Feeling lonely sucks. The sense of being disconnected and unseen can pull us down as certainly as a lead weight affixed to our ankles. Loneliness isn’t always apparent to others. The person who lives and works alone may feel perfectly fulfilled while the married mother of three may be struggling with feelings of isolation.
That’s because loneliness is often more about what is happening in your head than what is happening in your life. And it’s SO easy to fall into decisions and actions (or often inactions) that feed the loneliness. If you’re feeling lonely, what you’re doing isn’t working. So, why not try one (or more!) of these ideas instead?
Some are big, some are small. Some can be done with no planning and no money, others take a larger investment. Some are geared towards extroverts, whereas others will appeal to the more introverted among us. Some appeal to the athletic and others will speak to the artistic. Regardless of the specifics, these are all designed to encourage out of your comfort zone (which is really more about habit than comfort, isn’t it?) and help you create a sense of connection and belonging.
Look through and pick what you think may work for you. And then put it into action. After all, you never know unless you try.
1 – Snuggle with a pet. Their unconditional love and unending acceptance is always a wonderful reminder of the connection you have with other living creatures. Furthermore, if your confidence is currently low, you can find comfort in the lack of judgment of animals. If you don’t have a pet, consider volunteering (or even just visiting) a shelter. I just learned about this unbelievable amazing one near me.
2 – Get into nature. It’s strange, sitting alone on your small sofa can feel more isolating than being alone on an extensive trail. Something about the magnitude and ever-changing beauty of nature makes us feel small and yet makes that diminutive stature matter less. Additionally, loneliness is compounded within our own heads. When we get outside, our minds often follow.
3 – Go somewhere where there are other people. Make a connection, even if it’s just a shared smile or a “good evening.” Build a small collection of places – coffee shops, bookstores, arcades, salons, batting cages, etc. – where you enjoy the atmosphere and the activity. When you’re feeling alone, let those become your “Cheers.”
4 – Engage your creativity. Part of loneliness is feeling like you don’t matter. When you create something, you are tapping into and releasing your inner self, bringing something new into the world. If you don’t already have a preferred creative medium, experiment. We may not all be accomplished painters, but we all can find a way to express ourselves.
5 – Limit your social media time. It’s easy to get sucked in, thinking that you’re nurturing with connections with others, yet studies show that watching the highlight reel of other’s lives from afar actually leaves you feeling more isolated and left out. Also pay attention to what platforms make you feel worse and which ones leave you feeling lifted. Each app has its own flavor and it’s important to find the ones that work best for you.
6 – Break a sweat. When you’re idle, you are providing plenty of space for loneliness to climb up on your lap and settle in. So brush it off and get moving. Go for a walk around the block. Sign up for a yoga class or finally commit to trying that new kick-boxing gym down the street. Even something as simple as a few push ups and body weight squats in the privacy of your own home will shake off the weight of lethargy.
7 – Call or write your grandmother or a grandmother-like figure in your life. Their world-wisdom and low tolerance for inane platitudes can be refreshing and they may even contour up some feel-good memories from childhood. If your grandmother is no longer living, consider visiting a senior living facility nearby and spending time with the residents that don’t have visiting family.
8 – Join something with a shared goal. It doesn’t matter if its the local chapter of your Toastmaster’s club, supporting somebody running for office, or the local running group. Sign up (and commit!) to an activity where everybody in the group is working towards a similar objective. Even if you never reach friendship status with any of the others, you will gain a sense of belonging.
9 – Pick up a work of fiction. When you’re struggling in your current world, sometimes a temporary escape to a fictional one can be just the respite you need. Find a book (or even better, a series of books) that excite you and envelope you. In addition to the brief evasion of reality, studies have demonstrated that reading fiction helps to develop emotional intelligence. And that may just give you the tools you need to address your loneliness in long term.
10 – Change your labels. If you consistently tell yourself that you’re lonely or isolated or unloved, you’ll start to believe it. Instead of those negative labels, try assigning more positive versions: independent, solo, autonomous, self-reliant. It’s amazing how much the perspective about a situation can change with a turn of phrase and it’s amazing how much the emotion associated with a situation changes with perspective. Go get ’em, maverick!
11 – Go to church. Churches are ready-made communities that are usually ready to welcome newcomers with open arms. It may take a little trial and error to find the congregation that resonates you and you may get a better feel for the culture from a smaller group gathering rather than the primary service. If you’re not particularly religious, consider a non-denominational congregation, a Unitarian church or even some of the more secular-focused groups of a traditional place of worship.
12 – Join Nextdoor. This app is limited to people in your immediate area. It is a paired-down social media site that tends towards the wayward dogs and the garage sales. Despite its limited content, in an era when we often don’t know our next door neighbor’s name, this app gives you a way to get to know and communicate with your local neighbors. You can also use it to see if anyone in your area is interested in starting a walking group, a gardening club or a beautification committee.
13 – Invite an acquaintance for coffee. It’s challenging to initiate and grow new friendships in adulthood. In childhood, friendships simply seem to happen simply through proximity. As we grow, building relationships takes a more concerted effort. So take that first step and invite someone in the periphery of your life out for a cup of coffee. At the least, you have a companion for an hour. At most, you have the beginning of a new friendship.
14 – Volunteer. This is one of those activities that gives amazing dividends on the energy invested. When you offer your services to help others, you often benefit as much as the recipients. Not only does it feel good to help, but it also helps to provide perspective, cultivate gratitude and assists in getting you out of your own head and current situation. With the myriad options available, you can find an opportunity that finds your time and temperament.
15 – Start a blog. Unlike the rapid-scroll and click bate realm of many social media sites, blogging communities have a greater tendency to be, well…communities. Especially if you blog about some niche interest or experience, you very well might find yourself some online companionship. One caveat with blogging – you will encounter some jerks. Remember that what they write says more about them than you. Don’t take it personally, block them from further commentary, and enjoy those that know how to play nicely.
16 – Spend time in your front yard every evening. It’s so easy to go to work, pull into your garage and spend the remainder of the evening in your home. And if you live alone (or live with others who make you feel as though you’re alone), you are literally walling yourself off from human contact. Instead, commit to spending a set amount of time on your front porch (or apartment balcony) each evening when others in the community are active. Bring something to keep you occupied, but make sure that it is something that is interruptible. When neighbors walk by, smile and say “hello.” In time, conversations may happen and relationships may form. Yet even if they don’t, the fresh air and the brief connection with others can go a long way.
17 – Go to a restaurant and eat at the bar. It can feel strange and awkward for some people to dine solo (or with someone that makes you feel alone), especially when the establishment is full of seemingly engaged couples and groups. Consider sitting at the bar. It’s less uncomfortable than occupying one chair at a table and you will often have other solo diners around you. Furthermore, the layout makes it relatively easy to join in on banter between other customers or with the staff.
18 – Be honest with people. Be careful about uttering the knee-jerk response of, “I’m fine.” Because people will often take you at your word and if you’re not fine, you’ll end up suffering in silence. Most people want to be helpful, but they can’t help if they don’t know. Asking for help isn’t weakness; it’s a sign of immense courage.
19 – Check out MeetUp.com. Do you want to learn how to make homemade pasta? Are you looking for a rollerblade group in town? Do you want to find a book club that only discusses dystopian fiction? You’ve come to the right place. If you’re in a decent-sized city, MeetUp has every possible activity and every potential type of group. It’s a great option when you want to meet people but you’re not interested in dating or the trepidation of making the first move of a new potential friendship. If you’re nervous, take heart that many of the participants are also in your shoes.
20 – Go shopping. But not for you. On it’s own, shopping can actually increase feelings of depression and loneliness. However, if you are engaged in the hunt of finding treasures for somebody else, it actually improves your well-being beyond the time in the store. If you’re at a loss of who to shop for, contact a local women’s shelter, school, or community center and ask them for ideas.
21 – Get a part-time job. If your day job doesn’t provide you with much contact with others (or if your day job involves running around after toddlers), evaluate the idea of taking on a part-time job. This one is less about the money than about the connections, so think about what would give you the contact you want. If you prefer to see the same people at regular intervals, consider a front desk position at a small gym or salon. If you’re more fast-paced and into one-and-done connections, think about a shift at a restaurant or as a checker. When you look into your options, also pay attention to your potential coworkers and strive to find a culture that you can integrate within.
22 – Throw a party. I know, it’s scary when you’re feeling alone. After all, what if nobody shows up? But what if they do? Keep it low-key, focused on some theme or event or activity (or even another person) and don’t allow your exceptions to ascend too high or plummet too low. If you’re uncomfortable with people in your home, consider hosting in some other location. Ask, and you’ll soon be receiving guests.
23 – Sign up for a group travel adventure. These groups are like ready-made sister-and/or-brotherhoods on a quest for adventure. You may all start out as strangers, but as you commiserate over the paltry breakfast one day and exclaim over the views the next, bonds will begin to form over the shared experiences. And even once you’re back at home, you’ll maintain the memories, if not the relationships.
24 – Start a home improvement project. Fixing up your space serves two purposes – it gives you a project to throw yourself into and it helps to create an environment that you find welcoming and supportive. And I promise you, if nothing else, you’ll get to know the employees at your local hardware store.
25 – Join a cause or participate in a social movement. There is no shortage of groups that promote, support and organize around some sort of cause or mission. Take a moment and brainstorm what beliefs you’re passionate about and then investigate local or virtual groups that are working towards that end. Smaller groups or smaller niches within larger organizations will provide more opportunities for regular and consistent connection with the same people.
26 – Smile and make eye contact with the people you encounter throughout the day. Most people want to make connections yet we often go through our public lives with our heads lowered, our faces lowered into our phones or our minds elsewhere. Make a conscious effort to make eye contact and acknowledge others through a quick nod or a smile. It will feel strange at first and some people may be surprised to have a stranger concede their existence. It’s okay. It gets easier and those smiles you receive in return will be proof that you’re establishing a fleeting link with another.