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Loneliness is not an abstract condition that affects only certain kinds of people. The truth is that feelings of loneliness can affect anyone—young, old, and in-between—and at any point in life.
It's not uncommon for the elderly, people going through a breakup, divorce, or death of a loved one, and young people to struggle with loneliness. A recent loneliness survey by Cigna indicates that Generation Z adults (ages 18-22), in fact, are feeling lonelier than almost any other population.1
Loneliness can be due to so many different factors and, long-term, can affect both your emotional and physical health. If you want to know what to do when you feel lonely, consider these 5 tips:
1. Acknowledge your feelings of loneliness
A first step to overcoming loneliness is realizing how you feel and the impact it's having on your life. Try talking to a counselor or therapist. They can help you work through the factors that may be contributing to it, suggest additional steps to combat loneliness, alternative therapies, and help you build coping skills that work for you.
- See if your place of work has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many employers offer an EAP. These services come at no cost to you as a benefit of your employment and provide confidential access to counselors and therapists trained to deal with all kinds of issues, including helping you overcome loneliness.
- Talk to friends and family. Let them know you're struggling with loneliness. If you've suffered the loss of a relationship, a loved one, lost a job, moved to a new place, are facing other issues that have isolated you, let them know how they might be able to help you feel less lonely.
2. Know when to engage or disengage from the online world when combating loneliness
The online world can be a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to loneliness and social isolation. Log on or log off—which is healthier? It all depends.
- The online world offers non-threatening and convenient ways to connect with others that can help if you're trying to overcome loneliness. Things like multi-player gaming, chat and message sites, even online dating sites can offer ways to interact and engage with others that's satisfying for some people. There are also online apps designed to help you deal with issues like loneliness and social isolation.
- What about social media? Is it good for you when you're dealing with loneliness? For some people, the online world may contribute to even greater feelings of loneliness and isolation. Social media, for example, can portray people who seem to be living exciting, happy-go-lucky lives with hundreds of good friends at their side. Reality is that this is generally not reality. Social media can make some people feel inadequate, left out, and feeling lonely. Bottom line, if being online seems more isolating than connected, it may be a sign you need to log off.
3. Find a volunteer opportunity as a way to feel less lonely
Volunteer opportunities are plentiful. Contributing your time and energy, working alongside others for a good cause, can effectively help you in fighting loneliness. Volunteer activities are shown to ease stress, reduce feelings of depression, can help you make friends and connect with others, and overall make you a happier person.2 A sense of happiness, fulfillment, and connection to others is yet another way to stop feeling lonely.
Try one of these ideas if volunteering appeals to you:
- Visit seniors in a nursing home
- Volunteer at a children's hospital
- Read to kids at school
- Work in a soup kitchen
- Volunteer in an animal shelter
- Become a Meals on Wheels volunteer
Whenever possible look to your local neighborhood or community for volunteer activities. This way you can make friends and forge social ties with others in close proximity to you. Chances are good that you'll run into them in the grocery store, at your church or synagogue, at the coffee shop or local restaurant—providing additional opportunities for social interaction and helping you to feel less lonely.
4. Join a group or club to overcome loneliness with in-person connections
Depending on where you live, you may have access to various types of groups and club activities often founded on common interests and hobbies. You can find many of these types of groups online or through community resources.
Meetup is an online platform through which you can find a group or create your own based on a particular interest. Groups meet in person, locally. There are Meetup groups for all types of interests, including food, travel, lifestyle, entertainment, sports, recreation, culture, and much more. Meetup groups are available throughout the country and can give you things to do when you feel lonely. It's a great way to make friends and get together with likeminded people on a regular basis.
5. Practice self-care
Besides working to connect with others, don't overlook the potential power of exercise, healthy food, proper sleep, sunshine, and even meditation for fighting loneliness.
- Exercise has been shown to trigger endorphins in the brain.3 These are sometimes called the "happy hormones" due to their power to elevate mood and make you simply feel better.
- Sunshine can do much the same thing as exercise.4 It also triggers good hormones, including endorphins and serotonin, which have a number of positive downstream benefits. Just make sure you follow safety guidelines when getting out in the sunshine.
- A healthy diet can affect your brain health, too. A daily diet of sugar, preservatives, and highly processed food can have negative impacts on your physical and emotional health.5 Focus on eating whole foods for a while and see if this can help in your strategy to overcome loneliness.
- Sleep quality is closely tied to emotional health. Loss of sleep or poor sleep habits can aggravate feelings of loneliness and isolation, and vice versa.6 If you're fighting loneliness, try practicing better sleep habits. Limit sugar and caffeine before bed, turn off digital devices for some relaxation time, and make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark.
Loneliness affects millions of people. There are many things you can do when trying to overcome it. The key is realizing how you feel and finding the best strategy for you.
This information is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Always consult your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Any third party content is the responsibility of such third party. Cigna does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any third party content and is not responsible for such content. Your access to and use of this content is at your sole risk.
1Cigna 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index, 2018, https://www.cigna.com/assets/docs/newsroom/loneliness-survey-2018-fact-sheet.pdf
2Volunteering and Its Surprising Benefits, HelpGuide, December 2018, https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm/
3Is there a link between exercise and happiness?, How Stuff Works, https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/exercise-happiness2.htm, accessed February 19, 2019.
45 Ways the Sun Impacts Your Mental and Physical Health, https://www.tricitymed.org/2018/08/5-ways-the-sun-impacts-your-mental-and-physical-health/, accessed June 2021
5Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food, Harvard Health Blog, April 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
6Feeling lonely? Why a good night’s sleep may be the ultimate cure, The Guardian, August 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/aug/16/good-nights-sleep-cure-loneliness