10 Ways to Beat Loneliness
The great irony is that as we become increasingly "connected" — on social media, video calling, and messaging — we simultaneously feel increasingly lonely. And even though we may use technology to feel more connected, it may be exactly what’s leading us to feel lonely.
After spending the last year researching and writing my new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, I've learned that most of us feel disconnected. What about you? Are you feeling socially connected? (Take this well-being quiz to see how you're feeling.)
If not, try some of these 10 strategies to stop feeling lonely.
1. Practice self-kindness.
In difficult moments, it's essential to practice self-kindness. Blaming ourselves when we feel lonely is not helpful. So limit your hurtful self-talk, engage in some self-care, and just generally give yourself a break. Perhaps a walk in nature or a day at the spa may be helpful for getting yourself into a self-kindness mood.
2. Capitalize on the present moment.
When you feel good about something, share it with others right away, and I don't mean "share" by posting on your social media. You could share by calling or texting a friend. Or share with the people you work with. Keep in mind that the positive things that you can share don’t have to be big. You could simply have woken up on the right side of the bed and think, “Hey, I’m feeling great today.” By sharing these moments, you create small moments of connection with others that can help you overcome loneliness.
3. Connect in real life.
Connecting in real life may not be as easy as it once was. We often default to using our smartphones — it's easier, and now it's culturally accepted. But we can decrease our loneliness if we build stronger in-person connections. We do this by looking people in the eyes, listening, being mindful, and choosing not be distracted by our phones or other technologies.
4. Rethink how you spend your spare time.
When we feel lonely, sometimes we just want to retreat into a corner and hide. Other times, our endless to-do list may leave us too exhausted to go out and be social. But opting to stay alone every night with our phones, watching Netflix, or playing on Facebook can really get us stuck in loneliness. We've created a life for ourselves that deprives of us of meaningful social connection, and the only way to get out of it is to start living differently.
If we instead use our loneliness to motivate us to reach out to people, then we can strengthen our relationships. By opting to cope with our loneliness by seeking out social support, we create more social moments with the people in our lives who matter to us, which usually reduces our loneliness.
5. Do more things with people.
Engaging in face-to-face social interactions tends to improve our mood and reduce depression. Activities that involve other people — such as attending religious services or engaging in sports — are also likely to have positive effects on our mental health. So find ways to be around people more.
Watch this video on how to beat loneliness:
6. Talk to strangers.
A growing body of research suggests that even seemingly trivial interactions with strangers — like chatting with a barista or cashier — may be able to keep loneliness at bay by helping us feel more socially connected. So reach out to other human beings to say hello, ask them how they are, or chat about whatever's on your mind. These small acts can make a big difference and help you reduce feelings of loneliness.
7. Be active online.
Instead of passively surfing the net or your social media, if you want to go online, opt instead to do something that involves the active participation of other people. For example, you could play games with others, chat about something you care about, give advice on a forum, or have a video call with a friend. The more you interact with others while online, the more connected you are likely to feel.
8. Stop your negative thought cycles.
We might repeatedly think about what we could have done differently to prevent ourselves from feeling so alone. We ruminate on the events or people or causes, because we mistakenly believe that thinking about our loneliness over and over again will help us solve it. Unfortunately, it does us no good to get caught up in our thoughts instead of taking the actions we need to feel better.
To put an end to these negative thought cycles, we need to take action — do something different that stops these thoughts and changes our experience of the world. For example, if I'm feeling lonely, I'll go to the gym or schedule lunches with friends for the next few days. And it helps.
9. Generate a sense of awe.
Awe (like when we witness the birth of new baby, or a majestic mountain) makes time seem like it’s standing still and helps us be more open to connecting. Something about feeling small in the context of a big world appears to help us see ourselves as part of a whole, which may help us feel less alone. So expose yourself to something that creates awe — like landscapes, new experiences, or new foods.
10. Pay attention to the things that matter.
How do we expect to improve our loneliness when we don't know what causes it? It's hard. So it's helpful to start paying attention to the present moment. What are the experiences that make you feel lonely? And what are the experiences that make you feel connected or like you belong? Identifying these moments can help you reduce loneliness, because you can limit your engagement in activities that make you feel lonely and increase your engagement in activities that make you feel connected.
BONUS. Be nice to yourself.
It’s important to practice self-compassion when you fail at things. Remember, everyone fails, and there is no need to be a bully to yourself, feel guilty, or put yourself down. That kind of attitude won’t help you decrease loneliness, now or in the future. Instead, try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive, kind, and caring — and you’ll be more likely to acknowledge mistakes you may have made in trying to decrease loneliness, and hopefully do better next time.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is the founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at UC Berkeley, she started building online courses, apps, and products to boost well-being—products that have reached more than a million people. Now an author at Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis's expertise on how to boost well-being reaches people all across the world.