Practical ways to push back against this all-too-common emotional challenge.
A recent survey by the health services company Cigna found that nearly half of Americans report that they feel lonely or left out sometimes or all the time.
The irony leaps off the page—if you are lonely, you are far from alone in that feeling. Public health experts are raising awareness of loneliness as a social ill, many even referring to it as an “epidemic” with emotional and physical health consequences.
Awareness—and validation that loneliness is a legitimate feeling that should be addressed—is a crucial first step. But once you’ve identified loneliness as a drain on your happiness, what’s next? How can you find your way through lonely times and back to a positive outlook on life?
The online magazine The Cut recently interviewed seven therapists for their best tips on how to combat loneliness. These three stood out to me as the most helpful, and the most achievable, ways to start to push back the loneliness.
1) Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company
Not all alone time is lonely. Enjoying time spent in your own company is an important skill to cultivate, and it can lift some of the pressure you might feel about how much social time you “should” have in a given day, week or weekend. Sherry Amatenstein, a social worker, suggests these ways to start: “take a meditation class, take yourself to a movie, read, watch TED talks or other things that will make you think, or start a gratitude journal. Focusing on things to be grateful for…is a great lesson in appreciation.”
2) Be Patient
Saying “Nice to meet you” to a new acquaintance takes only a minute but forming a friendship requires a far greater investment of time and energy. Clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen advises to set an expectation of between six and eight conversations before both people trust and understand each other enough to feel connected. “The good news is that the bar to start is low. It’s been shown again and again that, as long as we are mutually kind to each other, we become friends with whomever we see most often. Proximity and repetition are key. So put yourself in situations where you see the same faces again and again,” she says.
3) Embrace Who You Are
Some people are simply introverts who feel easily overwhelmed in crowded social situations. A problem comes when people see their introverted nature as a negative thing, said Jim Siebold, a family therapist. But introverts can experience loneliness too, and Siebold’s advice is to “pursue interests, not people.” He says, “Get involved in a personal interest and that can put you in touch with like-minded people. Create a meetup.com account, take a continuing education class at your local university or community college, become a volunteer. This often feels much less intimidating than feeling you have to go out and meet new people.”