Things to do when you feel lonely

How often do you feel lonely? Loneliness can creep up on you whether you're alone or even when you're surrounded by other people. Being single can make you feel lonely, but even if you're in a happy relationship you probably still battle with loneliness from time to time. Luckily, there are things you can do when you're lonely to feel better. I went to the experts to find out what they suggest to beat that lonely feeling.

Make a list of things to do before you get lonely

Instead of waiting until you get lonely, Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist, recommended that you make a list ahead of time for things that you can do. She told me, "The first step is to make a list before you get lonely, since it is highly unlikely the inspiration will come when you are lonely." Her suggestions included activities, ways to contribute to others, and things that will make you feel better emotionally. 

For the activities, she suggested, "Puzzles, running, biking, swimming, going on a whale watching trip, museum event, or a bus trip for a day to a location." For contributing, she suggested that you "make a list of ways you can contribute. They don't have to be big, perhaps walking a neighbor's dog, offering to help an elderly person that is lonely in some way, or saying hello to the grocery checker. The goal is to get you out of your mind."

Finally, to lift your emotions, Bahar recommended, "Listen to music that is fulfilling and has a spiritual sense to it, something that stirs a connection to emotions and life." She said to keep going down the list until you figure out what works.

Listen to stories

A great way to get out of your own head is to read or listen to stories. Jude Treder-Wolff, a licensed clinical social worker and group psychotherapist, recommended, "Listen to storytelling podcasts that feature true stories told by people from all walks of life." She even has a few she recommends, "The Moth (also on NPR), RISK! StoryCorps, and Story Collider are just a few of the many wonderful podcasts and shows that share human experiences from a rich swath of perspectives."

Listening to stories also has the added benefit of making you feel connected to others. Treder-Wolff told me, "Listening to stories is an emotionally engaging and risk-free way to feel connected to other people, take emotional journeys and gain insight and perspective into one's own situation. It is also a highly entertaining."

Volunteer

One of the best things you can do to stop feeling lonely is to give back to others. Treder-Wolff said, "Loneliness can turn in on itself, increasing isolation and giving rise to negative thoughts and feelings that increase one's sense of alienation. It can require an enormous emotional effort, but taking action that is of help to other people in some way reduces the sense of loneliness and breaks the negative cycle that isolation can produce. Research published in the British Medical Journal Online showed that volunteering enhanced emotional well-being, especially among people after 40 and into old age, the years most commonly associated with loneliness."

Life Coach Claudia Matles told me that if you're looking for places to volunteer, "Think about situations where others feel lonely, like shelters, Big Sister/Big Brother organizations, or even Meals on Wheels. Donate your time to being there for others and you will see how fast your discomfort of feeling lonely vanishes."

Erica McCurdy, certified master coach, added, "Find a way to connect to others and to the world. By helping someone less fortunate, we realize that we have the ability to make a difference. Many organizations have service opportunities listed online. If you can't find an opportunity directly, try a website such as volunteermatch.com and pay it forward."

Create something

I always feel better after I create something, whether it's a poem or a watercolor painting. The act of creation can help ease your loneliness, as well. Treder-Wolff shared in our interview, "The most challenging aspect of loneliness can be a sense of emptiness and longing for connection to people or forces outside of us, but some of that can be relieved by bringing out something from within us."

For creative ideas she suggestd, "Any creative activity can help — writing, drawing, pottery, sculpture, poems, singing. When we create we are starting from an empty space, a blank page, an untouched canvas, making small choices about how to fill that empty space and exploring where those choices take us."

As you create, you get in touch with your inner self. Treder-Wolff added, "Learning to express our inner life in this way gets more and more rewarding as we gain greater skill that comes through practice, so it is self-reinforcing. And creativity is enormously engaging to our cognitive and emotional brain."

Meditate

Have you ever meditated? It's not as intimidating as it sounds, and it can really help you if you find yourself getting lonely. Matles suggested, "Sit quietly and meditate on where the sensation is showing up in the body… is it in the chest area? The stomach? The throat? Once you scan the body… notice the clinging sensations or however the discomfort of loneliness shows up. Breathe into the area and areas around it and send comforting support to this area."

Once you send healing energy to the physical area where you feel lonely, Matles recommended, "Continue to sit. Know that others are out there feeling the same lonely feeling, so send light to all out there that [are] suffering from this same feeling. Feel like you're bathing them in your heart with healing energy and pure light that shows them that we are all connected. Include yourself in this too. We all feel the same depths of loneliness we just wear it differently." 

Much like listening to stories will connect you to the emotions of others, this exercise will help you feel connected to and empathize with other lonely people, which will help you feel less alone.

Move your body

Working out or just moving your body can help your feelings of loneliness dissipate, as well. McCurdy told me, "When we feel lonely, we end up spending a lot of time 'in our head' thinking about how we feel. Lonely times often correlate to isolation and inactivity, so counter those feeling by forcing your body to move. The natural endorphins released through exercise help you feel better, and the concentration required during physical movement helps take your mind off being alone."

You can go to the gym, dance around your apartment, take your dog for a walk, do yoga, or move your body in whatever way feels best to you. As you move, you'll find the feelings of loneliness lifting.

Sign up for a class

Speaking of yoga and dance, instead of doing it on your own, think about signing up for a class, instead. Classes are great places to meet people with similar interests to yours. They'll get you out of the house and ease your feelings of loneliness.

McCurdy told me, "Sign up for a class — any class. Where are you most likely to meet people who like the same things you do? Chances are good if you sign up for a class doing something you enjoy or something you always wanted to learn you will find yourself in an environment where those people gather."

Treder-Wolff especially recommends improv classes, suggesting, "Improvisation classes are a truly novel and increasingly popular approach to developing greater interpersonal skills and gaining confidence while having a ton of fun." They don't just have to be workout or improv classes though. Do you like sculpting? Writing? Whatever you enjoy, there's probably a class for it in your hometown. Get out there and join a class today.

Call a friend or family member

Whenever I feel lonely, I pick up the phone and call my best friend Danielle. No matter how bad I feel, I know a few minutes on the phone will lift my spirits. Even though I may feel like isolating myself, I choose to call her instead because I know it will make me feel better. Do you have someone you can call when you feel lonely?

Dr. Wyatt Fisher, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, told me, "You can connect with others through social media, or even better, through a phone call or meeting in person. When we are lonely it's because we are hungry for connection. Therefore, doing something to help us feel connected is often the answer."

Go to therapy

Everyone gets lonely sometimes, but if you find yourself getting lonely on a consistent basis it may be time to seek outside help. Dr. Fisher told me, "If someone has a chronic pattern of feeling lonely, they should see a therapist to process the origins and the patterns. For example, perhaps they didn't have close attachments with their parents growing up so they never learned how to cultivate closeness with others. Therefore, working through this will be imperative to build relationships that are satisfying to avoid feeling lonely."

Treder-Wolff agreed. She told me, "If people feel lonely most of the time, it can be sign of something more serious that needs deeper intervention. Loneliness can be the ongoing experience of people who are depressed and feel outside of or disconnected from the social world."

Therapy can help you if you're experiencing loneliness connected to depression or social anxiety. Treder-Wolff added, "With treatment, the loneliness linked to depression can be greatly relieved. Sometimes loneliness is a result of social anxiety, shyness, or lack of skills for navigating social situations. Individual therapy or a similar process that helps a person understand the roots of the problem can be very helpful."

Know that it will pass

You may feel desperately lonely right now. Know that loneliness is completely normal and that it will pass. Do some of the activities suggested by the experts — join a class, do something creative, move your body, or phone a friend. Then smile and know that your loneliness will pass and you will feel good again soon.