If you feel lonely, you’re not alone.
This may sound like a platitude, but it’s a fact: According to a recent report by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), a staggering seventy-five percent of adults report feeling lonely on a regular basis.
In other words, loneliness is a nearly universal human experience. Yet, most of us find it difficult or embarrassing to reach out and ask for support when we’re feeling lonely. Why? Well, we often mischaracterize loneliness as a personal problem—a sign of neediness or a failure to find friends—when, in fact, it’s a global issue of epidemic proportions.
In order to counteract the social stigma around loneliness, we must learn how to acknowledge and address it without shame. After all, social support is not a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity that makes us healthier, happier, and can even help us live longer. Our brains need human connection in the same way our bodies need food and water. And just as hunger alerts us that we’re lacking nourishment, loneliness is our body’s way of telling us that we need more meaningful social interactions.
The bottom line? Loneliness is not a sign of weakness; it’s a prompt to take action. Here are three ways to combat loneliness by connecting with others:
1. Prioritize Face-to-Face Time
We receive most of our social cues in person (eye contact, posture, etc.), and research suggests that these cues lead to better communication and stronger relationships. As the proportion of our online interactions increases, however, our basic people skills suffer. The result, according to a University of Michigan study, is that we are significantly less empathetic now than we were just a few decades ago. This decline in empathy makes it harder for us to connect with others, which leaves us even more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness.
How to do it:
Step out from behind your screens and have in-person conversations whenever possible. Engage in active listening techniques—such as asking clarifying questions, paying attention to body language, and eliminating external distractions—so you can truly tune in to what the other person is saying and feeling. This signals that you respect them, which allows for increased trust and more effective collaboration.
If you can’t connect in person, pick up the phone! Research has shown that hearing someone’s voice is an especially powerful mode of communication that can help facilitate better relationships and more compassion.
2. Make a Plan
It’s a simple truth that the busier we are, the more we need our friends. But it’s just as true that the busier we are, the harder it feels to find time to dedicate to our friendships.
The trick to staying connected even when life gets busy? “We need to think of nurturing friendships as a necessity,” says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., author of Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, “not a luxury.” Waiting until we’re less busy to make time for friends isn’t the answer because “that day will never happen,” she adds.
How to do it:
In the same way that you have appointments to get your teeth cleaned and block your schedule for standing team meetings, the best way to make time for your friends is to put it on your calendar. “If connecting with a friend is a true priority, then treat it that way by setting a standing ‘appointment’ once a month to catch up in person or via phone. Then treat this time as you would any other obligation and make sure to keep it,” says Paula Rizzo, author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed.
3. Find Your Tribe
Studies show that linking up with others over a shared goal not only makes for more fulfilling connections, but it also enforces your own sense of meaning and purpose—which, in turn, leads to the feelings of belonging that directly combat loneliness.
How to do it:
Look for classes or meetups in your area for hobbies you enjoy. If one doesn’t exist yet, take the opportunity to form a community around something that makes you tick: Start an office book club, recruit some jogging partners, or volunteer at a local organization to meet others who care about the same cause. These relationships will be strengthened by your shared interests, and the positive reinforcement will make it easier to initiate new connections in the future.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. A frequent Cup of Calm contributor, she also writes for various major business journals and lifestyle publications. Elior holds a B.A. in Psychology and English, with special training in both positive psychology and mental health counseling.