How to Cope with Loneliness: Experts Share 11 Tips

from joining social clubs to personal introspection

how to cope with loneliness: woman sits alone on bed
Mavocado/Getty Images

In 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General published an advisory warning that America was in the throes of a loneliness epidemic. It continues to persist, with Google Trends reporting that “how to cope with loneliness” has been a top search term this year. As humans, I think most of us know a thing or two about loneliness. I, especially, can relate, having spent my early 20s moving around. (After thinking about it, I moved once a year for five years, crossing state and country lines.) Even now, coming up on two years in NYC, I’ve found that at times, I’ve been lonelier than ever. (We do know that making friends as an adult is hard.) Friendship is a war of attrition. There are days I’ve wanted to give up, but then feel so isolated I want to scream. Sure, I’m practicing the “First Sunday” rule with my long-distance friends, but no matter how much we believe technology is coming for us (I’m looking at you, Chat GPT), a video chat will never replace the special feeling of being in someone’s presence. If you, too, are trying to figure out how to cope with loneliness in a world that feels increasingly fractured and isolated, read on. Here, I spoke with two mental health counselors and a former psychology researcher about why we feel lonely, plus 11 tips on how to pull yourself out of the rut.

Meet the Experts

  • Minerva Guerrero, Ph.D., LMHC is the founder of Mind Matters Mental Health Counseling based in Westchester County, New York. Prior, she served as program director and assistant professor of mental health counseling at Mercy College. Guerrero holds a Ph.D. in mental health counseling from Pace University and a master’s from The City College of New York.
  • Phebe Brako-Owusu, LMCH, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in University Place, Washington. Brako-Owusu is the founder and CEO of group therapy practice 253 Therapy and Consult. Additionally, she serves as a Washington State Approved Supervisor and adjunct professor at Antioch University in Seattle. Brako-Owusu holds a master’s in marriage and family therapy from Seton Hill University and a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision from Antioch University.
  • Ashley Kirsner is the founder of Skip the Small Talk, a social enterprise that uses psychology research to create events and foster conversation and communication. They hold a bachelor’s in psychology from Cornell University and previously worked in research labs at institutions including Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics and Boston University’s Psychotherapy and Emotion Research Lab.

Is It Normal to Feel Lonely?

Every time I have a bad day, I always assume I’m the only one who’s feeling totally alone while everyone else is out popping caviar bumps with their BFFs. But that’s not so. We all know what it’s like to feel alone, even in a room full of people.

“Sometimes, we’re alone with our thoughts, our fears, our struggles and our dreams,” Guerrero says. “In moments of growth or personal challenges, we may also feel lonely as we navigate unknown territories or are rediscovering new parts of ourselves. This can make it hard for us to feel connected to other people as there’s so much we are unpacking about ourselves. We may be intentionally withdrawing from others while we sort that out.”

The Cigna Group reports that post-pandemic research indicates 58 percent of adults are considered lonely. That’s a startling number, but makes sense, given that The Atlantic ran a story titled, “Why Americans Suddenly Stopped Hanging Out.” In it, writer Derek Thompson reports that people are dramatically reducing their time spent in face-to-face interactions, teenage depression is up and the number of young people with close friends has sharply declined.

11 Ways to Cope with Loneliness

“We must find the purpose in loneliness,” Brako-Owusu says. “When we are alone, we can have moments to process, learn more about ourselves and strengthen the relationship we have within.” Here are 11 ways to cope with loneliness, recommended by Guerrero, Brako-Owusu and Kirsner, including some things I’ve found helpful. However, Guerrero cautions, “If you’re feeling lonely to the extent where you’re lacking purpose and don’t see the point of your life, are feeling suicidal or have a negative self-concept about yourself because of your loneliness, you should seek professional help.”

1. Join a Club

Clubs are a great way to be in community because they do the work of attrition for you. Think about it: As kids and students, making friends was easy because you showed up every day to the same space with the same people. Clubs force you to do this again, and repetition is key when developing friendships. And even if the club is a revolving door of different people (because let’s face it, it’s impossible to coordinate schedules these days), you’re still all united by a shared interest. And I can attest—for about a year now, I’ve hosted a monthly book club that reads the classics. While there is an influx of new faces, many have become regulars, and it’s been a joy to share a love of literature with them. Plus, book club discussions usually evolve into personal conversations, allowing us to get to know each other, too. While I wouldn’t say we’re BFFs, I know that every month I can count on a gathering of people who have a common interest with me. If you want to join a club, I suggest apps like Geneva (where I host my book club) or sites like Eventbrite, where you can find hundreds of meetups revolving around almost anything you can think of.

2. Try Activities That Surround You with People

Joining a club does require some level of commitment. If you’re not ready to do that, Brako-Owusu suggests simply putting yourself in different public spaces where you’ll run into people, whether that be shopping or hitting the park or the gym. You don’t necessarily need to engage with the strangers, but I know that sometimes just getting out of my apartment and being surrounded by other life forms is comforting.

3. Engage on Social Media

I’m completely guilty of being a lurker on social media. What better way to waste an hour than doomscroll through as many images and videos as possible? However, Brako-Owusu suggests actually engaging on social media apps instead of lurking, and I’ve found this makes such a difference, not just to me but to the people whose posts I comment on. It’s hard not to feel a little rush of excitement and flattery when someone leaves a kind comment. By doing so, you’re showing people you’re invested in them, and who knows? They might start commenting back. NGL, I’ve turned some strangers into internet friends, who have become treasured real-life friends.

4. Call Your Friends

Because I’ve moved around so much, regularly calling friends has been a lifeline for some semblance of community wherever I’ve been. PureWow Executive Editor Alexia Dellner abides by what she calls the “First Sunday” rule, but I take a step in the lazier direction with quarterly catchups. (I guess you know you’re an adult when your life is now defined by quarters.) Every three months, I make sure to call a handful of people I want to keep in touch with so we don’t fall off each other’s radars. There are quite a few friends I call more regularly, but my quarterly catchup rule ensures that I don’t go more than three months without saying hi.

5. Get Involved in the Community

Similarly to joining a club, getting involved in the community by volunteering or networking pulls you into the orbit of people who share similar values or goals. As they say on TikTok, it’s time to enter your delulu era and start saying yes to everything. Work event? Be there. Volunteer at the food pantry? Why not? And if you’re wondering what to say once you get there, I wrote a whole guide on how to make small talk.

6. Hang Out with Family

Yes, family can be toxic sometimes, but if you’re on good terms with them, go get together. I’m grateful that I can call my parents (they often have to hear me complain), and one of my favorite things to do is sit on the phone with my dad, silently both working. My mom is flabbergasted, but simply being in their presence is enough, even if we’re not talking.

7. Move Your Body

Feeling blue? Do some exercise! It’s scientifically proven that moving your body releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, which all contribute to a mood boost. Every Monday I go to a solo jazz class, and I always leave feeling a little lighter (and sweatier) than when I walked through the door. Dancing not your thing? Hit the gym, go running with a group, head to the community pool, join a neighborhood soccer league...the options are endless.

8. Start a Spiritual or Meditative Practice

Sometimes, coping with loneliness means confronting it and finding the purpose within, as Brako-Owusu mentions above. Try carving out time every day or week to do some yoga, meditation or other spiritual practice that can help you bring calm to your thoughts. Two things I like are a weekly yoga session and the Morning Pages, a journaling exercise that is a core tenet of The Artist’s Way.

9. Start a Hobby

“There are tons of fun things we put off doing because we have no one to do it with,” Guerrero says. “Do it anyways!” Her advice is sound. I’ve learned that if I wait for people to be ready to do things with me, I’ll be waiting my whole life. Go tackle that TBR list, start the TV show you’ve been dying to see, pick up punch needling supplies or a candle making kit. Do the activity for the joy of it, and you might be surprised how much fun you’re having.

10. Talk to Strangers

I promise this one is more fun than you think. It’s honestly something I truly love, and when done well, has led to new acquaintances and friendships. My first tip is to lead with a compliment. If you’re thinking of the obsequious, cringy liners delivered by Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice (your potatoes are exemplary), wrong. Compliments are appreciated when they’re sincere. So find something about someone you really like and tell them! Their eyes will light up, promise. (I’ve made at least two friends by complimenting them on a part of their outfit...and one friendship is nine years running.) Secondly, give people something to work with so that they can start the conversation. Instead of always looking at your phone, bring a physical book so they can see the title. Who knows? Maybe they love Jane Austen as much as you do. Wear the bright red coat that makes you happy and throw on shoes to match. A fashionista won’t be able to resist telling you the outfit slaps. And once the conversation gets going, be open to the new relationship and remember to ask questions about the other person. “I generally recommend asking good follow-up questions that focus on internal states (i.e., opinions, thoughts, feelings) as opposed to (or more realistically, in addition to) externally observable facts about oneself, to slowly get deeper,” Kirsner advises.

11. Reframe the Narrative

“One of the simplest interventions for loneliness is psychoeducation,” Kirsner explains. “It’s crucial to know that if you’re feeling lonely, your brain will interpret ambiguous social stimuli as negative.” For example, she says that if you’re feeling lonely and make eye contact with someone at a bar who then averts their gaze, you’re more likely to interpret it as the person being uninterested in connecting. But, if you’re feeling socially fulfilled, you might instead think that the person was interested but feeling bashful.

“If I’m feeling lonely, I always do my best to reality-check my assumptions,” they say. “When I notice I’m feeling lonely, I prepare myself to question any of my perceptions of anyone socially rejecting me, knowing that I’ll be way more biased toward seeing neutral (or even sometimes positive!) interactions as negative. So, if I feel socially rejected in some way, I ask myself something like, ‘What is the most generous possible interpretation of this interaction, and what’s keeping me from believing that? Is it just that I feel lonely, which is leading me to make inaccurately negative assumptions?’ And if I’m feeling lonely and I start questioning my lovability or ability to connect with others, I try to acknowledge those thoughts and see them as a sign that I’m feeling lonely and that I need some more fulfilling social interaction in my life, as opposed to seeing them as accurate information about myself.”

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I’ve covered the lifestyle space for the last three years after majoring in journalism (and minoring in French) at Boston University. Talk to me about all things sustainable &...