How can I overcome feelings of loneliness?
For many people, overcoming loneliness is about increasing the level of social contact that they have with other people, and there are different ways to do this. However, if you experience feelings of loneliness that are unrelated to social contact, you may need to develop other strategies to overcome your feelings of loneliness. We discuss the different strategies here.
“The way I deal with loneliness is to go out and spend time outside, have a small conversation with the cashier as I pay for my things, phone my mum or see a close friend.”
For some people, loneliness is not about how many friends they have, but about their sense of connection with the rest of the world. In this case, it can help to take small steps to feel more connected with those around you.
Contacting people you know can be a useful first step in helping you feel less lonely. If you have friends or family, phoning, texting, or emailing them can help you feel more grounded and remind you that there are people in your life who love and support you. Also, going outside for a walk and observing people in the street, even saying hello to someone you know, can make you feel a little less lonely.
When you are in a group situation, may feel easier to stay quiet or hide behind your phone. However, this can maintain or even increase your feelings of loneliness in the long run. Although it may be difficult, joining the conversation can often help you feel less lonely.
Making the most of social contact
If you are lonely, it can help to make the most of social interactions, however small. You can pick your children up from school, for example, or have a friendly conversation with your fellow neighbour or a local shopkeeper. Starting a conversation – or even just saying hello – can make you feel less alone.
If you feel out of practice in regard to talking to other people, starting a conversation may seem daunting. If you find it hard knowing what to say, try asking people about themselves and what they are interested in.
If you don’t get an enthusiastic reply, it is important not to take it personally. Maybe the other person is having a bad day, or maybe the other person is feeling just as shy or nervous as you are. Chances are you will get a more positive response from someone else.
Meeting people and making friends
Meeting new people and making friends can help you overcome your feelings of loneliness.
Many people meet new people and make friends through their daily lives, for example, through work, through their children’s schools, or through people they already know. As a result, meeting people and making friends can be more difficult for people who do not work, or live far away from friends and family.
One way to meet new people and make friends is by forming connections with people with shared experiences, values or interests. Think about something that interests you. This could be anything from watching films to building model cars. If you join a social group related to something that genuinely interests you, you will likely meet people who have the same interests, and at the same time get to do something you enjoy. You can find information about local social groups, clubs or classes at your local library, in local newspapers or magazines, or online.
“I have joined groups and made new friends, very good friends, and met likeminded souls. I am creating connections and starting to engage with the world around me.”
Here are a few ideas:
- Exercise classes or walking groups
- Social groups for specific populations e.g. ethnic groups, LGBTQ+ community, etc.
- Art, music or poetry groups
- Church, religious and spiritual meetings and services
- Dance classes
- Gardening groups
- IT classes
- Parent and baby clubs
- Meditation groups
- Political groups
- Sports clubs
- Voluntary organisations (See ‘Useful contacts’)
Meeting people online
For many people, the internet is a good way to connect with people and make friends. There are a huge number of forums, social networks and dating sites that can put you in touch with people you share interests with. Many strong and long-lasting relationships start on the internet, including many where people only ever meet online.
However, it’s important to use common sense when you’re online. You don’t always know who you’re talking to so you should think carefully about what information you want to share. It is a good idea to use well-known websites and never share bank details or personal information with people you don’t know.
If you feel lonely because of a mental health problem, you may find going to a peer support group helpful. In a peer support group, people with mental health problems share their feelings and experiences with those who have gone through similar experiences.
The Internet can also be a source of peer support. There are many websites, forums and blogs about different mental health problems, and some organisations, such as Mind Hong Kong, also have online communities where people with mental health problems can discuss their experiences and offer each other peer support.
Reading about, and talking to, people who have had similar experiences of mental health problems may help you feel less alone.
Learning to spend time alone
“I never feel a sense of loneliness when I’m at home. I have made my home into a warm, tranquil place where I feel safe and secure.”
It may be that, despite your best efforts, you do not succeed in achieving the social contact that you feel you want or need. Alternatively, it may be that you are someone who constantly seeks others out to avoid inner feelings of loneliness, and panics when left alone. Regardless, it may be worth learning how to make the best of being alone and how to feel comfortable in your own company.
Spending time alone can be rewarding. Being on your own gives you a chance to do something that you enjoy or are interested in. This could be anything, from visiting a tourist attraction to cooking something from a more complicated recipe than you would usually follow. Focus on the pleasure the activity gives you and the fact that being alone can be a positive thing.
If you usually avoid being on your own, learning to be alone can be hard and may involve facing difficult feelings. However, having time to think and reflect on things when you’re on your own can be a positive experience. Techniques like yoga, meditation, or keeping a journal can help you to relax and replace negative thoughts and feelings with a calmer sense of self.
Alternatively, if you spend a lot of time alone, and you can afford to do so, you may find that having a pet, such as a dog or a cat, can also help reduce your feelings of loneliness. However, having a pet comes with significant responsibility and requires a high level of commitment, so it is important to carefully consider your circumstances before bringing a pet home.