Feeling lonely is a universal experience—and yet, it’s difficult to define. When you don’t feel connected with anyone, or you feel like no one understands what you’re going through, that’s when loneliness sets in.
These feelings often happen when you feel dissatisfied with your social environment and you feel isolated, left out and in need of companionship.
“Being alone is a physical state,” explains Lisa MacLean, M.D., a psychiatrist at Henry Ford Health. “Feeling lonely is an emotional state where you feel isolated and disconnected even when there are people right next to you. It stems from feeling like your true self is not seen or understood.”
How To Deal With Loneliness
Feeling lonely isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though it’s uncomfortable, it can be an opportunity to identify why you’re feeling isolated and come up with ways to prioritize your happiness. Often, the first step is to adjust your social lens to a more rose-colored hue. Here’s how to deal with loneliness:
- Don’t be afraid to name your feelings. Some people are afraid to admit they’re lonely, particularly when scrolling social media feeds that seem full of friendship and happiness. Instead of fighting your feelings or trying to suppress them, put a label to your loneliness. Once you do, you'll be better equipped to do something about it.
- Write down happy memories. Spending just 10 to 15 minutes jotting down favorite memories you've shared with family and friends can help you put a stop to negative emotions. Journaling in this way can also be a powerful tool that helps you feel more in tune with yourself.
- Put on a comedy. Screen time is not a substitute for real-world social activities. But popping on a comedy or watching a few laugh-out-loud clips on YouTube can help mitigate loneliness—at least in the short-run. Laughing releases a flood of feel-good neurotransmitters that can act as a balm during lonely moments.
- Phone a friend. Sure, you can call the friends you usually turn to when you’re feeling blue. But what if you reached out to a friend you haven’t seen for a while, a high school bestie or a colleague you just reconnected with? When you’re feeling lonely, reminiscing with an old friend can be a solid antidote.
- Play “happy” music. It’s no secret that music profoundly impacts your mood. If you're intentional about the music you play, you can shift feelings of loneliness to a sense of happiness. Familiar pieces of music from your past can also help anchor your mind in feel-good memories.
- Volunteer. One of the best ways to fill your cup—and your sense of connection to others—is by volunteering. Serve meals at a soup kitchen or deliver books or crafts to a senior center. No matter what you choose to do, taking time to focus outside yourself can help obliterate feelings of loneliness.
- Spend time with animals. Pets are a beautiful vessel of unconditional love. Whether you’re walking the dog or playing with a guinea pig, interacting with animals is a great way to get your brain producing the pleasure chemical dopamine.
- Walk in nature. Even if it’s blistery cold, walking outdoors in the fresh air can do wonders for your psyche. It can quickly boost your mood and help combat feelings of dread and loneliness.
- Go to the library. Reading books can be a welcome escape and fill your mind with characters that you connect with.
- Get help. Still struggling with loneliness despite these strategies? Consider talking to a mental health professional. Psychotherapy can help you uncover the underlying reasons behind your loneliness and help you move through bouts of disconnection. A qualified therapist may also be able to help you identify unique strategies for how to deal with loneliness.
Getting Support For Loneliness
While it’s normal to feel lonely at times, chronic loneliness can negatively affect your health and well-being. People who feel consistently lonely may suffer from depression and anxiety. Loneliness is also linked with cognitive decline and even a lower life expectancy.
“It can be tempting to fill the void that comes from loneliness with alcohol, food or even online shopping,” Dr. MacLean says. “Unfortunately, these unhealthy coping mechanisms create more problems than they solve—and they can increase loneliness over the long haul.”
Instead, find ways to feel connected to other people, whether loved ones, friends or virtual strangers. You can even find support in an online group. But if that sense of loneliness persists for more than two or three weeks, it’s important to seek professional help.
To find a doctor or mental health professional at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.
Dr. Lisa MacLean is a psychiatrist specializing in adult ADHD treatment at Henry Ford Behavioral Services in Detroit. She is the director of physician wellness for Henry Ford Health, using her expertise to help doctors optimize wellness and find balance by teaching them healthy coping strategies so they can better serve their patients.