Loneliness is going around, and it’s having a pretty big impact.
Perhaps you haven’t seen friends and loved ones in person for quite some time. Or maybe pandemic stress has created tension in your household, leaving you lonely and frustrated despite being in a full house
Feelings of nostalgia for “before times” and a longing to return to pre-pandemic life can compound loneliness. You might miss fleeting, everyday social interactions or the ability to simply sit in public, speaking to no one but still benefiting from the presence of others.
Prolonged loneliness can drain you emotionally, making life seem bleak and pointless. It can also lead to physical symptoms, including aches and pains, sleep problems, and a weakened immune response.
When it feels impossible to escape feelings of loneliness, pandemic-related or otherwise, these 12 tips can help you navigate them and keep them from wearing you down.
Casting a different light on what it means to be alone can sometimes make it easier to navigate feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness happens when you become isolated and your needs for social interaction and human connection go unmet.
Everyone has different interaction needs, so this doesn’t happen at the same point for everyone. For example:
- If you’re used to spending most nights with friends and loved ones, you might feel lonely with just one interaction per week.
- If you prefer being on your own, you might feel perfectly satisfied by seeing one friend each week.
- You might feel lonely upon returning to an empty house, even when you have plenty of strong friendships.
- If you struggle to connect with a live-in partner, you might feel lonely even when you’re usually together.
Most people need close relationships in order to thrive. Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, considered this need so important he included love and belonging alongside things like food and shelter in his hierarchy of basic human needs.
That said, some amount of solitude — or quality alone time — is also important. Solitude creates opportunities for self-discovery, creative thought, and self-reflection.
Time alone can also open the door to greater mindfulness, which can boost emotional awareness and make authentic expression easier in all of your relationships, including the one you have with yourself.
Next time loneliness begins to surface, accept it as it comes. Maybe you put on music and pick up a forgotten sketchpad, flip through old notebooks and rediscover your love of poetry, or simply sit and get in tune with your feelings and personal goals.
Whatever you choose to do, finding ways to make the most of your alone time can help you lean into solitude and use it to your benefit.
When you feel the vast empty space of loneliness beginning to press in from all sides, the power of sound can push it back.
Sound helps fill the space in your environment and thoughts, making it less overwhelming. For example:
- Music can boost your mood and motivate you, while audiobooks might provide distraction and a temporary escape.
- Podcasts and talk radio inform and entertain, and their conversational atmosphere can also create a sense of connection.
- A favorite TV show or movie can break the silence in a comforting way, even if you don’t sit down and watch it all the way through.
- Opening a window to hear birds and passersby can help you feel more connected to the wider world.
It’s not always possible to spend time with friends and family, no matter how much you miss them and want to see them.
You can still maintain your closeness even when you can’t see them in person. Your interactions might look a little different, but you’re connecting, and that’s what matters.
Aim to connect with the important people in your life regularly. If you previously spent Sundays with your family, you might try catching up every Sunday with a video chat instead.
Sometimes a quick text can seem like the easiest way to connect, but don’t underestimate the power of hearing a loved one’s voice. Even a 10-minute call can help ease loneliness — for you and them.
Looking for new connections?
Virtual events may not feel quite the same, but they can still have benefit. Plenty of groups have taken their meetings online during the pandemic, so it’s worth checking Meetup, Facebook, or libraries and other community centers for information about virtual fitness groups, book clubs, museum tours, and other gatherings and social opportunities.
If you’re missing the dating scene, keep in mind you can connect with potential partners over dating apps and get to know each other online before meeting in person. Dating apps can also help you find platonic friends — just be up-front about what you’re looking for in your profile.
Simply spending time around others won’t always relieve loneliness, since the quality of your interactions often matters more than the number. That’s why you might feel lonely in a large group of casual acquaintances but fulfilled by a quiet evening with your closest friend.
How you spend time with others can make a big difference, too. Sometimes, you might just need some company and feel fine watching a movie with a friend or sharing space while working or browsing social media.
When you feel the need to connect on a deeper level, try to find ways to make your interactions more meaningful:
- Share emotions and personal experiences.
- Ask questions, and really listen to what your loved ones have to say.
- Talk about things that matter — work, creative projects, mutual interests.
It’s hard to entirely avoid talking about current events, and you might want to stay informed about what’s happening in the world. Even so, it can help to center your conversations around things that bring you both joy rather than dwelling entirely on distressing news.
A change of environment can distract you and help dull the ache of loneliness.
Maybe you can’t work in your favorite cafe, enjoy brunch with friends, or join trivia night at your favorite brewery just yet. But getting out of the house can put you in the path of others and remind you that you aren’t alone in the world.
Time in nature can also help ease emotional distress and boost your overall wellness.
A few ideas to try:
- Visit your favorite park. Try to identify different birds — both birds and birdsong can have a positive impact on well-being, according to recent research.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood. Explore streets you’ve never visited and greet neighbors when your paths cross.
- Plan a physically distanced scavenger hunt with friends.
- Visit and support local businesses, if possible.
Getting out on foot (or bike) can also tire you out, making for good sleep.
Telling a loved one you feel lonely can make it easier to get important emotional support that helps loosen the grip of loneliness.
Sharing painful or unwanted emotions with others can feel difficult, especially if you aren’t used to talking about your feelings. Journaling offers a way to express and sort through feelings privately so you can work your way up to sharing them in person.
Creative pursuits like art, music, and writing help many people cope with isolation and navigate feelings of loneliness.
Artistic endeavors help you express emotions without (spoken) words, which can have a lot of benefit when you struggle to share them aloud.
Creation can also leave you with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, emotions that might challenge a prevailing mood of loneliness and sadness.
Find your flow
Another key benefit of creativity lies in reaching a flow state. Flow, often as a sense of being “in the zone,” can happen anytime you challenge yourself with an activity you’re passionate about.
Finding your flow means reaching a point where distracting sensations and emotions (like loneliness) temporarily fade away, allowing you to fully focus on your art, music, or anything else.
While a fresh canvas or blank page may not completely erase loneliness or keep it from coming back, art offers another area of focus, one where you can harness your emotions to create something permanent and moving.
Not everyone has the means or ability to care for an animal companion, so this strategy won’t work for everyone.
But if you’ve ever thought about adding a pet to your life, here’s another reason to expand your family: Research from 2018 suggests pet ownership can improve both mental and physical wellness.
A pet may not be able to talk (unless, of course, you have a vocal bird), but they provide companionship all the same. The presence of another living creature can comfort you, and their antics can help lift your spirits and relieve stress, as thousands of pet videos on the internet can confirm.
Bonus: Adopting a dog gives you a reason to head outside on a regular basis.
And though “pet” generally brings to mind cats and dogs, many people find that birds, fish, and other small animals make great pets, too. Just be sure to look into the type of care your potential pet will need before bringing them home.
For a quick fix
If you love dogs but can’t have one, consider heading to your local dog park to enjoy the sights. If anyone asks why you’re there, just explain that you love dogs but can’t have one of your own. Everyone there is already a dog lover, so they’ll likely understand (and maybe even let you toss a ball to their dog).
You can also look into volunteer opportunities at local shelters. Some may be closed to new volunteers due to COVID-19, but many are starting to open back up.
While social media often seems like an appealing way to maintain connections with loved ones, it can sometimes increase feelings of loneliness.
A loved one’s happy, carefree post can give the impression they don’t miss you quite as much as you miss them. When you’re alone, seeing others spending time with romantic partners or family members can also sting.
Of course, social media never shows the whole picture, so you can’t really know what your loved ones feel without asking. It’s also worth considering some of those posts might serve as someone else’s approach to countering loneliness.
In short, it never hurts to close those apps and connect with a quick phone call or text instead.
Loneliness can occupy your thoughts to the point where it feels difficult to think about anything else, including the things you usually enjoy.
Still, favorite hobbies can fill the time until you’re able to see loved ones again. Doing things you enjoy — from yoga to video games to baking — can create a sense of normalcy, grounding you and helping you find some inner calm in the midst of turbulent times.
Don’t forget hobbies and relaxing activities also serve as self-care, which plays an important part in overall well-being.
Not sure what to do? We’ve got 10 ideas to get you started.
However overwhelming it feels, loneliness won’t last forever. Acknowledging that fact can sometimes bring some relief.
In time, COVID-19 vaccines will become widely available, and schools and universities will reopen for in-person classes. You’ll reconnect with friends and loved ones and meet new people (and potential partners) once again.
Loneliness that doesn’t have anything to do with the pandemic will pass, too. Sometimes it can take a little time and effort, but it’s always possible to reach out and strengthen existing connections or forge new ones.
Looking for tips on getting to know new people? This guide can help.
If loneliness leaves you feeling low and hopeless, you might need a listening ear or a little extra support to get through a moment of crisis.
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or text the Crisis Text Line 24/7 to get free, confidential support from a trained counselor. They’ll listen to whatever’s on your mind and help you explore strategies to find some relief.
Here’s how to get in touch:
When waves of loneliness crash over your head, there’s a lot you can do to ride them out.
If loneliness doesn’t seem to improve and you feel low more often than not, talking to a therapist can help.
In therapy, you can:
- Get more insight on what might be going on.
- Learn skills to manage distress in the moment.
- Explore strategies to prevent loneliness in the future.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.