COPING WITH
LONELINESS

BALANCE IS IMPORTANT

As we get busier with work, family, and life in general, it’s easy to lose touch with old connections. One way to cope with loneliness is to start being intentional about reconnecting and/or rebuilding your social support network. Research has found that having healthy sources of support can be a huge buffer against stress and the negative health impacts of loneliness and social isolation. Even if you have just a handful of people you can call or rely on, those meaningful connections can not only help you bounce back when facing hardship, they can help you stay healthier overall.

When your life feels out of balance in some way, it could be a sign you’re experiencing loneliness. Loneliness indicates that you’re longing for more connection. If you picture the various parts of your life like a pie, this would be like being hungry for a “bigger slice” of connection.

FIVE WAYS TO START FINDING BALANCE

Try the “two birds with one stone” approach

Try to find ways to get two or more needs met at once. For example, if you feel like you need both physical activity and more social connection, try reaching out to someone to schedule a walk together. If your work schedule is full of video meetings and your garden is neglected, see if you can take a lighter meeting over the phone instead so you can pull weeds, get some sunshine, and be productive all at once.


Keep “Plan B” options handy

When barriers come up, like schedules or geography, find creative work-arounds as a back-up or “Plan B” option. For example, if loved ones live far away, go for a virtual walk “together.” Read the same book or watch the same show or movie and then schedule time to talk about it in a virtual book or movie club. Or set up time to chat each week during a commute, lunch break, or while you’re making dinner.


Find your own rhythm

Part of what makes regaining a sense of balance in your life difficult is that when you get out of the habit of doing something, it takes more effort to start it back up again. Finding a rhythm that you can commit to will help you get back into a consistent schedule, and honoring that commitment to yourself means those healthy habits and fulfilling activities will add up to you feeling more connected to yourself and to the things you enjoy.


Try mixing things up

While consistency can help build a steady rhythm or flow, the effort is empty unless you are truly engaged. Getting into “auto pilot mode” where you’re just going through the motions of life without really being emotionally and mentally present can actually put you in a pattern of feeling out of balance and disconnected from yourself and others. If you find yourself stuck in a rut or consistently dissatisfied with the way a certain area of your life is going, try something new or change things up. Take a different route to a place you go regularly, try out a new recipe, or find a different exercise instructor. Flexing new muscles—whether physical, emotional, or mental—helps keep us alert and involved.


If you’re stuck, be stuck together

If finding motivation to address your imbalance feels challenging, you can try connecting to others who might be going through the same thing. For example, if you’ve been wanting to write more, you can join a group or online forum about “writer’s block.” If you’ve been trying to learn something new, you can join a class with others trying to learn the same thing. You can share your experience with someone in your personal network or in your hobby-focused community. Doing this may also offer the encouragement, boost, or accountability that you need to get started or keep going. As an added bonus, connecting this way eliminates the challenge (or excuse) of distance or lack of physical access, and it might even deliver greater opportunities for authentic connection to things you love, as well as to new people with shared interests.

THREE WAYS TO FIND MORE CONNECTION

Reach out to others struggling with loneliness

Although reaching out to others has the potential to feel awkward, if the gesture is authentic, it can be a risk worth taking for the sake of making a connection. It’s possible that you know a family member, friend, roommate, or colleague who also feels lonely. Doing for someone else what you need for yourself—making them feel seen, heard, and valued—could make both of you feel lighter. Even if you’re not sure that they are lonely, you could always offer to lend a helping hand, a listening ear, or an extra set of eyes on a problem they’re grappling with as a way to connect.


Change the interaction by asking open-ended questions

How many times have you been asked, “How are you?” only to answer with some variation of, “Fine thanks, and you?” We hear that question coming from everyone from telemarketers, to grocery store clerks, to acquaintances—usually without eye contact or time to truly listen to an answer that extends beyond “I’m good!” Turn that mindless back and forth into an opportunity for authentic connection by asking questions that truly spark engagement. Reach out in whatever way feels comfortable to you, be it text message, social media, phone call, video chat, or possibly in person. Here are some questions you can ask that open the door to actual conversation:

  • Check in on someone. “Hey there…I haven’t heard from you in a while. What’s been on your mind lately?”
  • Open up about something you’re going through and ask for advice. “It’s been so tough to get my kids to try new foods. I saw your post on the healthy recipes you’ve been trying with your family. How did you get started with that?”
  • Appreciate something that they do well and ask for their perspective. “I’ve had a pretty hectic week. You always seem so calm and collected. What do you do to help you relax and stay centered?”
  • Share an observation and follow up to learn more. “You seemed a little distracted today in the meeting. How have you been managing with our new schedule at work?”
  • Start a weekly check-in ritual with a friend by setting your intention upfront and asking if they want to join. “I’m trying to create more opportunities to practice gratitude in my week and I’d love a check-in buddy to share things we’re grateful for every Monday in a quick text. Today I’m grateful that the traffic was pretty light on the freeway. What was the best part of your day so far?”
  • If you’re regularly in touch with someone, try tossing a new question out to them like, “What’s something you’re looking forward to?” or “What’s something that always makes you smile?”
  • When you’re talking to or texting with a friend and they share something exciting they have planned, rather than giving them a passive response like, “Sounds good” you can ask, “What activities will you do on your trip?” or “I’ve never been there. What are you looking forward to?” Or, if they share they’re going through something hard, instead of just saying, “I’m sorry to hear that” you can encourage them to open up further by showing them you’re interested with a response like, “That sounds so painful. How can I help or support you right now?” or “Your friend/mom/aunt sounds sweet. What did you most love about her?”

Extend an invitation

Integrating more opportunities for connection in your life—even when you’re the one doing the inviting—can work wonders in terms of reducing social isolation. Ask people to join you in something, whether it’s an activity, a group, or just a conversation where you can engage them in brainstorming, problem-solving, storytelling, sharing memories, or supporting each other. Connect with them on things you both value, or try something new together. Something as simple as a weekly walk or cup of coffee can not only help fill your calendar, it can fill your heart.

GET INVOLVED IN HOBBIES AND INTERESTS

Engaging in your interests can help create a better sense of self, foster internal growth, and improve your quality of life. Interests can be any sort of topics or activities that you enjoy, feel curious about, or would like to try doing. Hobbies take your interests to the next level by helping you build a lifestyle with engaging and fulfilling activities. When you’re looking for more ways to build more connection in your life, hobbies can help you branch out, try new things, and feel more engaged in your life—not only to yourself, but to others. The key is having a plan and getting started—it just takes one first step and every step counts, no matter how big or small it may be. 

If you aren’t sure where to start or how to get involved, here are some ideas:

Register on an app or website

There are many organizations, apps, and websites, such as nextdoor.com or meetup.com, where people post activities based on their interests. Browsing resources like these can provide inspiration for activities you would like to plan, or put you in contact with new people who are already planning an activity you may want to join. If the thought of going to an event makes you nervous or uneasy, you can start getting to know people on the app first by joining in on chats or online conversations of interest. You can also send a message to the organizer and let them know you’re new so that you make contact with one person before going in person to an event with more people in attendance.


See if your company offers opportunities

Many companies organize internal interest groups, work groups, or volunteer opportunities for their employees. Breaking out of routines and interacting with others in your company outside of your daily responsibilities might show you a different side of each other that can be more relatable. Spending time on an outside, shared interest with people you work with can also be a chance to turn a work colleague into a personal friend.  


Look for local organizations

Think of a few things you’re interested in—chances are there’s already an existing organization that focuses on at least one of them! Start by doing an online search for something in your local community using terms like “animal shelters near me” or “volunteer opportunities near me.”  Many volunteer agencies such as shelters, food banks, and other nonprofits or charities post volunteer opportunities on their websites, have an email address, or post a phone number you can call for more information. You can also browse volunteer opportunities in your area by visiting volunteermatch.org.


Check out bulletin boards, open houses, or events pages

Search for local shops, such as music, dance, or cooking stores, that might offer classes or open houses to learn more about their services and events. Many other places—such as coffee shops, museums, places of worship, gyms, and fitness studios—frequently post community events, social interest groups, open houses, and volunteer opportunities, too.


Check out your local library

Libraries are storehouses of information, but not just through books. Many libraries offer networking events, book clubs, classes, game nights, and even activities for kids and teens. Some of these events are offered at no charge as they are meant to be a service to the community. If you feel nervous going alone, invite a friend along to give it a try with you. Go in person or explore their website to see if you find something online that sparks your interest. 


Look for classes in your community

Lifelong learning is a great way to keep your mind sharp, meet new people, and expand your repertoire of interests. Local, big-box, home improvement stores, as well as some smaller specialty shops have classes on do-it-yourself home improvement projects like tiling, backsplash, painting, and other interests. Your local hobby and craft store may also offer crafting, silk floral arranging, or decorating classes in your area. A community college near you may offer classes you are interested in—these courses are an inexpensive way to refresh your existing knowledge or learn about something brand new, all while meeting people who share your interest in the subject.

FIVE TIPS FOR ENGAGING IN HOBBIES
  • Be realistic about your budget.
  • Try it a few times to get the hang of it before deciding it isn’t for you.
  • Do it for YOU and try not to compare to others.
  • If you get overwhelmed by your options, just pick one and get started.
  • Make a list of a few things you’re interested in trying so if one doesn’t work out, you have back-ups handy.

CONSISTENCY AND PERSISTENCE ARE THE KEYS

Regardless of which approach you choose to start with, the most important part of keeping up these changes will be to follow up with consistency and persistence. Consistency, or repeating the behavior you want to maintain, will help you build healthy habits, or a lifestyle, rather than just doing it once. Persistence, or continuing the behavior even when it’s challenging, will help you find a way to create and maintain the new habit.