“I’m so lonely” – 16 ways to deal with loneliness

Scientifically reviewed by Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D.

Last updated on

A few years ago I often felt lonely. I spent nights and weekends alone when I saw others having fun with friends.

Over the years I’ve learned powerful strategies f0r how to deal with loneliness, and here’s the good news:

Just because you’re lonely today doesn’t mean that you will be lonely tomorrow.

I thought used to think “I’m so lonely – and that will NEVER change”. Still, today, I have amazing friends around me that I can always reach out to.

Here are the most powerful ways to stop being alone that I’ve learned over the years.

  • First part of this guide: How to deal with loneliness.
  • Second part: How to stop being alone and over time find people you like and bond with them.

If you need someone to talk to right now, call the National Helpline.

1. Instead of thinking “I’m so lonely”, use loneliness to your advantage

Re-frame loneliness. If you’re lonely, that means you can do whatever you want whenever you want to!

Pick something that interests you and dive into it. I read books that I thought were interesting. But the opportunities are endless. You can learn to code, travel, learn a language, become really good at growing plants, or start painting or writing.

2. Knowing that it’s passing makes it easier to deal with loneliness

Whenever I felt “I’m so lonely”, I learned to remind myself of this:

Loneliness is something we all humans experience during periods of our lives. It doesn’t mean that it will always be that way.

When people are asked on a rainy day if they are happy in their lives, they rate their lives lower than if they are asked on a sunny day. This means that we tend to see our entire lives from the perspective of the moment we’re in.

Know that loneliness is something that passes.

3. If you have old friends far away, take up contact with them

When I moved to a new town, I took up contact with some friends I didn’t talk with much when I lived in my old town.

Send them a text and ask how they are doing. If they seem happy to hear from you, call them on Skype or the phone a few days later. Or make plans to meet up.

After I’ve moved to NYC 2 years ago I still have regular contact with many of my Swedish friends. After skyping with someone for 20 minutes it felt like you just came back from meeting them physically, which I think is really nice.

4. Make your environment enjoyable

Make your home look nice and enjoyable to be around. Social life is just one part of life and just because it might be on hold, for now, doesn’t mean that the rest of your life has to be. Another benefit is that it’s easier to spontaneously invite someone home when your home is looking at its best.

What are some ways you could make your apartment nicer or cozier to come home to? Maybe something on the walls, some plants or some new color? What makes you HAPPY? Make sure to have that around.

5. Learn to master something

If there’s one drawback to having friends, it’s that it takes time. You can use this period of your life to become really good at something. I like the feeling of improving, no matter if it’s to be a good writer or to be good at a language or just really good at a game.

Another benefit of mastering something is that it has been seen to increase motivation to invest in new relationships.[1]

6. Treat yourself

What’s something you can treat yourself to make you feel better?

Perhaps going out and eating somewhere nice, buying something nice, or just going to the park and enjoy nature for a while. Lonely people deserve nice things and experiences, too. This is also part of being more self-compassionate. Self-compassion helps you feel better, and it’s also associated with lower feelings of loneliness (while self-judgment seems to be associated with increased feelings of loneliness).[2][3][4]

7. Start a project

All my life I’ve had big projects I work on. I built pinball machines, I wrote books, I even started my own companies. It’s hard to describe the level of fulfillment of having a big project to fall back on. Big projects are what’s always given my life meaning.

Many of the people in the world who’ve produced amazing arts, music or writing or made discoveries or philosophical journeys the rest of the world benefit from often didn’t have loads of friends. They used their time and solitude to create something that was bigger than them.

8. Be your own friend

If you’re like me, you can laugh at your own jokes and be amused by your own ability to fantasize or come up with thoughts and ideas.

Part of maturing as a human is to get to know ourselves. People who have friends around themselves all the time often never have the time to get to know themselves. We can use this advantage and developing parts of our personality other’s don’t even know exists.

Here’s what I mean: You don’t need to have a friend to go to the movies, or enjoy a walk in the park, or travel somewhere. Why would that experience be worth less only because you don’t have it with someone else?

Things you could do with a friend are also things you can do by yourself.

9. Remember that you’re not defined by how many friends you have, but who you are as a person.

It’s important to remember that loneliness isn’t something weird or rare. In fact, a big chunk of the population feels lonely, and virtually EVERYONE in the world has felt lonely at some point in their lives. This doesn’t make them less of a person. We’re not defined by how many friends we have, but our personality, our unique quirks, and unique take on life.

Even if you’re lonely you can still love yourself.

10. Help others

This is a powerful one: Volunteer. Check out this site for example that helps people find volunteering opportunities.

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There’s something about helping others that I just think is amazing (Like, the satisfaction I get out of helping others by writing this article, for example). But in addition to that, you have people around you when you volunteer and that can help deal with loneliness. Volunteering puts you in a meaningful social setting.

11. Make friends online

Research shows that online friendships can be just as meaningful as real-life ones.

When I was younger I was an active part of several forums. It was fascinating because I developed friendships there that felt just as strong as many real-life ones.

What are some communities you could join? Reddit is full of subreddits that cater to different interests. Or, you can hang out in the off-topic areas of general forums just like I did. Another huge opportunity is online gaming. A friend of mine has made several real-world friends with people he met through gaming.

Here’s our massive guide on how to make friends online.

12. Say YES when opportunities come up

I was often discouraged when people did invite me to do things because I either thought it was a pity-invite or I managed to convince myself that I didn’t want to join them for whatever reason because I didn’t like parties, didn’t like people and so on.

The end result being that I missed out on an opportunity to meet people, and had to feel lonely at home instead. Another problem is that if you decline invites a few times in a row, you’ll stop getting them because people don’t want to feel let down by you.

I like the rule of ⅔: You don’t have to say yes to EVERY opportunity to socialize, but say yes to 2 out of 3 opportunities.

Also, overcome the fear that “maybe they just invited me to be nice”. It’s likely to just be in your head. But OK, let’s say they did out of pity, so what? They can’t blame you for taking them up on an offer they made you. Go there, be your best you, and they’ll notice that you’re a great person that they’ll want to invite the next time.

13. What to do when trying to make friends takes too long

Perhaps you feel that trying to socialize and make friends doesn’t work for you: Maybe it takes forever to bond or people stop keeping in touch after a while. Luckily, social skills is – yes – a skill. I can attest to that. I was socially clueless when I was younger. Now, I have an amazing family of friends and make new friends without having to put effort into it.

What changed for me? I became better at social interaction. It’s not rocket science, and all you need is will and time to practice.

Here’s my recommended reading on how to improve friend-making-skills.

14. When we feel lonely, we feel sad, and then we want to be alone. Break that cycle

Ever been in a situation where you’ve said no to friends because you didn’t feel good? I have.

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Here’s what I did to break the cycle. Make a conscious effort to socialize even if you don’t feel like it. That’s the only way to break the cycle of lonely -> sad -> alone -> lonely.

So say that you get invited somewhere or have the opportunity to socialize. That opportunity reminds you of your loneliness, and that makes you sad. As a result, you want to just skip the invite. Here’s where you want to consciously step in and say “Wait a minute” Let’s break this cycle.

Being sad is not a reason to avoid socializing!

15. Go to RECURRING meetups

The biggest mistake I see people do is that they try to make friends at venues where people only go once. To make friends, we need to meet people recurringly. That’s the reason most people make their friends at work or in school: Those are the places where we meet people recurringly.

I’ve met most of my friends through two meetups, both where we met every week. One was a philosophy meetup, one was a business group meetup where we also met every week. This is what they had in common: Both meetups were around a specific interest, and both were recurring.

Go to Meetup.com and look for recurring meetups related to your interests. Now, this doesn’t have to be your life passion. Just ANYTHING you find somewhat interesting, be it photography, coding, writing or cooking.

16. Don’t hunt for friends

Here’s another counter-intuitive one. Don’t see meetups and socializing as a place where you should hunt for friends. DO see it as a playground for trying out new social skills.

I’ve always loved that approach because it took the pressure off. I also came off as way less needy. If I was able to try some new social skills, that night was a success.

Friends come when you stop actively trying to make friends. When we’re starved on friendship, it’s easy to come off as a bit desperate or like you’re looking for approval. (That’s also why people who seem to not care often are more socially successful) If we instead help people like being around is (By being a good listener, show positivity, build rapport) – everything falls into place by itself.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

References

  1. Poortvliet, P. M., & Darnon, C. (2010). Toward a more social understanding of achievement goals: The interpersonal effects of mastery and performance goalsCurrent Directions in Psychological Science19(5), 324-328.
  2. Akin, A. (2010). Self-compassion and LonelinessInternational Online Journal of Educational Sciences2(3).
  3. Lyon, T. A. (2015). Self-compassion as a predictor of loneliness: The relationship between self-evaluation processes and perceptions of social connection.
  4. Neff, K. D. (2011). Self‐compassion, self‐esteem, and well‐beingSocial and personality psychology compass5(1), 1-12.

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Hundreds of books and thousands of interactions later, I'm ready to share with the world what I’ve learned.

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