For some people, loneliness can happen for a number of reasons, and when you’re a recent college graduate, that loneliness may feel like it’s at an all-time high.

lonely female sitting alone outdoorsShare on Pinterest
Mengwen Cao/Getty Images

Six years ago, Naresh Vissa was 20-something and lonely.

He’d just finished college and was living on his own for the first time in a one-bedroom apartment, rarely leaving it.

Like many other 20-somethings, Vissa was single. He ate, slept, and worked from home.

“I’d look out my window in Baltimore’s Harbor East and see other people in [their] 20s partying, going on dates, and having a good time,” Vissa says. “All I could do was shut the blinds, turn off my lights, and watch episodes of ‘The Wire.’”

He may have felt like the only lonely person in his generation, but Vissa is far from alone in his loneliness.

Contrary to the popular belief that you’re surrounded by friends, parties, and fun in your 20s and 30s, a 2016 study shows that the time after college is actually the time when loneliness peaks.

It found that, across genders, loneliness peaks just before your 30s.

In 2017, the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission (an English campaign aimed to profile the hidden crisis of loneliness) did a survey on loneliness with men in the UK and found that age 35 is when study participants said they were loneliest, and 11 percent said they’re lonely on a daily basis.

But isn’t this the time that most of us, as kids, dream about thriving? After all, shows like “New Girl,” “Friends,” and “Will & Grace” never showed being in your 20s and 30s as lonely.

We might have certain life experiences, such as money problems, career troubles, and romantic stumbles, but loneliness? Wasn’t that supposed to dissipate as soon as we made it on our own?

Sociologists have long considered three conditions
crucial to friend-making:

  • proximity
  • repeated and unplanned interactions
  • settings that encourage people to let their guard down

These conditions appear less frequently in life after your dorm room days are over.

Was this helpful?

“There are a lot of myths about what the 20-something years are all about,” says Tess Brigham, San Francisco-based licensed therapist who specializes in treating young adults and millennials.

“Many of my clients think they need to have a fabulous career, be married — or at least engaged — and have an incredible social life before they turn 30, or they’ve failed in some way,” Brigham adds.

That’s a lot to take on, especially all at the same time.

The cultural landscape may make it seem as if you’re failing, and you’re the only one in a situation that didn’t produce a favorable outcome, which in turn can make you feel left behind and lonely.

But it’s important to note that you aren’t alone in this feeling, and these feelings aren’t your fault.

“If you add in social media, which is everyone else’s life highlight reel, it makes many young people feel alone and lost,” Brigham says.

“While the 20-something years are full of adventure and excitement, it’s also the time of your life when you determine who you are and what kind of life you want to live.”

If everyone else — and that would be everyone on social media, including influencers and celebrities — seems like they’re living a better life than you, it may lead you to believe you’ve already failed. You haven’t.

You may even feel the urge to retreat even more. You shouldn’t.

But adding to the issue is the fact that we aren’t changing how we make friends after college. During your school years, life could be compared to living on the set of “Friends.” You could pop in and out of your buddies’ dorm rooms without so much as a knock.

Now, with friends spread across the city and everyone trying to forge their own path, making friends can become more difficult and complicated.

“Many young adults have never had to work at making and building friendships,” Brigham says. “Actively building a community of people who support you and making friends who add something to their lives will help with the loneliness.”

In an older study from 1978, sociologists have long considered three conditions crucial to friend-making: proximity, repeated and unplanned interactions, and settings that encourage people to let their guard down. These conditions appear less frequently in life after your dorm room days are over.

Alisha Powell, a 28-year-old social worker in Washington, D.C., says she’s lonely. Since she isn’t in an office, it’s harder for her to meet people.

“I have this deep longing to mean something to someone,” Powell says.

“I’ve found that while I can experience sadness and unfortunate events by myself because I expect it, the loneliest moments I have are when I’m happy. I want someone who cares about me to celebrate with me, but they are never present and never have been.”

Powell says because she’s not following the life of working a nine-to-five, getting married, and having babies — which are a few ways to actively build a community — she has a hard time finding people who understand her deeply and get her. She has yet to find those people.

Studies have been bombarding us about disconnecting from social media; publications have been telling us to write in a gratitude journal; and the standard advice is overly simple: Go outside to meet people in person rather than keeping it to a text or, as more common now, an Instagram DM.

We get it.

So why is it so easy to get depressed about how lonely we are?

Well, to start, we’re growing up on social media

From Facebook likes to Tinder swipes, some of us may already have invested a lot in the American Dream, causing our brains to be hardwired for positive results only.

“The millennial age group grew up with their needs being fulfilled quicker and quicker,” says Mark Wildes, author of “Beyond the Instant,” a book about finding happiness in a fast-paced, social media world.

“Netflix makes sure they don’t have to wait for the next episode next week; fast Internet on their phones gives them all the world’s information with a 5-second wait time,” says Wildes.

“And when it comes to relationships, they’ve been presented with a swipe-to-dismiss model of relationship building.”

Many of us are in a vicious cycle that isn’t the fault of our own: We’re afraid of being stigmatized for feeling lonely, so we retreat into ourselves and feel even lonelier.

Carla Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist in California and author of the upcoming book “Joy Over Fear” highlights how devastating this cycle can be if we let it continue.

The resulting loneliness makes you feel ashamed, and you fear reaching out or telling others that you feel lonely. “This self-perpetuating cycle continues — and often results in strong feelings of depression and isolation,” says Manly.

If we keep thinking about life in terms of getting what we want when we want it, it will only result in more disappointment.

What can you do?

One way to attempt to tackle loneliness goes back to what we’ve all heard over and over again: Go outside and attempt to do things.

You may not hear back, or you might get rejected. It may even be scary. But you won’t know unless you ask.

However, if you’re loneliness is too much to tackle on your own, you should always reach out to a mental health professional. For some of us, there is no simple cure for loneliness.

“There is no quick fix when it comes to loneliness or any of our more complex feelings,” Brigham says. “To take the steps means you’re going to have to be uncomfortable for a period of time.”

A good idea is to go out alone or walk up to someone new at work to ask them if they want to eat lunch with you. They could say no, but they might not. The idea is to see rejection as part of the process and not a roadblock.

“Many of my clients overthink and analyze and worry about what happens if they get a ‘no’ or they look foolish,” Brigham says.

“In order to build confidence in yourself, you must take action and focus on taking the chance and putting yourself out (which is in your control) and not on the outcome (which is out of your control).”

Writer Kiki Schirr set a goal this year of 100 rejections — and went for everything she wanted. It turned out she couldn’t meet her goal because too many of those rejections turned into acceptances.

Likewise, whether it’s friendships or life goals, seeing rejections as a form of success could be a potential answer to powering through your lonely days.

Changing your perspective can change your outlook on multiple things.

What if, instead of logging on to social media with the FOMO (fear of missing out) mindset, you try to change the way you think about other people’s experiences? Maybe it’s time to take the JOMO (joy of missing out) approach instead.

It could be helpful to feel happy for those enjoying their time instead of wishing you were there too. If it’s a post by a friend, message them and ask if you could hang out with them next time.

You may not hear back, or you might get rejected. It may even be scary. But you won’t know unless you ask.

Vissa finally broke from his cycle of loneliness by setting simple goals:

  • read a book once a month
  • watch a movie every day
  • listen to podcasts
  • write down positive business plans, pickup lines, book topics — anything cool
  • exercise
  • stop drinking
  • stop hanging out with negative people (which included unfriending them on Facebook).

Vissa also began online dating, and though he’s still single, he’s met interesting women.

Now, he has a different view out his window.

“Whenever I am down or depressed, I walk to my dining table, look out my window overlooking the downtown Baltimore skyline, and start playing and singing Anna Kendrick’s ‘Cups,’” Vissa says. “After I’m done, I look up, throw my hands in the air, and say, ‘Thank you.’”

Other ways to break the cycle

Not all of us are as fortunate as Vissa and Schirr. There are multiple reasons why a person may feel lonely, and why their loneliness may start to peak. It’s not always so black and white.

If you’re able, it may be a good idea to try to put yourself out there more and to set goals similar to Vissa. This could mean going out more, introducing yourself to strangers, or trying new things.

But, if your symptoms are more complex, or you think your loneliness may be stemming from a larger issue, it is important to reach out to a licensed therapist or mental health professional to get insight on how to help curb your loneliness.

Danielle Braffis a former magazine editor and newspaper reporter turned award-winning freelance writer, specializing in lifestyle, health, business, shopping, parenting, and travel writing.