Throughout most of the last year, COVID-19 drove people inside at unprecedented numbers around the world. Gatherings and groups became dangerous ways to spread the illness, causing most people to limit their social circle. Though feelings of loneliness and isolation were problems before COVID-19, the pandemic certainly worsened these feelings for many. Learning how to deal with loneliness is a process, but there are ways to cope and thrive if you’re feeling isolated.
How to Deal With Loneliness: 9 Ways to Cope and Thrive
The negative impacts of loneliness on our bodies and brains has been studied at length. Though this effect is not completely understood, loneliness generally seems to create more stress, which leads to negative health impacts. Learning how to deal with loneliness and trying ways to cope and thrive not only means feeling happier, but also living a healthier life.
1. Understand Loneliness
The first step to dealing with any mental or emotional obstacle in your life is to understand it and give it the right name. Naming our emotions helps to give us distance and perspective on them. This will stop them from looming so large and also helps us separate our emotions from ourselves. Remember, a particular feeling or thought is not a concrete part of your person or personality, and it can be resolved, or at least lessened.
Though these things can commonly run together, it’s important to separate loneliness from depression or anxiety. It’s also important to remember that you can be alone without feeling lonely, and you can be around others and still feel lonely. The feeling of loneliness often stems from feeling unheard, misunderstood, or unable to be your real self around people you care about. You might feel isolated or cut off from meaningful connection.
You might be feeling other emotions as well, such as frustrated with people who aren’t hearing you, regretful about events you’ve missed, worried about loved ones or the future, and many other emotions. Naming these emotions and separating them from feelings of loneliness can help you deal with loneliness by itself. With each emotion separated and named, each will feel smaller and more manageable. Consider the following methods to name and better understand what you’re feeling.
- Look at a wheel of emotions and try to pick out what you’re feeling, besides loneliness.
- Write down your feelings as they come up, and use the wheel of emotions to separate different feelings.
- Instead of thinking, saying, or writing phrases like “I am lonely,” try “I am feeling lonely right now.” This helps to give us emotional distance. It will work with other emotions as well.
- Why do you feel this way? Are you missing a particular person, are you sad that you missed an event, or frustrated with the situation in general? Understanding the source(s) of feelings can help to find ways to cope with them.
2. Focus on the Facts
Though our emotions often arise from real events or facts, our feelings can often become much larger than the reality they start from. Separating our feelings from reality and focusing just on the facts can help to make loneliness—and other emotions—feel smaller and more manageable.
You might have a thought like, “I’m never going to see my friends again. I’m going to be stuck in this house forever,” which leads to loneliness and frustration. Instead, focus on the facts. You might think, “I can’t see some of my friends in-person right now. There are some places I can’t go right now.”
Pulling just the facts out of the situation can help to reframe it, and also give emotional distance. Try this exercise when you journal, or even when an emotion-heavy thought comes to mind.
3. Brainstorm Solutions
When we’re feeling lonely, it’s easy to get caught up in regretful daydreaming and think of all the things we’re not doing or people we’re not seeing. This sense of missing out can further our feelings of isolation. To deal with loneliness, try focusing on solutions instead.
In the previous exercise, we took a look at the facts of the situation that is making us feel lonely. In this exercise, try writing down as many solutions to this situation as you can. Write down anything you can think of, even if it’s a solution you probably won’t try.
For example, you might’ve had a lonely thought like “I don’t have anybody to talk to.” In the previous exercise, you might’ve turned this into, “right now, it’s more difficult to talk to the people I care about.” In this exercise, brainstorm all of the possible ways you could talk to anyone, even if they seem silly or you’re not sure how to try it. For example, you could:
- Get a penpal
- Try a chat room
- Video call your friends
- Write a letter to your friends
- Start a video stream
- Chat with someone on social media
- Start an email exchange with a friend
- Try a chat app
- Call or write to an acquaintance
Keep brainstorming. Ask others about their solutions. Try to get as many ideas as you can, regardless of whether you’re likely to try them. By focusing on a solution to a problem and getting creative with ideas we get further distance from looming emotions, and closer to healthy coping mechanisms.
4. Take Action
Loneliness is a difficult emotion to cope with. It can leave us without energy or drive. For this exercise, start small. Making small efforts but sticking with them will ultimately be more impactful than taking big leaps without consistency.
Take your brainstorm list and pick a solution that you haven’t tried before, but wondered about. This might mean installing a video chat application for the first time, or researching how to find a penpal. Remember, you don’t have to dive in right away. You might start by just researching a solution and learning more about it. Or, you might ask a friend if they would take on a solution with you. Or, you might start by making a plan.
Whatever solution you pick, get started with a small step. Pick a day to make another small step. Focusing on the solution and how to get started will help you deal with loneliness by redirecting your thoughts.
5. Ask for Help
The best way to deal with loneliness is to ask someone to help you. Make a list of the people you’re close to, the people you miss talking to, or even the people you miss seeing occasionally. Reach out to one of them and ask them how they’re dealing with loneliness. Or, if you have a solution, ask if they would participate. If you don’t get a response from the first person, keep moving down the list.
Your friend or family member might not have a good solution for how to deal with loneliness, or they might not be able to participate in your idea. That’s okay. Having a conversation and commiserating is one way to feel less lonely.
6. Reach Out in New Ways
If you feel as though you’re missing out on meaningful interactions, it might be the method. Maybe you’re relying more on text messaging, but missing out on real conversations.
There are many different ways to have meaningful conversations. However, adapting to the current situation takes some effort. This might mean helping a friend or family member get started with video chatting. Or, it might mean talking on the phone instead of texting. This might even mean writing letters or writing emails. Help your friends and family members if they’re willing to try a new method, and try to be flexible yourself as well.
7. Reach Out to New People
Maybe you’re seeing fewer people and it’s hard to talk with people who share your interests. To deal with loneliness, it can be helpful to leave your comfort zone just a bit a bit and try communicating with people you don’t know.
Try focusing on an interest or hobby to start with, so you’ll have common ground. Consider the following ideas:
- Start or join an online group, chat room, or forum around a hobby or activity.
- Join an online class in something you’re interested in.
- Start or join a project, such as creating a book of poetry, making an app, creating a family tree or something else you’re interested in.
- Try learning a language and writing to or chatting with a native speaker.
- Start or join an online book club
8. Help Others
One of the best ways to deal with loneliness, and sadness in general, is to focus on improving the lives of others. Even if we’re taking part in activities individually, making an impact on others widens our social circle. Remember that helping others doesn’t have to mean saving the world. Even when you make a small impact, you’re taking a big step when you look outside of yourself and towards others. This is beneficial for you, and for the people you help.
There are many ways to help others, even when social interactions are limited. Consider the following ways to get involved, or learn more about opportunities:
- Making masks at home or in socially distanced groups
- Raising money for a good cause
- Participating in crisis hotlines and chats
- Helping neighbors with yard work or shopping
- Facilitating an online meeting for people with obstacles similar to yours
- Contact your local library, church or community center
- Take a look at opportunities online
9. Talk With a Counselor
Some of these strategies for dealing with loneliness may be helpful for you, while others may not. Maybe you’ve already tried these strategies, and still feel lonely and isolated. A counselor can help you deal with loneliness, learn helpful coping mechanisms, and continue to thrive, even in tough times. With teletherapy appointments available, you can take with an expert and create a therapy plan that will help you move forward.