Humans are by nature social creatures. Most people crave some level of intimacy, companionship, and lasting connection with others.
On the other side of connection, however, lies loneliness. When you can’t see or speak to someone you care about, the pain of their absence and lingering memories of your time together can take up residence in your heart.
Sometimes, you can solve the problem of missing someone by picking up the phone or dropping by for a visit. But it’s not always possible to reconnect, and the resulting feelings of loss and sadness can start to build up to the point where they start to overshadow every aspect of your daily life.
Ruminating on loneliness generally won’t do much to relieve your distress, but these 17 tips can help you cope more effectively, whether you’re missing an ex or grieving the loss of a close family member.
If you care for someone and enjoy spending time with them, it’s only natural to mourn their absence when they leave. Even a temporary separation isn’t always easy to bear.
Take care of yourself
Tending to emotional wounds is just as important as treating physical ones. You might not need stitches or an ice pack, but a little self-compassion can go a long way toward healing your pain.
You’ve experienced a loss, and you’ll likely need time to adjust before feeling like yourself again. Treating yourself with kindness by practicing good self-care can help you make it through this adjustment period more easily.
Self-care for emotional distress might include:
- setting aside enough time for restful sleep each night
- choosing nourishing, mood-boosting foods
- getting in some exercise — long walks are great for processing complex feelings
- reaching out to loved ones for emotional support
Make time to sit with your feelings
Ignoring the pain of missing someone might seem like a good way to get rid of it, but avoidance usually has the opposite effect. Emotions are persistent, and the distress you thought you buried can come bubbling back up, at times when you feel unprepared to confront it.
There’s nothing wrong with missing someone and feeling sad about your loss. It’s also common to want to escape these feelings. Who wants to experience pain?
Of course, you probably don’t want to let your distress take over your day.
Instead, find some quiet time where you can investigate your feelings:
- Accept whatever emotions — love, regret, anger — come up without judgment.
- Explore your emotions to better understand where they come from.
- Encourage yourself with positive self-talk. “This is hard, but it will get better” may have a more positive impact than “They left. Get over it already.”
Interact with others
“Missing” describes a unique loneliness felt for one person, so it’s normal to feel as if no one else can fill the empty space in your heart.
Spending time with others also reminds you to cherish other social connections and relationships.
Even striking up a conversation with people you encounter in daily life — whether that’s a delivery driver or others stuck in the same long line — could help promote feelings of belonging and happiness.
Participating in social activities and community groups can also help relieve loneliness and lead to new connections.
Though spending time with others may not ease your longing entirely, companionship can still help lift your spirits — if you let it.
Immerse yourself in something you enjoy
Hobbies and other enjoyable activities can provide positive distractions that help you cope with the pain of missing someone until it starts to fade.
It may help more to focus on your own interests for now rather than previously shared hobbies. When the sting of their absence is still fresh, you might find it tough to go it alone on things you used to do together.
In need of a new hobby? Try:
- home improvement projects, like painting an accent wall or restoring a piece of old furniture
- art or craft projects, like collaging, painting, photography, or scrapbooking
- creative writing
- birdwatching, hiking, or other outdoor activities
Even when you know you’ll see the person you’re missing eventually, you might still feel pretty bereft right now. Time might seem to drag, making it difficult to turn your attention toward anything else as you count the days.
Schedule a remote hangout
Staying in touch is key, whether you’re separated by a continent, a few states, or COVID-19 protocols.
Chatting via text messages, telephone, and video chat may not bring the same feelings of fulfillment as face-to-face interaction, but virtual interaction can help you feel more connected as you wait out the separation. Planning regular times to “meet” gives you something to look forward to.
In between virtual hangouts, why not try writing a letter to tell them they’re in your thoughts?
Handwritten letters might seem old-fashioned, but they offer a great way to share feelings. Since you can’t hit the backspace button, it becomes more important to focus on your thoughts as you write and choose words that truly convey your emotions.
Embrace reminders and mementos
During regular periods of separation — if you’re in a long-distance relationship, for example — keeping a few of their belongings around your house can help remind you they’ll return before long.
Even when you know, logically, that the distance won’t last forever, daily reminders can still help cement this fact in your awareness, making your separation more bittersweet than simply bitter.
Toss their sweater over the back of the armchair, use their shampoo occasionally, play their favorite album, and let a few of their books linger on the coffee table. That way, they still feel present in your life, even if they’re temporarily away.
Get back in touch with yourself
Take this chance to pursue new interests or things you enjoy that your loved one doesn’t, whether that’s a solo camping trip or a weekend solely dedicated to art films.
Missing someone you can’t contact often proves even more painful. Maybe their work takes them somewhere without phone service or they’re dealing with a serious illness. Or maybe you both decided it was time for a break.
Whatever the reason, it becomes even more important to take time to acknowledge and manage your feelings, on your own or with support from someone else.
If the inability to connect physically or remotely has you feeling down, try:
- meditation to help ease distress
- expressing emotions through journaling, drawing, or music
- keeping track of thoughts to share later
- focusing on positive memories, such as shared jokes or trips you took together
You might also consider doing something kind, either for your loved one or for someone else in their honor.
Kindness to others can boost your mood and help you feel more connected to other people and humanity in general. A kind act in anticipation of your loved one’s return also sends the message that you care.
One final note: If you can’t talk to someone because you’ve agreed to stop contacting each other for a while, make sure to respect those boundaries you set. Keep track of your thoughts in journals or unsent letters rather than giving in to the temptation to reach out.
Sometimes, missing someone can give rise to other complicated emotions. Perhaps you no longer speak to them because they hurt you or betrayed your trust.
Along with missing the happiness you once shared, you might also feel guilty or angry at yourself for caring about someone who caused you pain.
Love is complex, just as people are, and it’s not unusual for your longing to linger, despite the knowledge you’re better off avoiding contact.
You might know you can’t maintain any form of relationship with a parent who abused you, a friend who didn’t want to address toxic behavior, or a partner who cheated — yet still feel love toward them at the same time.
Instead of denying your pain, it’s essential to discuss and work through those feelings. Stick to your decision to cut off contact and keep a journal or talk with someone you trust instead.
When coping strategies don’t offer much relief, a good next step may involve reaching out for professional support. Ending a relationship can leave you reeling, but a therapist can help you explore ways to cope with missing someone who’s no longer in your life and address the pain of the original injury.
Relationships don’t always work out. Sometimes they end so disastrously that you know there’s no possibility even of friendship. Even so, you’ll probably still miss your ex. You might even miss them more if you know they’re completely out of your life.
This is completely normal. You likely spent a lot of time with them over the course of your relationship and got used to their company. Regardless of the reasons behind your breakup, this loss can be difficult to accept.
Take time to process
Missing an ex doesn’t mean you should rush right back into the relationship. Chances are, you broke up for some pretty good reasons. Perhaps you can work things out and reconnect eventually, but it’s important you both take time (separately) to heal.
Unless you’ve parted on good terms after a friendly breakup, try to avoid contact. Write down anything you want to say instead and save it for later.
Cultivate new connections
Devoting your social time to people and activities you find fulfilling and enjoyable can take your mind off missing your ex while reinforcing the fact that you can absolutely heal and move forward.
Also, consider that doing the same things you did with your ex, only on your own, can magnify the feeling of loss. Changing up your routine by trying new jogging paths, shopping at a different grocery store, or finding a new show to watch can help you shake the feeling they should be there, too.
Death, the ultimate loss, is typically the hardest to bear. After a breakup or estrangement, you might embrace the possibility of future reconciliation, but the finality of death can leave you feeling as if you’ll miss your loved one always.
Some measure of grief may linger, but time often helps ease the pain. In the meantime, try to focus on the joy they added to your life:
- Spend time in places they enjoyed, like a favorite park.
- Order takeout from their favorite restaurant.
- Plant a tree or flower as a memorial.
- Write them a letter reminiscing about shared experiences.
- Revisit old photos or videos to feel closer to them.
Grief can be difficult to manage alone. If missing your loved one becomes unbearable to the point where it begins to affect your daily life and relationships, a therapist can offer compassionate support and guidance on processing the loss and managing grief in productive ways.
It’s normal to miss the people you care about when you can’t see them. This particular agony is simply one outcome of the ability to love.
Enjoy the moments you spend together, even the quiet ones where nothing much happens. When you’re apart, you’ll feel more at peace knowing you made the most of your time together, and you’ll have fond memories to treasure until you see them again.
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.