At one point or another, everyone has experienced feelings of loneliness, displacement, and periods of solitude. Whether it be chronic or temporary, loneliness affects everyone. Loneliness has become such a prominent problem in many countries, The United Kingdom has assigned a Minister of Loneliness with hopes to tackle the growing solitude. It has been dubbed as an epidemic for most countries and many prevention programs have been established to allay further progression. Here we present six solutions to loneliness that anyone can practice.
By definition, loneliness is the variation between one’s ideal and actual social relationships which brings upon negative emotions and feelings (Dibb & Foster, 2021). Loneliness has been observed for quite some time and the problem of loneliness is only getting worse. While most research on loneliness has been focused on older adults (Malani et a., 2019), more and more research is being centered on loneliness among adults and youth (Labrague et al., 2021; Patel et al., 2019; Diehl et al., 2018).
Researchers, medical professionals, and psychologists alike have been trying to determine effective ways to reduce loneliness. An unfortunate obstacle is that loneliness solutions are not one-size-fits-all. While introverts may relish creating social connections via the internet, extroverts may detest this approach. Emerging research has been focusing on finding a more encompassing intervention.
As of late, mindfulness has been a popular term. To quickly define what it is, mindfulness is the process of creating awareness and focusing on the present (Rosenstreich & Margalit, 2015). There are many ways to practice mindfulness such as mindful eating or steadying your breath. However, mindfulness meditation prevails and remains the most popular way to practice mindfulness. The research on mindfulness is vast and expanding, and researchers are shifting their focus on how mindfulness may be a solution to loneliness.
One such study conducted by Rosenstreich and Margalit (2015) looked at the impact of mindfulness on college freshmen. A total of 73 freshmen students participated in the study, which took place over an entire academic year. The participants were randomly assigned to a meditation group or a control group. Before the study, all participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about loneliness.
For participants in the mindfulness group, they attended 30-minute meditation workshops 5 days a week. These workshops focused on the student’s mindfulness and utilized breathing exercises, visualization practices, and concentration techniques. At times, participants were asked to imagine themselves walking through a forest, or to focus on their breathing. The students were also encouraged to practice mindfulness on their own for 15 minutes a day.
At the end of the study, participants filled out the loneliness questionnaire once again. Students in the mindfulness group showed an average 15% decrease in loneliness. Because loneliness can impact our work/school performance, the researchers also looked at the academic achievements of both groups of participants. As expected, students in the mindfulness intervention had higher grades by as much as 8% (Rosenstreich & Margalit, 2015).
It may seem odd to associate mindfulness with reductions in loneliness. After all, mindfulness is all about creating awareness and connecting with one’s self. However, an increasing number of studies are revealing the prosocial behaviors that mindfulness promotes which can help reduce loneliness (Lindsay et al., 2019). It is important to note that each person may experience the effects of mindfulness differently. A lonely person who practices mindfulness may feel more connected with themselves and report a decrease in loneliness, while another person may feel more encouraged to connect with others through mindfulness (Lindsay et al., 2019).
It is a bit of an odd term; however, mastery is defined as the perceived control a person has over their life (Suanet, B & van Tilburg, 2019; Ben-Zur, 2018). Mastery is regarded as a highly valued psychological resource that one can use to cope with distressing situations. Think of mastery as having a “can-do attitude.” To have a high level of mastery is to have a willingness to take on problems that are challenging.
The research on loneliness and mastery is still emerging, however, the results have been promising. One study by Suanet and van Tilburg (2019) sought to observe the relationship between mastery and loneliness. The study looked at the levels of loneliness across different age groups. A total of 4,480 adults, all elderly, participated in the study. Participants were divided up by age groups and were asked to complete questionnaires regarding their loneliness, mastery, and self-efficacy. The results confirmed that mastery does indeed reduce loneliness. As researchers expected, the group with higher levels of mastery reported fewer feelings of loneliness. Conversely, the group with the lowest levels of mastery reported experiencing greater feelings of loneliness. While the two groups only differed by 11% in levels of mastery, their reported feelings of loneliness differed by 65%. This shows mastery can be a promising solution to loneliness.
Loneliness tends to be driven by external factors, most of which are out of our control. Mastery may not be able to change the actual situation, however, it does change how we perceive and react to the situation. While research is trying to determine if mastery affects our perception, the situation itself, our behaviors, or all three, the evidence only supports the idea that mastery reduces our feelings of loneliness.
Finding methods to alleviate loneliness is quite complex. Just like anything else, one method could help one person and hinder another. (Bouwman et al., 2017). When looking at loneliness interventions, it is important to know they stem from either an active coping style or a regulative coping style. To briefly define, active coping strategies like behavioral activation therapy is making a conscious effort to change stressful environments whereas regulative coping is focused on mitigating negative thoughts and emotional processes (Schoenmakers et al., 2015).
This coping strategy falls under the umbrella of the active-coping style. It seems to be one of the first pieces of advice you’ll find when it comes to reducing loneliness. This method concentrates on the maintenance and development of interpersonal relationships. This may involve reaching out to an old friend or maintaining your current relationships. Some individuals will seek out new relationships, however, the maintenance of current relationships may be more helpful in reducing loneliness. The quality of one’s relationships will alleviate loneliness more than the number of relationships (Schoenmakers et al., 2012). It is important to note that this coping method may work best for those facing temporary loneliness (e.g. loneliness during COVID-19 lockdowns) rather than chronic loneliness.
Reevaluating relational standards is a regulative coping mechanism. This does not mean to lower your standards by any means. It involves taking a step back and reevaluating what you desire in a relationship. This coping method is best used when one’s loneliness-inducing environment cannot be changed. An individual using this coping strategy may concentrate on being a better friend or realizing what a good friend is. This may be accomplished by simple questions or reflection.
- “How does this person make me feel?”
- “What do I need/want in a friend”
- “Do I feel emotionally drained interacting with this person?”
- “Is the support in this relationship unbalanced?”
- “What boundaries do I need to set in a relationship?”
- “Does this person respect my boundaries?”
Answering these questions may bring up uncomfortable feelings, especially when it regards a long-term relationship. As mentioned above, loneliness is more likely to be alleviated by the quality of relationships than the number of relationships. While it may seem idyllic to have a large group of friends to hang out with, it may be more beneficial to have smaller, closer relationships.
Another regulative coping strategy, this approach concentrates on diverting one’s focus onto something else. This is not about ignoring the issue of loneliness, rather it is about knowing the feelings of loneliness will remain and not ruminating on it. This may seem like a backward way to decrease loneliness; however, it is becoming a favored coping mechanism. Individuals using this strategy will often divert their focus on themselves, typically to learn more about themselves and become comfortable with being alone. The theory being participating in activities alone will make one more comfortable spending time with themselves (Bouwman et al., 2017). Here are some ideas for activities you can do alone.
Take regular walks in a park, around your neighborhood or city, or go for a hike. Being outside can be incredibly healing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We've previously written on the mental health benefits of nature. Nature allows us to clear our minds and can procure clarity. You can use the outdoors as a means of reflection. Try journaling in the park or unplugging from your phone to focus on the sounds, scents, and sights of nature. (Hwang et al., 2020).
Implement some form of physical exercise into your routine. We all know physical activity fosters a plethora of benefits; however, it can be helpful in staving off feelings of loneliness (Hwang et al., 2020). Routine physical activity can help with loneliness by improving our mood and cognitive processes. Even if your physical activity consists of dancing around your room at 2 am, you will reap an abundance of physical and psychological benefits. This is one of the simplest and most accessible loneliness solutions!
If physical activity is not your preferred activity, try a creative outlet. Painting, doodling, drawing, or journaling are great alternatives to exercise. Research proves how Journaling for mental health can be a form of self-care. Creative activities allow us to express our feelings in non-verbal ways. Many people will use coloring books, paint-by-numbers, or journaling to diminish feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression (Hwang et al., 2020). Just like physical activity, creative activities boosts our mood and can help alleviate our feelings of loneliness.
It may be confusing trying to decide whether or not to employ an active coping style or a regulative coping style. However, loneliness reduction is a highly individualized process. While these coping strategies and activities are a good starting point, they are not the end-all-be-all. There are a multitude of ways to reduce loneliness and some individuals will find some loneliness solutions work better for them than others.
Loneliness is inevitable. Everyone will experience it at least once in their lives. Everyone will experience and cope with loneliness in a variety of ways. The variability can make it difficult for researchers to identify a singular method that can definitely solve loneliness. However, there are cognitive behavioral therapy apps such as LIFE Intelligence that offer a wide selection of coping strategies and self care exercises to help with feelings of loneliness. This variety makes the LIFE app unique as it can cater to introverts, extroverts, and everyone in-between.
LIFE Intelligence is like a friend, coach, and DIY-therapist that is with you everywhere you go. The LIFE self-development journey is comprised of 9 Missions, or topics, each with different objectives and practices. Missions 6.3-6.5 focus on social support and social connections, including how to find support from within. At times, loneliness is difficult to cope with and it can seem overwhelming. With LIFE Intelligence, you will not only build stronger interpersonal relationships, but you will also build a better relationship with yourself.
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Diehl, K., Jansen, C., Ishchanova, K., & Hilger-Kolb, J. (2018). Loneliness at Universities: Determinants of Emotional and Social Loneliness among Students. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(9), 1865. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15091865
Hwang, T., Rabheru, K., Peisah, C., Reichman, W., & Ikeda, M. (2020). Loneliness and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Psychogeriatrics, 32(10), 1217-1220. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1041610220000988
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Lindsay, E. K., Young, S., Brown, K. W., Smyth, J. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2019). Mindfulness training reduces loneliness and increases social contact in a randomized controlled trial. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(9), 3488–3493. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1813588116
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