently has a physical component, and persistent loneliness is a key indicator. It is possible that medication may be helpful, depending on the type and severity of loneliness you feel. It is also possible that a few sessions with a trained counselor or psychologist can help you pinpoint triggers you didn’t even consider, as well as providing coping strategies. If you go this route, it is crucial that you remember seeking help is not a weakness. It takes a lot more strength to ask for help than it does to pretend everything is fine. You’ll be happier and live longer, too!
You may also be interested in: Feeling Lonely and Want to Change? Here’s How.