While it’s hard to admit you’re lonely, doing so can help you connect with others.

By Cathy Cassata
Medically reviewed by Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

Feeling lonely can make you feel unlikeable or weird, or like someone others just don’t want to be around. It can be difficult to admit when we’re lonely, even to ourselves. When someone asks how we’re doing, we often tell them “we’re fine.”

Admitting we are lonely can make us feel deficient in some way, as if we’re at fault or that it reveals some personal flaw or shortcoming. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if we’re lonely or something else.

So, what are the signs of loneliness and how can we manage them? Let’s take a look.

Defining loneliness

A study on loneliness published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine defined loneliness as a stressful experience that happens when a person feels their social relationships are somehow lacking. The study goes on to explain that while feeling lonely is subjective, people can be alone without feeling lonely and vice versa; people can be around others and still feel lonely.

“We can feel alone when we’re in a room full of people, at our own birthday party, or wherever we feel disconnected,” says Gina Moffa, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in New York City, New York. “It’s not about the people or the company — it’s about the connection.”

She points out that people will sometimes sustain relationships, whether romantic or platonic, that do not “feed” them emotionally, simply for the sake of having company or not being alone.

“What that actually does, though,” Moffa adds, “is counterproductive, because you are changing and minimizing your own emotional needs and severing the possibility of deeper connections elsewhere by maintaining relationships that are mismatched.”

On the other hand, people can live a life in solitude and not be lonely.

“It’s all about what needs are being met which need to be met,” says Moffa.

Am I lonely?

If you’re feeling lonely, you’re not alone.

According to a report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, more than a third of people report feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time.” Younger people between 18 and 25 years old felt especially lonely with 61% reporting serious feelings of loneliness.

COVID-19 restrictions added to this loneliness. Moffa says while people were lonely before the pandemic, forced isolation due to COVID-19 brought on a deeper inner aloneness.

“Life as we knew it was ripped away without choice,” she says. “Families were not able to connect and the already isolated older populations (which count on holidays the most for connection) found themselves stuck trying to connect in a way that could feel very foreign and unsatisfying.”

Researchers found the following people were more likely to have feelings of loneliness during the pandemic:

  • young adults
  • students
  • women
  • people with lower education or income
  • the economically inactive
  • those living alone
  • urban residents

Moffa says she sees many clients who are lonely and they often report doing the following:

  • scrolling on social media first thing in the morning and last thing before bed for a long time
  • decreased energy or wanting to sleep more
  • increased addictive behaviors, such as online shopping and alcohol or drug use
  • spending more time binge-watching television shows as opposed to engaging in real-life connections
  • making self-deprecating statements, such as “everyone hates me,” that implies feelings of rejection

If you’ve found yourself doing some of these things, you may be feeling lonely. And that’s OK.

It’s OK to admit you’re lonely. It’s when you ignore these feelings and don’t acknowledge them when problems can arise.

Health complications of loneliness

Loneliness can impact your physical and mental health.

According to research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), many adults 50 years old and over who are lonely have a higher chance for health complications. Physical health complications include heart disease (29% increase) and stroke (32% increase). People with heart failure who experience loneliness are 68% more likely to be hospitalized and 57% more likely to visit the emergency room.

Some mental health complications include:

  • dementia
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • thoughts of suicide

The NASEM report also suggests that people who are immigrants may experience loneliness more often than other groups due to:

  • fewer social ties
  • language barriers
  • differences in community
  • family dynamics
  • new relationships that lack depth or history

Similarly, individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to have feelings of loneliness because of stigma, discrimination, and barriers to care.

Can loneliness be prevented?

While loneliness happens to everyone at different times in their life, Moffa says keeping connections can help prevent feelings of loneliness. However, she acknowledges that this can be difficult.

“When people are lonely, an obvious suggestion would be to reach out to others. But this can be the wrong advice,” she urges.

Another way to combat loneliness is by staying connected through community opportunities.

Moffa says that a good way for communities to help with loneliness is for them to “engage with those who are socially isolated, or at least offer social engagement for anyone who may be suffering with being lonely and disconnected or just lack a healthy amount of human interaction.”

Ways to manage loneliness

So, if you’re experiencing loneliness, how can you manage those feelings? Here are some ways to help ease your loneliness.

Reach out to old friends

Finding a way to connect to those who bring meaning and joy to your life can ease loneliness.

“Being around people we can be our true selves with is vital in our emotional and psychological health,” Moffa says. “Company for the sake of company can be damaging to our sense of self.”

Give back

Volunteering is a great way to connect with others and help at the same time.

“There are plenty of people who need connection or a kind Samaritan,” Moffa encourages. “Volunteer services are more fulfilling for those who give.”

Plan something weekly

Putting an activity on your calendar can give you something to look forward to each week.

Taking a walk with a friend, attending a religious service, setting up a family zoom call, or engaging in another activity can help create a feeling of being energized.

Get a pet

Having a pet to keep you company and get you outside interacting with others can be comforting.

According to a survey from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 80% of pet owners state that their pets make them feel less lonely.

Seek out a therapist

Talking with a therapist on a regular basis can help reframe negative thoughts or feelings of rejection and aloneness.

“It is also a dedicated time each week that you will be connected, so it gives you something to look forward to,” says Moffa.

Is it more than loneliness?

If feelings of loneliness are pervasive and relentless, Moffa says it may be time to consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

“If a person exhibits increased depressive episodes, anxiety, memory loss, sleep disruptions, or any other kind of cognitive decline, it may be time to get professional help,” she says.

What’s next?

While feeling lonely can be overwhelming, there are ways to help ease those feelings.

If it becomes too difficult or intense to cope with and starts affecting your daily life, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional. You can find local support and connect with trained counselors 24/7 by phone or text through the free Be Strong App.

This article was originally published on PsychCentral. Content may be edited for style and length.

Am I lonely? Take the Loneliness Quiz

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This