“I don’t have anyone in my life to talk to, spend time with, have a relationship with. No real friends, just a couple acquaintances and a family I hardly speak to. I’m usually lonely. . . . It almost physically hurts. . . . That’s the only way I can describe it. I watch my coworkers and ‘friends’ with their boyfriends/girlfriends and husbands/wives, and listen to them making plans, and see the photos of them having fun. And I sit at home and wish that I just had someone to talk to.” — 47-year-old male engineer
“My whole life I feel like I’ve never gotten along with the people here. I do have some close friends, but it seems like I’m drifting from them as we get older. I hate how people are so cold to each other; it’s hard to break into a social group. I’ve felt suicidal a couple times because of it, not knowing whether it will be this way forever or not.” — 21-year-old female college student
Stories of loneliness are more common than ever. Recent research reveals that 61 percent of Americans feel lonely, and 58 percent say they feel like no one knows them well. Unfortunately, the pandemic produced an additional spike in loneliness, with almost half of Americans saying they’ve felt more lonely than usual. And while you might think loneliness only strikes the reclusive, it’s worth noting that loneliness is no respecter of person, gender, age, or position in life. It is felt by young and old, male and female, married and single, employed and unemployed.
Although the rate of loneliness is rising, there is good news: loneliness can be managed and even overcome. If you long to feel more loved and less left out, here are seven ways to overcome loneliness:
1. Remember you are not alone in feeling lonely
Loneliness is a condition that almost everyone experiences at one time or another. Remind yourself that you are not alone in feeling this way: Loneliness is a part of being human. Even the spiritual greats who wrote the Bible experienced bouts of loneliness. Consider these quotes from the Bible:
“My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away.”
“My best friends and loved ones have turned from me.”
“The first time I defended myself, no one helped me. Everyone left me.”
“Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my friends—those who see me on the street flee from me.”
These cries of loneliness remind us how normal it is to feel alone. Not everyone feels lonely all the time, but everyone does feel lonely sometimes.
2. Take a good look at yourself
If your circle of meaningful friendships has shrunk over the years, take an emotional inventory of yourself. Consider whether you have tendencies that make it hard for people to get close to you. Ask yourself these questions:
• Am I self-absorbed?
(overbearing, boring, or uninterested
in others’ lives and activities)
• Am I unbalanced?
(a loner, workaholic, or living a narrow life
that makes it hard to connect with others)
• Am I lazy?
(depend on others to do all the initiating, reaching out, and inviting)
• Am I critical, judgmental, or angry?
(full of hostile emotions that drive
• Am I narrow-minded? (closed to other points of view; overly certain that my perception is always right)
If these are problems in your life, be aware of them and begin working to minimize and eliminate those negative habits. If necessary, see a counselor or therapist for guidance. By doing some work on your inner life, you will strengthen your social portfolio.
3. Take care of someone—or something—outside of yourself
An important key for warding off loneliness is care. Be a person who cares for other people, for animals, for life, for the needs around you.
“When you maintain a pattern of caring, whether for a house, a garden, pets, or other people, you are protecting yourself against despair,” says Aaron Katcher, MD, coauthor of Between Pets and People.
Musical composer and conductor Pablo Casals summed it up this way: “The capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.” Science agrees: People who help others typically live longer, happier lives. In fact, acts of service and care bring a sense of fulfillment, joy, and purpose, as well as an increased sense of self-worth. And by responding to the needs of others, you allow love into your own life.
Ches Hudel was 31 when her husband and nine-year-old son died in an automobile accident. She was left to raise three daughters, the youngest just one year old at the time. Today, in her 70s, Ches looks back on her journey through grief and sees how reaching out to others helped her heal and overcome loneliness.
Hudel began volunteering at a children’s medical center, working with kids who had cystic fibrosis. She also began teaching swimming to children and adults with disabling conditions, such as Down syndrome, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy.
“When you start reaching out from your world, there’s so much you can do to meet people . . . and to help them meet their challenges,” says Hudel.
4. Go online
“When my husband of 50 years died, I was lost,” says Floyce Larson, of Silver Spring, Maryland. “I was a lonely widow wondering what I would do with the rest of my life.”
Larson’s son suggested she seek connections online. He taught her how to navigate her computer and use online resources, including email and social media.
“Being online opened a whole new world for me. I communicate via email with distant relatives, old college friends. I chat with SeniorNet members and make friends across the country. I resumed freelance writing, and have also published online,” says Larson.
5. Go offline
An online network of friends can help combat loneliness, but it can’t be a replacement for face-to-face relationships. The best combination is to use social media as a way to open doors for real-life connections, says John Cacioppo, researcher and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.
“In the last 15 years or so, many face-to-face connections have been replaced with social networking,” says Cacioppo. “We’ve found that if you use social networking as a way to promote face-to-face conversation, it lowers loneliness. But if you use [it as] a destination, as a replacement for the face-to-face, it increases loneliness.”
Friendships formed online can become much deeper once you add phone calls, meetups for walks or meals, or other shared experiences.
6. Look up
When it seems that no one understands or cares about you, remind yourself that God knows you, loves you, cares about you, and is present, even in your loneliness. Turn to God in prayer and ask for help to find ways to experience joy and connection. Redirect your thoughts and feelings by reviewing Bible passages that affirm God’s faithful love and constant presence. Here are a few encouraging ideas you can read more about:
God cares about you and your feelings. – 1 Peter 5:7
When you are weary, you can turn to God. – Matthew 11:28, 29
God is with you in hard times. – Isaiah 43:1, 4
God’s compassion never runs out. Lamentations 3:22-26
God is always with you. – Joshua 1:9
7. Remind yourself that friendship is worth the effort
While strengthening your social portfolio does take some work and energy, the payoff is a richer, fuller, happier life. Lotte Prager owes her life, and much of the happiness she has enjoyed during her 81 years, to friends. It was friends who helped her escape Nazi Germany in 1937 by paying her first year’s tuition at a British college. Then, friends at the college helped her get her relatives out of Germany. Following her move to the United States, Prager met her husband-to-be at a party given by other friends. After her husband died and her children had grown up, yet another friend helped her find an apartment in New York City.
Retired from her career as a social worker, Prager now relies on friends for companionship. Prager says she is committed to making the effort to help her friends too: “They will do for me, and I will do for them.”