How to Cope with Loneliness

4 Tips for Reducing Loneliness

Loneliness involves the negative feeling of being disconnected and isolated from other people. It happens when we have social needs that aren’t being satisfied through our current relationships. There is a growing body of evidence that Americans are experiencing particularly high rates of social isolation and loneliness in recent years, perhaps in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to U.S. Census Bureau surveys, Americans have been spending less time with friends and more time alone since before the pandemic. Some surveys reveal that around 60 percent of people in the U.S. currently report feeling lonely on a regular basis, which is higher than the rates of other major public health concerns like obesity and diabetes. Research also suggests that feelings of loneliness undermine our physical health and can even shorten our lifespan. While there are a range of factors that have been proposed to explain why we are feeling lonely, it is perhaps more important to focus on what can be done to manage loneliness and to reduce its impact on our overall health and well-being.

1. Reduce the stigma. Often times if we are feeling lonely, it can make us feel like something is wrong with us. But it is clearly a very common problem, and if you are feeling lonely, you are definitely not alone! It is also important to avoid social comparisons. It often appears (especially via social media) that everyone else is living a busier, more enjoyable, and/or more productive life than we are. Comparing our lives negatively to others only heightens feelings of loneliness and isolation. Be compassionate towards yourself by recognizing that what you are experiencing is part of the human condition, and offer yourself messages of kindness and care. 

2. Increase your casual social interactions. This may seem like a very basic piece of advice, but research suggests that loneliness is heightened by living alone and infrequent contact with other people, and reduced by having a spouse/roommate and interacting more. There are a number of ways to increase your contact with other people, ranging from just getting out of your house and sitting in a public place, to making conversation with the cashier or mail carrier, to joining a local club or group that engages in an activity that you are interested in. Taking a class in something that you’d like to learn more about can also be a way to increase your social participation. Similarly, volunteering with a local agency (particularly one that helps others) can not only combat feelings of loneliness, but also can improve overall psychological health. 

3. Strengthen current relationships. It is often too easy to let friendships and other relationships fade, especially when life is busy and there are a range of distractions that can take up our free time. But likely there are people in your life who at other points you have been closer to, or who you would like to know better. Make a list of people who you’d like to reach out to, and set some goals around nurturing those connections. Start small if you need to, maybe with just a text or a phone call to check in, and work towards making a specific social plan with someone whose company you enjoy. 

4. Practice gratitude. It never hurts to express gratitude directly, and in fact, research suggests that expressing gratitude strengthens social bonds and reduces feelings of loneliness. Consider reaching out to those people who you are thankful for and letting them know how you feel. In addition, it is also possible to practice gratitude on your own and feel less lonely. Keeping a daily gratitude journal has been found to increase overall health and reduce feelings of loneliness over time. 


Kathleen Boykin McElhaney, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist