Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Loneliness

image divider

How to Deal with Loneliness

There are different kinds of loneliness

You might experience loneliness as a kind of hollowness or emptiness, a vague feeling that something is not right. Or you might feel loneliness as an intense isolation, a feeling of being cut off from those you would like to have contact with. Loneliness might be due to missing someone, because they have died or are so far away, or because your relationship has ended. Or it might  reflect your being physically isolated from people-- like if you have moved or are living alone off campus, or in a residence hall far from friends. You might even feel lonely when you are surrounded by people but are having difficulty connecting to them.

Loneliness is not the same as being alone

There are times when we choose to be alone, or have to be alone and are okay with it. So, just being alone is not it.   Rather, loneliness is the feeling of being alone and feeling sad about it. And, of course, all of us feel lonely some of the time. It is only when we feel trapped in our loneliness that it becomes a real problem.

How we contribute to our own sense of loneliness

Loneliness is a passive state. It is maintained by our passively letting it continue and doing nothing to change it. We hope it will go away, eventually, and we let it envelop us. Strangely, there are times when we might even embrace the feeling. Yet, embracing loneliness and sinking down into the feelings associated with it often leads to a sense of depression and helplessness, which in turn leads to an even more passive state and more depression.

Ways to change these feelings of loneliness

Recognize the lonely feelings and express them. To stop feeling lonely, we first must accept that we are feeling lonely. Sometimes admitting that to ourselves is difficult. We then have to express those feelings of loneliness in some way. We might try writing in a journal, writing a letter to a friend or relative, expressing one’s self through art or music, or doing anything else that lets us begin to express the feelings we have inside us—including pushing ourselves to talk with other people! Expressing our feelings might lead us to discover that our loneliness involves many feelings, including sadness, anger, and frustration. We might be able to begin to see where these feelings are coming from—what they are connected to in our lives. As we begin to see the connections we will be more able to begin to make changes.

Become more active

The big change, of course, is to stop being passive and become more active. If we’re missing someone, such as parents, family, or friends, we can telephone, write, e-mail or visit them. Talking to an understanding friend can often help change our mood as well. If we don’t have an understanding friend, talking with a spiritual guide, teacher or counselor, or praying might be a place to start. If we are lonely because we are missing someone who has died, being able to express our grief at their loss and beginning to remember our happier moments with them and knowing that those memories can always be with us, can move us away from the lonely feelings. This can also apply to losses of significant friendships or romantic partners.

Get involved in activities or clubs

Getting involved in some sort of activity or club can accomplish several things. It can take our minds off of feeling lonely as we get involved in the enjoyable activity. It can actually change our mood directly in this way. It can give us opportunities to meet people with similar interests and practice our people-meeting skills. It can provide some structure in our lives so that we have things to look forward to. It can remind us of how good we might have felt in the past doing similar things. Sometimes these effects can come very quickly and sometimes they may come more slowly. We might really need to push ourselves to go to meetings or talk to people or attend several activities before we begin to feel comfortable with what we are doing and begin to see progress. Perhaps something to avoid is to attempt to join a club or organization or to develop a new interest just because we think it will make us a better or more interesting person. A better strategy might be to get involved in something because we know we’ve enjoyed it in the past or because we think it might be fun. That way we’re more likely to find ourselves enjoying what we’re doing and being with people who genuinely enjoy the same things. We may also find out that some people like us for the way we already are. An added bonus is that we might also begin to realize that we could choose to engage in some of those activities or interests entirely on our own without feeling lonely.