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Loneliness is one of the most universal feelings, and it can happen to anyone — the young, the old, and everyone in between. In fact, more than a third of adults in the US over age 45 say they’re lonely.
Shattered friendships, stressful holiday gatherings, unfulling romantic relationships, a deadly pandemic: there are many reasons or events that can make you feel alone and wanting to connect with others or make new friends, which isn’t always easy.
It’s not just isolating. Loneliness is considered a serious health risk, particularly for older adults, immigrants, people of color, and members of the queer community. Research shows that the influence loneliness has on the risk of premature death exceeds that of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, according to the CDC. It’s also associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, and anxiety.
It can feel impossible to escape, but knowing that other people feel lonely too can be a game-changer.
BuzzFeed News asked readers to share when they realized they were lonely and what advice they have to help others just like them. Here’s what they said.
Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and style.
Prepandemic, I used to feel lonely almost all the time. I began to realize it when I was in my early 20s, noticing a deep empty feeling within myself. I used to think other people, places, or things would cure my loneliness.
My life made a 180-degree change when I began to practice yoga. It helped me to unite my body and mind. I still practice yoga these days, but it’s not my main focus anymore. Yoga was the catalyst I needed for growth and change.
It’s really important to get in touch with your inner self, your divine infinite being. I believe the lack of spiritual awareness is one of the main reasons people struggle with loneliness. Many people are not aware that ignoring the spiritual world cuts off a huge part of our reality and what it means to be human.
The only way out of loneliness is to go in. There is nothing outside of you that will fix it. There is no one who can tell you what path to take. You have to get in touch with yourself to see and know what lights your fire.
Find one thing that sparks your interest on a resonating soul level. Don’t judge it and don’t have expectations about it. Begin to explore it and simply notice how it makes you feel. Look at it as a neutral observer. Life is about learning and growing. You cannot grow unless you struggle. I wish I had realized this earlier in life.
These days I still don’t have a ton of friends, but I now know my worth. I see the value of my family and friends on a whole other level. I don’t need anyone else to enjoy the things I want to do. It took some practice for me to be OK with this. But if I can’t treat myself as valuable, who else will? If I can’t be alone with myself, the good and the bad, who else will? — Cari Swegles, 37, California
I’ve been a lonely person for most of my life because of my complicated family, but I never felt truly alone until about a year ago. At the time, I had moved back home to be with family during the pandemic and started studying law. I thought I’d have my family’s support and from there make friends, but I found myself completely isolated.
Then, my grandfather died. He was the man I turned to for guidance and comfort in the worst of times. I never thought there could be a loneliness so great.
So, I moved away from my family and back to where I had a friend base. It just wasn’t possible to rely on them, and, strangely, putting distance between us reduced how lonely they made me feel. I reconnected with some old friends and caught up with them for a run every fortnight or so.
But I think the most important thing I’ve done is honor my grandfather by going out into the bush for hikes alone. We didn’t really do this together because he was a bit older, but he loved the stories I told of the places I’d hiked. Going out into the bush, carrying the memory of him, and talking to him in nature has really helped me work through my grief and feel a little less alone, if only because I can pretend that he’s with me.
The love of others can help you come out of the coldness of loneliness. When I feel most lonely, I picture my grandfather, who loved me so much, and talk aloud to him, just to remind myself of his love. It’s a small thing and probably a little crazy, but it gives me strength to press on.
Loneliness is one of the saddest burdens to bear. But the truth is, we all feel it. — James, 29, Australia
My partner and I moved to Salt Lake City, leaving behind an amazing friend group that we miss dearly. Making friends in a new, bigger city has been difficult, and in the past I would have coworkers to network with to make friends, but I have a fully remote job now, so there were weeks where the only person I talked to face-to-face was my partner. It made me sad.
I tried to find groups on Meetup, but I also have social anxiety. I realized there was an animal shelter close to my house that I could walk to, so I tried volunteering there and have LOVED it.
I get to help pets find their forever homes, talk to staff members, and help the public as an adoption ambassador. While I still haven’t made many friends here, the human interactions have helped my loneliness so much.
Try something slightly out of your comfort zone. I wish I would’ve started volunteering sooner because getting out of my house has really helped my mental health and made me feel useful.
You have to do something or nothing will change. — Skylar Williams, 29, Utah
I first realized I was lonely in high school. I was pretty anxious and reserved, so when my friends were socializing, I felt excluded. It’s still something I battle with today, especially when I’m not with my significant other. I moved to the West Coast after finishing college, but my anxiety makes it hard to make new friends.
It’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’ve found that the best way to deal with loneliness is to not sit with it. Get that energy moving by doing something that brings you joy and happiness. For me, that’s putting on headphones and dancing around and singing, especially while cooking in the kitchen. I also like to journal and write things down when I’m in a low place, which helps get rid of stagnant negative energy.
I’ve spent a lot of time sitting with loneliness and allowing it to sink me into a really deep, sad place — but it got me nowhere. I wish that I would’ve been more proactive in redirecting that energy so that I didn’t make myself suffer.
It’s okay to let yourself feel your loneliness, but it’s also best to try and move that energy out of you so you don’t feel overpowered by it. — Kimberly, 24, Montana
A few years ago when I was in college, I moved off campus into a three-bedroom apartment. It was a cheaper living option, and I wanted to have a pet and live on my own for the first time. After I moved in, I remember watching Netflix and feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I had friends I could talk to and hang out with, and spending time with them helped, but I still felt lonely even while being in the same room as them.
So I adopted my cat, MeMe, who immediately helped. She’s incredibly vocal and loving, so I was able to have conversations with her and love her to help ease my loneliness.
When I felt lonely and MeMe was being, well, a cat, I read a lot of books, short stories, and fanfiction online, which helped because it felt like I was talking to friends and like-minded folks. I was on a number of dating apps, too, in college, but that REALLY made things worse. Something about not matching with people that you like or being ghosted really exacerbated my loneliness.
But having something to take care of helps. If I didn’t have my cat, I don’t know what I would have done. Having MeMe forced me to stop thinking about how I felt and start thinking about how she felt and how to give her the best life. It forced me to put my energy elsewhere, which worked wonders.
Being lonely and being alone are two different things. I actually like being alone. I like having time to myself with my own thoughts sometimes. Even though I’m happily married now, being alone still feels like self-care to me.
RuPaul said it best: “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen?” — Chelsey Jeniece León, 27, Alabama
I felt my loneliness after a breakup with an emotionally abusive partner. That situation alienated me from my friends, who had moved on and developed their own separate groups of friends and hobbies. Even with my family around, my support network was limited and I felt like no one cared about what I was going through. I had no one close enough to talk to, or even to take me out of my house.
Then I made one of the most important decisions of my life. I found a new job and moved to a different country. I’m aware not everyone can do that, but it worked out for me: I wanted to escape my comfort zone, and there weren’t a lot of ties to cut at the time.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by new people, creating new friendships that I still consider like family.
The world is full of nice people, and most of them likely feel a bit lonely too. Humans love to connect. So reach out to that Facebook hiking group; try to create a community. You will meet people and maybe even find something you’re passionate about. Put yourself out there — Clara, 28
I realized I was lonely when I was 25. Everyone was taking their relationships to the next level, and even though I had someone, we weren’t taking any next steps. Friends with significant others started hanging out with me less, and I hated the change.
But I realized over time that I was content with my situation and that I didn’t have to be on the timeline like everyone else — that I could be happy doing my own thing and take time to get to that point, or choose not to get there at all.
I continued to go out and be around the friends who were still willing to socialize. The worst thing I did was cut myself off from those people when I couldn’t deal with being alone. I still like my alone time, but I try to do it less often now.
Everyone does things at their own pace; you don’t need to be where others are at, and don’t settle just to get there either. Being with someone should not be a goal on a checklist of things you need to accomplish in life. If I could do anything differently, I wish I had realized this 10 years ago instead of letting these outside pressures affect my happiness.
Being lonely is not exactly the worst thing in the world. Appreciating yourself and your worth is more important than others’ appreciation of you. — Nicole, 30, Virginia
I realized I was lonely for the first time in my life after raising kids as a single parent and they successfully started their own lives.
I joined a website for people over 50 called Stitch. There were many opportunities to chat in a safe environment with others all over the world. I met many people from the site in real life too when I traveled. I also joined a local social club that has monthly meetings and visited dog parks instead of just walking my dogs. That minor contact helped me feel connected and gave me something to look forward to.
Everyone is different, though, specifically introverts like me. But we have to be our own advocates and believe that we are worthy of friends.
Find contentment within yourself first and don’t expect someone or something to fill the gaps. Joyful people attract other joyful people. Be the friend you hope to find. — Elaine, 65, Nevada
I realized how lonely I was after moving to New York. When the excitement of being somewhere new settled and I was fully moved in, all those positive feelings were suddenly replaced with an intense hit of loneliness. I realized that everyone I knew in the city had their own plans and lives. I had had a recent breakup in the months prior, too.
I tried to find ways to enjoy my own company. Although I’m still lonely sometimes, I feel like I have more of an understanding of what I can do to connect with and enjoy myself.
I don’t, however, recommend latching onto people who you’ve outgrown that feel like safety blankets, lashing out at busy friends, or trying to deny that you’re lonely. Accepting that you feel lonely and being able to sit in that discomfort makes a huge difference instead of being hard on yourself or trying to distract yourself from those feelings. Give yourself some time to be like, “Yeah I’m feeling really lonely today” and feel those emotions before trying to come up with a game plan on how to alleviate them right away.
Loneliness is isolating in nature, but it feels a lot less scary when you know that all the people you thought couldn’t possibly feel the way you do because they have a significant other or lots of friends, etc., probably feel the same way — and may even be thinking the same about you. — Nada, New York
I realized I was lonely when I started crying myself to sleep. I had just ended a tumultuous relationship where I felt my partner had checked out on me. I couldn’t miss a beat to mourn because I automatically became a single mom to two toddlers. I felt so helpless.
I found a way out of my loneliness by slowly spending more and more time with my thoughts. It was scary at first. I would read and meditate for 10 minutes. Then I spent one minute with my thoughts. I slowly extended it until eventually I spent 30 minutes reading, 15 minutes with my thoughts, and 10 minutes on journaling. I had to be intentional about it, so I woke up really early every day to do just that.
I think everyone needs someone they can trust and a faith system to put everything into perspective and differentiate between being alone and being lonely. I talked to a mental health counselor, my priest for spiritual direction, and two friends that I could trust and talk to about my day.
Don’t be afraid to feel your feelings and examine them. Even your deepest thoughts are yours and nothing to be afraid of. Trust your process and believe that your loneliness is only temporary. — Danell Dumas, 43, Illinois
I think we all feel lonely at some point, but the last few years have changed my definition of loneliness. It isn’t just when there is no one around, it is also when I don’t feel understood or heard. I don’t blame those around me for it. They’re doing their best.
Apart from therapy, I have tried to stick to a routine to keep myself occupied. It’s tedious at times but very helpful. I built one around my medications, and now I take them on time and eat proper meals.
When intrusive thoughts get too overwhelming, I try to refocus my attention. It can be by watching an episode of a show I like or just by doing some other activity. Stepping out of the house has also helped. But on days when I dont have the mental or physical energy for any of this, I choose to be kind to myself and stay in bed. I no longer push myself through situations.
When trying to help someone who’s lonely, ask more questions instead of making statements. Find out what they would find helpful, not what you think is helpful. And don’t force anyone to do anything; it’s really not beneficial to guilt people who are already suffering. — Karnika, 31, India
I started feeling lonely a year into the pandemic. My grandpa died the year before that; I lost my job; I was in a bad place and felt like no one was with me. I got very depressed and I lost my self-esteem and confidence. It lasted almost two years. It was so bad that I didn’t want to live with that pain.
I tried everything I could think about: therapy, traveling, yoga, exercising. Nothing worked — until a few months ago, when I gathered my courage and talked to my mom about it. She listened, gave me so much positivity, and encouraged me to fight. I also started reiki healing to boost up my confidence and self-esteem, and it’s working. I’m listening to a video every night before I sleep and I’ve never felt better.
Talk to someone you trust. I know it’s scary, but afterward it will feel amazing. I cried and cried when I talked to my mom, although I was nervous in the beginning. I should have talked to my parents the moment I felt different.
If you see that someone you know is acting differently, don’t be afraid to ask and show them that you care.
Loneliness is one of the worst feelings. You think that you’re the only person in the world who doesn’t deserve a happy ending. You blame yourself and feel weak. But you are not alone. Thousands of people feel lonely. It will get better. — Wilma, 22, Sweden
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