Pay Your Bill
What You Need to Know about Loneliness and How to Combat It

By Pam Dewey • lonely, loneliness, fighting loneliness, how to fight loneliness, isolation, feeling isolated, mental health, mental illness, help for mental health, social media and isolation, being lonely • August 04, 2022

The pandemic has changed many of our social interactions. Chatting with coworkers often happens over Zoom rather than around the coffee pot. You can see a band live on your computer screen or perhaps in person, but only with a vaccine, mask or a negative test requirement. You might have stopped visiting friends and family who are a plane ride away or halted all your long-distance travel plans.

But even before the pandemic, our social interactions had changed. According to the New York Times, “[T]he United States surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, said the country was experiencing an ‘epidemic of loneliness,’ driven by the accelerated pace of life and the spread of technology into all of our social interactions. With this acceleration, he said, efficiency and convenience have ‘edged out’ the time-consuming messiness of real relationships.” The Times also states, “In a 2018 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in five Americans said they always or often felt lonely or socially isolated.”

Americans were battling loneliness enabled at least in part by social media sites and other electronic communication. The forced isolation of the pandemic only made the problem worse.

Loneliness can hurt your mental health

Being lonely can be detrimental to your mental health. When you’re feeling lonely, you often feel sad.  The Times states, “Being lonely, like other forms of stress, increases the risk of emotional disorders like depression, anxiety and substance abuse.” Research even suggests that loneliness and depression can feed off each other. So potentially, the more lonely you feel, the more depressed you can feel.

Loneliness can also hurt your physical health

We know that mental health and physical health are closely linked. If your mental health is suffering because you’re lonely, it makes sense that this also could impact your physical health. According to a Harvard Graduate School of Education report, “Loneliness is linked to early mortality and a wide array of serious physical and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse and domestic abuse.”

Connecting online can make loneliness worse

Younger generations are being raised in a world where social media use is part of everyday life. The Times states, “Among the most digitally connected, teenagers and young adults, loneliness nearly doubled in prevalence between 2012 and 2018, coinciding with the explosion in social media use.” While these sites allow you to connect with people across the world, not all interactions are positive. Even if your feeds are filled with pictures of dogs and babies, these interactions are different than spending time with someone in real life. The quality of your interactions with others also affects how lonely you feel. Even a person surrounded by other people can feel lonely. Likewise, someone who chats mostly with people online may feel incredibly lonely.

The good news is there are many ways to combat loneliness or help someone combat loneliness.

Let them help you or reach out to help

You may have heard of the mental health benefits of volunteering. The truth is that helping others makes us feel better. Stephanie Cacioppo, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, states, “So the best thing you can do for someone who is lonely is not to give them help but ask them for help. So you give them a sense of worth and a chance to be altruistic.” You don’t have to work in a homeless shelter, though that certainly lets you care for someone else. Even helping a friend move, cooking a meal for someone or watching your neighbor’s dog can provide a sense of satisfaction from helping another person.

Don’t let work be your whole life

American culture is built on the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Your sense of self may be tied to how things are going at your company or how successful you are in your career. The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Murthy states, “But if we truly want to be healthy, happy and fulfilled as a society, we have to restructure our lives around people. Right now, our lives are centered around work.” Building connections with other people is what makes you happy, not building wealth.

Everyday interactions are important

Pre-pandemic, you probably interacted with many strangers daily. Maybe you stopped to get coffee on the way to work, took a bus or train to the office, went to the gym after work or picked up groceries on the way home. While you’ve probably resumed some of these activities, life hasn’t quite returned to how it was. These everyday interactions are much more important to fighting feelings of loneliness than you may have realized. According to Verywell Mind, “An easy way to find connections in everyday life is by interacting in small ways with acquaintances or strangers you encounter. In fact, research shows that doing so contributes to our social and emotional well-being.”

Build your relationships

You probably have people in your life that you’d like to get to know better. Maybe it’s a colleague, family member or a casual friend. Building a stronger relationship gives you more of a support network and can decrease feelings of loneliness. It also gives you more opportunities to get out of the house and engage in fun activities. It’s also possible your acquaintance or work friend is struggling with loneliness. By building a stronger friendship, you can help each other.

Join a new group

Making friends as an adult can be hard. You may need to break out of your bubble to meet new people. You could join a book club, try an art class or join an exercise class. Meetup is a website that allows you to search your interests for local groups and events in your community. Your city and local arts institutions also likely offer classes to explore your creativity or learn a new skill.

 Being lonely can affect your mental and physical health, and connecting with people online doesn’t always help you feel less lonely. But helping others, building connections with others, engaging with your community and joining new groups can help combat feelings of loneliness.