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What Does It Mean To Be Lonely?

Being lonely sucks. As a deeply social species, we humans don't simply want to connect and share with others, we need to. Research has made it abundantly clear that being lonely impacts both your physical and mental health as well as your cognitive function adversely.

As the fact that some people can be loners for long periods of time without feeling lonely shows, loneliness is quite a complex topic, and we can probably best define it as the deep despair we feel when our personal social needs go unmet on a fundamental level. Perhaps we aren't around people enough, but we also get lonely if we're just not around the right people, often despite ample (shallow) contact with other humans. 

It's not uncommon to be lonely, unfortunately, and research has shown that young people under 18 (up to 80 percent!) and older people over the age of 65 (abut 40 percent) are most vulnerable to loneliness. 

If you're feeling lonely, the most burning question is — what can you do to connect with other people in a meaningful way?

Things To Try If You Are Lonely 

Studies on the topic of loneliness — mostly written from the perspective of mental health professionals intervening in people's lives — have identified some key solutions to loneliness, and they are:

  • Improving your social skills. 
  • Offering social support to lonely people. 
  • Increasing opportunities to interact socially. 
Having been through particularly lonely phases of life myself — like almost anyone — I'm going to leave science out of this answer and share some things that either helped me personally, or helped other people I've spoken to.

The first thing I'll start with is that however isolated you're feeling at the moment, there's every chance that your life will be completely different very soon, and that it might happen in a way you don't even imagine possible at the moment. Often, once you happen to make a deeper connection with just one person, your outlook on life changes so much that it has a knock-on effect that will lead to many more connections soon after. 

In the meantime, try this:

  • Cliche, for sure, but join stuff. Book clubs, gyms, debate groups, bird-watching groups, knitting circles, acting classes, volunteer at a food pantry, whatever. It doesn't even matter if you're particularly interested in the thing you're joining, though it can help if you are indeed passionate about it. If you're a teen, try clubs at school. If you're a new mom, absolutely "exploit" that by joining mom groups. 
  • Have relatives you get along with well? Write them long emails. 
  • Finding it hard to connect with people "in real life"? Join an online message board or Facebook group focused on something you love. If the group you join is large enough or has a local focus, you may even make real-life friends from it. I have. 
  • Think about adopting a pet. Pets confer many proven health benefits, many of which are related to the companionship they provide. 
  • Keep busy and work on enjoying your own company. Another cliche, yes, but you'll both speed up time and gain the confidence and positive attitude that you seem to need to do well socially. 
Perhaps most of all, remind yourself that life ebbs and flows, just like the sea. Lonely phases are phases, and they do not have to last forever!

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