Loneliness and Social Isolation
How to connect with others when you feel lonely
Feeling isolated and alone? This toolkit offers simple ways to cope with loneliness and strengthen your connections—and most of them you can do right now.
Human beings are social creatures. While it’s normal to feel lonely sometimes, we thrive within relationships and communities of people. When you feel isolated and cut off from others, it can take a toll on both your mental and physical health, sending your stress levels soaring, triggering anxiety and depression, and increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Of course, loneliness is something most of us have to deal with at certain times. You may have to quarantine away from loved ones for health reasons, for example, as was so common during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving to a new city for work, attending college far home, grieving the loss of someone close, or breaking up with a romantic partner can also leave you feeling socially disconnected and alone.
In other circumstances, you may find that you have a number of casual acquaintances but no friends close enough to make you feel understood or cared for. Whatever the reasons for you feeling lonely, know that it is a normal human experience and there are steps you can take right now to help alleviate loneliness, protect your health, and strengthen your connections with others
It’s true that during in-person interactions, your body releases hormones that reduce stress and stimulate positive emotional responses. That’s why face-to-face contact with friends and family is so integral to maintaining your mental health.
However, it’s not always possible to connect in-person with loved ones whenever feelings of loneliness strike. Whether you’re traveling with work, live far away, or kept apart for another reason, there are other ways of staying connected and avoiding isolation.
Use video chat. Videoconferencing services such as Zoom became popular during the pandemic, but there’s no reason not to employ them now when you feel lonely. Video chatting can help you to:
Call on the phone. If you feel uncomfortable about calling people out of the blue—even on days when you feel especially lonely—text to set up a good time to call. Or better still, schedule regular times each week to talk on the phone with a friend or loved one. It will give you something to look forward to whenever you’re feeling lonely.
Write a letter. Handwriting a letter or postcard to a loved one may not be the fastest way to send a message. However, the time and effort required to write and mail a letter or card makes it so much more significant to the reader than a text, email, or Facebook post.
Connecting with others doesn’t have to be limited to close friends, family, or work colleagues. Even communicating with strangers can help to combat loneliness and the negative effects of social isolation. You might even develop lifelong friendships as you begin to branch out and talk to people in online or offline spaces.
As well as expanding your social network, helping others can add meaning and purpose to life. In fact, volunteering to help others can be just as beneficial for you as it is for those you help.
Volunteer for a cause that’s important to you, whether it’s campaigning for a political cause, walking shelter animals, or feeding the homeless, for example. As well as serving the community, it can help foster a sense of connection with other volunteers. However, if you have limited mobility or are unable to leave home for whatever reason, you can often still volunteer for tasks such as making or answering calls or sending emails.
Run errands for a neighbor in need, such as fetching medications or groceries for a senior, new parent, or someone who’s ill. You can build social connections while making life easier for people with physical or mental disabilities or people who simply feel overwhelmed by their daily errands. Become a mentor. Look for ways to pass down valuable skills or knowledge you possess. You can take a younger person under your wing, for example, and teach them something you specialize in, such as a trade, sport, or musical instrument. Not only will you help the other person grow, you’ll also have a chance to bond with them. Search for local and national organizations that can help match you with kids in need.
If you work from home, it’s easy to feel confined within the same four walls every day. Even if you commute, it’s easy to fall into a routine that’s limited to traveling to and from work. Try to set aside some time to actually enjoy being outdoors. Not only will spending time in fresh air and open spaces improve how you feel, it can open you up to meeting new people.
Walk around your neighborhood. Taking a different route each day and discovering new places can be a stimulating experience and give you the opportunity to cross paths with new people. Be a tourist in your own neighborhood and explore places you’ve never been to before or familiar places as if seeing them for the first time. Try snapping photos of interesting sights—there’s beauty in even the mundane and familiar.
Spend time in public places. Rather than eating lunch at your desk or alone in your home, head out to a restaurant, coffee shop, or shopping mall food court. To save money, pack your own lunch and enjoy it at in a park or other public space. Simply being within eyeshot of others can help you feel less alone and increase the chances of meeting new people. If you happen to make extra food, consider inviting a neighbor, colleague, or casual acquaintance to join you for lunch.
Adopt outdoor hobbies. Try cycling, hiking, playing in the park with your dog or kids, or simply walking around outdoor spaces. If the weather is bad, switch to walking inside a shopping mall—it’s a popular fitness routine, especially for older people.
Traveling can of course be an excellent way to cope with loneliness and isolation, but it's not always a feasible solution, especially in these financially uncertain times. But even if you’re stuck at home, don’t have the means to get away at the moment, or prefer not to travel alone, there are ways to still experience a small taste of adventure.
Recreate a trip you’ve always wanted to take. Read guide books for the location you want to visit, view online video tours of museums, zoos, and other tourist attractions, or even shop your local grocery store and create meals from that region.
Take a virtual vacation. Visit different places around the world, touring by foot or by car. Or for a fun twist play the virtual vacation guessing game where you try to work out your location from your surroundings.
Find online concerts, theater performances, or other events. There are plenty of live and recorded shows you can enjoy at home when you’re feeling isolated. Try searching YouTube, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, or theater company websites. Hearing performers interact with a live audience can help ease the sense of isolation better than simply watching a movie or TV show.
Relive a favorite trip from your past. Turn old travel photos and other mementos into a scrapbook of your adventures. Post them on social media or edit and share old vacation videos.
Plan for future escapes. Even if you’re unable to travel right now, you can still start to plan your next getaway. Whether you’re hoping to meet friends locally, take a road trip, or fly overseas, making plans can give you something to look forward to. Research your destination online and devise an itinerary
Many of us fill hours of solitude by focusing on the negative, rehashing past mistakes, or dwelling on worst-case scenarios. But that only makes the sense of loneliness and isolation worse. Instead, you can challenge negative thoughts and talk to yourself in a kinder, more realistic way—like a caring friend.
Focusing on a hobby or interest can help you to feel less alone and strengthen your sense of purpose and meaning. If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language or a musical instrument, when you’re feeling lonely and isolated could be the perfect time.
Feeling lonely can activate your body’s fight-or-flight response and add to your stress levels. To compensate, take time to nurture your spirit, boost your mood and outlook, and protect your mental health.
Learn to relax. Practicing a relaxation technique such as meditation is an excellent way to relieve stress, tension, and anxiety. If you’re feeling homesick, missing your loved ones, or separated from your happy place, guided imagery meditation can be particularly useful. Guided imagery uses the power of your imagination to visualize happier times and relax your body and mind. Try using HelpGuide’s Guided Imagery Meditation.
Get active. Regular exercise can help you better manage your body's stress hormones. Taking your workouts to a public space, such as a gym or park, can also help you feel less alone. Consider joining a pickup basketball game, finding a running group, joining a golf club, or taking a yoga class.
Draw comfort from simple daily pleasures. Take a relaxing bath, read a good book, or watch your favorite Netflix show.
Watch what you eat and drink. Self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or food may offer short-term relief, but over time will only worsen your mood and make the loneliness even harder to bear.
Practice acceptance. Remember that loneliness is something that everyone deals with at some point. There's no shame in feeling lonely. It's also important to accept factors that are beyond your control. Maybe you can't afford a plane ticket to go visit your loved ones right now—but that doesn't mean you need to confine yourself to home.
Loneliness can also sometimes be hard to shake, even after you've taken steps to change the situation. For example, even when you make friends in a new town, you might still long for your old friends. It’s okay to miss them; just remember to do what you can to reach out.
If loneliness becomes too much to bear and you feel overwhelmed or in despair, please reach out. Read Are You Feeling Suicidal?, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. at 1-800-273-8255, or find a helpline in your country at Befrienders Worldwide.
Know that loneliness and isolation aren’t permanent. With the right strategies and support, you can develop or rebuild a healthy and satisfying social life.Last updated or reviewed on February 24, 2023
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