Loneliness has become a widespread problem. According to research reported in the Harvard Business Review, 40 percent of U.S. adults report feeling lonely, and loneliness has even been called an epidemic by medical doctors, psychologists, and the government. Human connection has incredible benefits for our well-being, but on the flipside, if left unchecked, loneliness can lead to depression and other health issues.
We asked members of the Thrive community to share their best strategies for overcoming loneliness in their own lives. If you’ve been lacking that feeling of connection in yours, these tips will help.
Strike up a conversation with a stranger
“Uber is my primary mode of transportation, so I am constantly in close quarters with strangers, faced with the option of conversing or sitting in silence. My tendency to opt for the former is continually reinforced. I’ve had drivers who unexpectedly inspire me, introduce me to new genres of music, make me laugh, and broaden my horizons culturally and philosophically. Taking the opportunity to interact with strangers — particularly strangers from different walks of life with whom I may not regularly cross paths — has helped me feel more connected and adds drops to my connection bucket.”
—Ashley Smith, licensed psychologist, Kansas City, MO
Keep a regular schedule
“As a professional speaker, I face loneliness when I’m on the road touring, away from family for several days or sometimes weeks at a time. The key for me has been scheduling calls with friends, and visiting churches and temples wherever I go. I do my best to maintain the same sleep schedule no matter what timezone I’m in, so I stay healthy and don’t need to catch up on sleep when I’m home and my wife is awake, which would leave me feeling alone even when I’m at home.”
—David Pride, youth motivational speaker, Portland, ME
Transport yourself to a different time and place
“Meditation is my key to unlocking feelings of happiness. Whenever I meditate, I overcome any loneliness because my innermost thoughts give me strength. Focusing on positive thoughts rather than negative ones also helps me to combat loneliness. When I’m not meditating, I pick up a book. Almost instantly, I’m drawn into an alternative world inhabited by new characters who help me feel less alone.”
—Vandana Shah, divorce attorney and writer, Mumbai, India
Seek connections on your daily commute
“On my daily commute, I look up, make eye contact, and smile. Every single day.”
—Pratiksha Patel, people and culture leader, New York, NY
Learn to love being alone with yourself
“I love people! Although that might sound great in theory, it can become exhausting. I’ve had to learn to be alone with me. I learned the power of writing down my thoughts, which travel at the speed of light. I learned to harness the power of my words, which travel even faster than my thoughts. I soon became addicted to captured each meaningful moment through the written word — my ‘word world.’ I now guard my alone time because I actually love spending time with me to talk and listen to my innermost thoughts.”
—Dr. Gail Hayes, executive leadership coach, Mebane, NC
Let your loved ones in
“When I’m overwhelmed with loneliness, I go out of my way to plan time with my friends. I recently moved to a new town and know very few people, so I try to see my friends at least once a week until my cup feels full again. I also try to be intentional about calling and texting friends whom I don’t talk to on a regular basis, let them know where I’m at, and if I need some extra encouragement when I’m feeling low. It’s the only way out of loneliness — you can’t get help from your loved ones if you don’t let them know you need it.”
—Emily Woodruff, assistant project manager, Deford, MI
Get a breath of fresh air
“I find that being online too much, even if I’m interacting with some of my closest connections, actually makes me more lonely. On days when it’s too much, I take long walks with my dog up the mountain behind my house. It’s rare to see crowds of people on the mountain, but I’m almost guaranteed to run into a few, often with their own dogs. There’s something magical about being in nature and seeing other people in that environment. Part of the attraction is that I know we have at least one thing in common: We enjoy being outdoors, breathing the fresh air, feeling our hearts pound as we ascend, and taking in the views from the top of each rising hill. Our brief hellos and our smiles as we take in the view from the summit fill me with gratitude, which is the perfect antidote to loneliness.”
—Sarah Elkins, certified strength coach, Helena, MT
Be honest about how you’re feeling
“Loneliness is a reality for everyone at some point. I’ve found that being vulnerable with friends who have earned your trust can fuel your soul. We are more alike than different, and if we share our challenges with others, we might learn that they, too, have faced a similar mountain and reached the summit. The bravery that comes from knowing that others have walked our walk can get us through to the other side and remind us that we’re not as alone as we might think.”
—Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker, and life coach, Toronto, Canada
Live in the present
“My number one strategy to combat loneliness is to live more presently. As a fear strategist and molecular geneticist, I have studied the effects of loneliness professionally and from my personal journey. In an age of instant connectivity, we are increasingly feeling more alone — myself included. I used to be a professional people pleaser and hid all my life. I lived in my own fear of being seen, and created a wall of protection around myself. I now make the conscious decision every day to connect with at least one new person — even a random stranger on the bus. Look up, smile and ask, ‘How is your day today?’ Truly engage, listen, and make eye contact, too.”
—Robin Joy Meyers, speaker, author, and molecular geneticist, Washington D.C.
Give back to grow closer to others
“Giving back helps me feel connected to others. Volunteering is fun, especially in group settings. I lead the charity efforts at my firm, where we focus on hands-on giving and teamwork. We often prepare lunches together to donate to a local shelter, or conduct mock-interviews for The Doe Fund, which is an organization that provides paid transitional work, housing, and educational opportunities to people with a history of substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration. I also bond with my kids by delivering food to the local homeless shelter together every Thursday. Caring for others is a great way to foster fellowship and remember that we are never truly alone.
—Kerry Wekelo, COO, Reston, VA
Remember that loneliness isn’t permanent — and changes with the season
“The times I struggle most with loneliness are when I fight my battles alone. This becomes especially difficult in the fall and winter seasons, when daylight shortens and the weather becomes cold. Each year I work at my self-care plan, which includes regular conversations with my support system, dates with my wife, play and adventures with my children, and serving in the community. I keep in mind that I need to see the people I love face to face, not just on social media. Each spring and summer, I am reminded of the bright long days, and that loneliness can in fact be seasonal, not permanent.”
—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, SC
Find a common interest among a new group of connections
“When I felt lost and lonely, I searched for new ways to connect with others. I became a mother at 37, and after spending a long time in leadership roles, I felt lost and isolated. I managed to surround myself with a wonderful group of fellow mom friends. We organize social events with our kids, and keep in touch both online and offline. If you feel lost or isolated, always reach out! There are many people to connect to in many ways. Surround yourself with loved ones.”
—Ida Peťková, psychologist, facilitator, and coach, Czech Republic
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