How to deal with feelings of loneliness?

If you feel lonely for a long time, you may tend to simply surrender, to give up the hope of ever being able to satisfy your need for meaningful connections. You simply accept that you feel lonely and that things will remain that way for the rest of your life. But sustained loneliness can have a major impact on your mental and physical health.

You can also see the feeling of loneliness as a warning. As a signal that something is wrong and you need to do something about it. “Loneliness creates a space in which we can reflect on our relationship to others, and feel how much we actually need them,” Philosopher Lars Svendsen says. And social neuroscientist John Cacioppo sees loneliness as “a stimulus to get humans to pay more attention to their social connections, and to reach out towards others.”

Now that sounds nice, but it’s not that simple. The problem is that loneliness makes us, in the words of psychologist Guy Winch, “extremely hesitant to create new opportunities for social engagement or to take advantage of existing ones.”

Going out and meeting people is part of the solution, but not the whole solution. After all, you do not so much lack the possibility of social interaction as you lack meaningful connections. And lasting, meaningful connections don’t just happen. Overcoming loneliness, says loneliness expert Olivia Laing, is “something which cannot be achieved by sheer willpower or by simply getting out more, but only by developing intimate connections.”

Now, because feelings of loneliness are the result of your personal situation and needs, there is no simple one-size-fits-all step-by-step plan to get rid of your loneliness. You can, however, try a number of things to establish social contacts – and thus at least increase the chance of lasting, meaningful connections.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take time and a lot of effort. Your past experiences and your expectations may make you feel hesitant. There may be disappointments. You may not succeed. Keeping things the way they are is a lot safer, but the price you will pay is that you will remain feeling lonely.

Reaching out means you will feel vulnerable. But it’s the only way. It starts with simply making a decision. Decide that you are not going to surrender to your loneliness, you are going to do something about it. You are going to reach out and meet people. Making that decision and committing to it is the first step towards change.

One thing you know for sure: If you stay alone at home and do nothing, nothing will change. Like Cacioppo notes, tackling your loneliness “is both as simple and as difficult as being open and available to others.”

And remember: Many people struggle with this. You are not alone!