A closer look at loneliness and how to develop connections with others
I feel lonely
It’s not unusual to feel lonely every now and then. However, if you’re feeling this way for an extended period of time, it can lead you to feel socially isolated. You might feel isolated from people your age, or society as a whole, for a number of reasons. You might be new to a school, city, or town. You might be geographically isolated in a rural area that is far from other people that are your age. You might be ethnically, racially, culturally or religiously different from the people around you, or you might just feel like you don’t have similar values or experiences as the people in your day-to-day life. You may also feel socially awkward, like you’re not sure what to say or do or quite how to fit in with a group you would like to connect with.
Feeling connected to a group of people is important for your health and well-being. People are naturally social beings, and those who have a strong support group are more likely to be happy and physically healthy. Social isolation can also be connected to depression and social anxiety.
How do I feel less lonely?
Depending on your circumstances, it might be hard to connect with people. For example, if you live in an isolated location, far from a large metropolitan area, your social resources might be limited. At the same time, though, big cities can feel just as lonely.
Here are a few ideas to help you connect with others, no matter where you are:
Join online forums and groups. Many people today find like-minded friends to connect with through the internet. The internet can bring you into touch with people all over the world, and gives you a chance through chat rooms to practice conversational skills. There are numerous online groups, pages, blogs, apps, servers, and other social media platforms that can offer connection and solidarity through mutual interest. Just remember to practice internet safety. The internet is widely anonymous and people can pretend to be whoever they want. Never give out your information or address to a stranger online.
Talk to a family member, teacher or youth leader. Even though you feel lonely, remember that you don’t have to go at it alone. The first step in ending your loneliness is simply talking to someone from your family, a teacher, a school or campus counselor, or your spiritual mentor/leader. Tell them how you’re feeling. Chances are they’ll be happy to help you and can give you some ideas for how to meet people and feel more connected.
Start small. You don’t need to find a best friend or go out with people every night of the week. Start small by finding something in common with your peers—it could be something as simple as a T.V. show, your favorite band or even the homework you had last night.
Challenge your negative thinking. You might feel like no one will ever understand you. But chances are that you are your own worst critic. Try to look at each situation objectively to avoid being too hard on yourself. For more tips on how to do this, check out the Challenging Negative Self-Talk article.
Get outside. Sometimes, even if you’re not talking or interacting with anyone, just being around other people can make you feel good. Try going to a park, a coffee shop or a library to do some people watching!
Join a club or a team. The best way to meet people that have the same interests as you is to join a club or a team. You can join groups through your school, local community center or faith center. Some groups you could join might be a dance group, tabletop tournaments, starting a band, joining 4H, or trying out a club your school offers. Volunteering for a cause can also be enriching for your mental health, as well as help you develop connections to others with similar values and passions.
Seek help. If you need immediate help and you aren’t sure where to turn, try calling Lines for Life’s Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Youthline at 1-877-968-8491. Both helplines will keep your information private and have trained volunteers who can talk to you about how you’re feeling 24/7.
Developing social confidence
If you are feeling socially awkward, there are things you can do to develop more social confidence. Social skills can be learned. Things like how to start a conversation or how to join-in on a conversation, and how to listen well to others are all things you can learn to do. You can also learn about nonverbal skills like eye contact, head nodding, and smiling, as well as when and when not to use these.
While some people learn these things easily through their interactions with others, others find these skills take more deliberate rehearsal and practice. If this sounds like you, you may find it helpful to speak with a counselor or other mental health professional who can help you identify skills to develop and even help you practice those skills step-by-step before trying them out in new social situations. Often times, the more practice you have and the more you do it, the easier it will become.
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com