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Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Feelings of loneliness can be overwhelming and sad. Not only that, feeling alone can have a negative effect on your mental health.
Fortunately, there are things to do when you are feeling alone. First, a bit about loneliness — which is a feeling that doesn’t have to happen. Loneliness is defined as a distressed feeling paired with the feeling that your social needs are not being met by either the quantity or quality of your social relationships.
Research has found that people under 18 and over 65 are most likely to experience feelings of loneliness, though it can affect anyone of any age.
What makes matters even more complicated is these feelings of social isolation don’t only occur when you’re by yourself. You can have a meaningful relationship (or many for that matter) and still feel lonely.
Understanding what can trigger loneliness can help you (or a healthcare professional) determine what you can do to address feelings of isolation.
A number of things can cause you to feel alone — and some triggers are more obvious than others. For example, it’s natural to feel lonely if you start a new job or move to a new city. But being physically alone isn’t the only thing that can lead to these feelings of social isolation. Other causes are below.
As we age, it’s common to spend more and more time alone. This means that older individuals may be more at risk of feeling alone. This isn’t so great, because as we mentioned above, loneliness is associated with a number of health issues, like a decline in brain health — specifically cognitive decline.
That means that the risk of dementia can be linked to social isolation.
Loneliness and depression have a number of similar symptoms and they can be inextricably linked. Depression can lead to loneliness, but depression can also lead to loneliness.
Common depressive symptoms include feeling irritable, sad, hopeless and tired. It’s also common to feel uninterested in activities you once enjoyed. If you think about it, these things can also be felt when you are lonely.
Social media usage is pretty much part of everyday life at this point. Think about it: Whatever social networks you belong to, you probably check them on your phone throughout the day. And while they can help you keep up to date on what’s going on with various pals and celebrities, they don’t really encourage emotional connection.
One study linked increased feelings of loneliness to Facebook usage, for example, even though the platform can connect people online.
We detailed some potential causes of feeling alone — and here are six things you can do to avoid feeling that way.
The effects of loneliness can be pretty serious — especially long-term loneliness. That’s because it is believed that loneliness can accrue over time and speed up aging. Research also shows that it can affect heart health, lead to high blood pressure and even shorten your lifespan.
This is why it is so important to not just sit in your loneliness, but rather to address it. Here, are ways to do just that.
Studies show that when you clearly acknowledge and label your feelings, it can lower how hard they hit you. So, if you’re lonely — admit it to yourself.
That doesn’t mean you have to dwell in feeling alone; just admit that it’s how you’re feeling. This can be the first step to making progress and feeling less lonely. From there, it may be easier to start identifying things you can do to add more meaningful social interactions back into your life.
If you’re craving meaningful connections and time with friends, find ways to reach out to people you enjoy.
Perhaps your closest friend from college is someone you are no longer in contact with. We get it, life gets busy and people go their separate ways. Anyhow, there’s nothing to say you can’t get back in touch with a social connection from your past.
Shoot that old pal a text letting them know you’re thinking about them. Even just a little contact can go a long way towards making you feel less alone.
What if the people in your life are either busy or you don’t have anyone you feel you can connect with? It may be time to take up a new interest or hobby.
Say you’ve always loved to draw — sign up for an art class. Or perhaps you’re an avid reader — see if your local library runs any book clubs.
These kinds of activities will put you in touch with other people who share an interest. One study suggests that people who have common life points or interests may feel more connected with one another.
If you’re down in the dumps about feeling alone on a regular basis, doing things proven to lift your spirits can put you in a better frame of mind. For example, maybe it’s time to finally get that rescue dog you’ve been contemplating. Research has found that owning a pet may improve mental and physical wellness.
Another study suggests that listening to music can improve your mood. Though it’s worth noting that this was a small study done on young people, so more research needs to be done.
Finally, spending even a little bit of time outside in nature has shown to boost happiness. One study found it improves well-being and social interactions.
Talk therapy can benefit those dealing with feeling isolated in a variety of ways. First, simply the act of talking to someone else can soothe loneliness. Not only that, depending on the type of therapy you chose, you can address certain behaviors that may contribute to the way you’re feeling.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is all about addressing patterns of behavior that do not serve you. Here’s how it works:
You will work with a therapist to identify patterns and behaviors that may have a negative effect on you — for example, perhaps you are isolating yourself.
Then, you’ll set goals for what you’d like to change.
A therapist will guide you in finding ways to address and change those behaviors.
It is believed that depression is caused by low levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters carry info between neurons. Serotonin (which regulates mood) and dopamine (which may help you feel motivated) are two neurotransmitters associated with depression.
When you take antidepressants, they increase levels of certain neurotransmitters to address depression. You will need to take them for between four and eight weeks before you may notice a difference in depression symptoms.
If you don’t feel a sense of connection with those around you, it can lead to feeling alone. And sometimes, even if you are in a romantic relationship or have plenty of pals, you may still feel isolated.
Causes of loneliness can include age, depression and using social media. To address these feelings you can try to make new friends, talk to a therapist, take medication and more.
Whatever route you decide to take, it’s important to address loneliness — as it can have negative health implications.
If you feel that your loneliness is affecting your mental health, make an appointment with a healthcare provider to see what you can do.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.