Are You Feeling Lonely?

Three happy women with dog sitting on boardwalk at sunset

Here are some ways to cope

Feeling lonely? You’re not the only one.

Study after study confirms that people — of all ages, races and walks of life — struggle to connect with others.

We experience loneliness in different ways for different reasons. Typically, if people perceive that their social relations are lacking, then negative feelings arise. But someone can feel lonely without being alone in a crowd of strangers. Humans need not only the presence of others but also people who provide meaningful connections.

Many resist seeking help for fear of being perceived as weak and loneliness can build upon itself, causing people to withdraw further. But loneliness isn’t a character flaw. Feeling lonely means you have a natural need for social connection.

Why loneliness matters

Too much solitude isn’t good for your body or mind. Researchers say it’s as harmful to a person’s health and longevity as smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Any prolonged period of loneliness can lead to health problems such as:

  • Heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke
  • Cognitive decline and dementia
  • Higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Increased risk of premature death

Who’s at risk?

Although feelings of loneliness can happen to anyone, some people are vulnerable to the more detrimental effects of loneliness, including:

  • People who live alone or are unable to leave home
  • Anyone who has recently experienced a major life change such as job loss or death of a loved one
  • Caregivers and parents who may be isolated or overwhelmed
  • Adults 18-30 years old and over age 50
  • People with low household incomes
  • Anyone who faces inequities such as age, gender or racial discrimination
  • Immigrants
  • LGBT people

What to do

Here are seven ways to help you or a loved one improve social connections and overcome loneliness:

  • Be social. Participate in activities with people who have similar interests. Join a support group or team sport or sign up for a class to learn a new skill.
  • Focus on the positive. Reduce the untrue thoughts you have about your self-worth and the perception of others.
  • Get back to basics. Healthy habits, such as engaging in physical activities, getting enough sleep and eating nutritious foods, are especially important during times of stress.
  • Volunteer. Help others or do charity work.
  • Consider owning a pet. Many studies have shown that pets help lower blood pressure and stress levels. They also provide companionship, with one study finding that 80% of owners think their pet decreases loneliness.
  • Pay it forward. Check on neighbors, family members or anyone who could be prone to loneliness.
  • Stay connected. Foster your relationships by regularly visiting, calling or texting friends and family.