What is it?
When we feel lonely, we’re distressed or uncomfortable in our social connections. We feel like there’s a gap between what we want our social relationships to look like and what our experiences actually are. Even people who are surrounded by others all day can be lonely. It’s about the quality and authenticity of our relationships and not just the number of them.
There’s an increase in these feelings across the U.S., so much so that the U.S. Surgeon General released a report in 2023 calling loneliness an epidemic.1
Sometimes, but not all of the time, loneliness can stem from feelings of isolation or can reinforce it. These feelings can be painful and include feeling left out and rejected.
Self-isolation is a process that can happen gradually, so it’s important to recognize it early, if possible. A few of the signs include:
- Spending the vast majority of your time alone
- Feeling extremely uncomfortable in social situations you used to enjoy
- Not communicating via text, email, or phone with others
- Feeling as if there’s nobody to lean on for help
- Generally lacking desire to connect with the world around you
It can be helpful and healthy to make time for yourself when you're struggling, but if you find yourself avoiding social interaction for an extended period, it can turn into something more. Isolation and loneliness might also be a sign of mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
While loneliness can affect your mental health, it can also have serious physical health consequences. Lack of social connection has been linked to higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. To put it into context, one study found self-isolation had the same health impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Given these potential consequences and the growing numbers of people who feel lonely, it’s even more critical to find ways to combat loneliness and connect to others in a real way.
What's causing it?
Social connection is wired into our DNA. Humans crave it just like other necessities such as food and water. That’s why when we don’t have it, it pervasively affects our mental and physical health.
There is no one cause of loneliness, and it can result from everything from a change in your living environment or a breakup to the death of a loved one. It may not even have a reason, because you’re actually surrounded by people. But, whatever the reason, you feel a disconnect and lack of support.
Some of the reasons for this can be internal, like self-esteem. You may also feel misunderstood or like others are judging you, and that can make you feel lonely. When we can’t identify with the folks around us, or our relationships don’t feel fully authentic, we may start a vicious cycle of loneliness and isolation.
Sometimes you can become isolated because of other emotions or difficulties you’re experiencing. While spending your time alone feels easier, too much time isolated in a tough mental state can lead to intrusive thoughts (unwanted thoughts that are difficult to get out of your mind) and negative self-talk. Sometimes this is a symptom or a cause of mental health conditions like depression and social anxiety as well.
Loneliness may also result from our social connections themselves. It can be difficult to maintain healthy social connections if you’re in a geographically isolated place or lost social connections because of a disruption in a routine, like COVID-19. Because there are fewer people to interact with, it may be that there are fewer opportunities to have meaningful, in-person connections.
In general, three aspects of relationships can affect how socially connected (or not) we feel:
- Structure: The size of your social groups and how frequently you interact with them
- Function: How deep your relationships are and whether your needs feel met
- Quality: Your overall level of satisfaction within a relationship—whether it leaves you feeling energized or drained
How lonely we feel depends on these qualities in our relationships, but they’re things you can work on as you reach out to make social connections.
Related emotions, moods and life challenges
Loneliness is sometimes associated with other emotions or linked to various stressors and life challenges.
The desire to isolate is a common symptom of several mental health conditions or can perpetuate them. Feeling lonely for an extended period can weigh heavily on your mental well-being.
How should I deal with it?
While feeling lonely is completely normal sometimes, it’s important not to let those feelings keep you from connecting with people you care about or doing the things you once enjoyed or still want to try.
Making an effort to have in-person human interaction, even if it’s taking a walk or going to the store, can be helpful in reminding us that we have support all around us.
Things to try
There are many possible activities you can try to overcome self-isolation and to address feelings of loneliness.
- Anger ,
- Burnout ,
- Loneliness ,
- Sadness ,
- Worry ,
- Money issues ,
- Non-substance addiction ,
- Relationship issues & breakups ,
- Substance use ,
- Grief & loss ,
- Loneliness ,
- Sadness ,
- Worry ,
- Chronic health issues & disabilities ,
- Relationship issues & breakups
What can I do now?
Although you might feel lonely or isolated, it’s important to remember there are people who care about you. It might feel difficult, but reach out to them and make plans. Take tiny steps each day to connect with at least one person.
If breaking out of isolation becomes too overwhelming, consider finding a counselor or therapist to talk to, or check out other local resources that serve your community or a community nearby.
WebsiteMan TherapyMan Therapy® was created by a multidisciplinary team of suicidologists, mental health experts, marketing strategists, and creatives to make mental health approachable by using humor to break stigma and help men take action with tools and resources.
WebsiteSeize the AwkwardStarting a conversation about mental health does not need to be uncomfortable, and it can make all the difference. Check out these resources to learn how to support a friend – or get help for yourself.
Helpline | Text line | Online Live ChatNAMI HelpLine | National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)During this difficult time, the NAMI HelpLine is here for you. HelpLine volunteers are working to answer questions, offer support and provide practical next steps. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., ET. Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text "HelpLine" to 62640 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online forum | Website | Support groupTrevorSpace | The Trevor ProjectTrevorSpace is an affirming, online community for LGBTQ young people between the ages of 13-24 years old. With over 400,000 members across the globe, you can explore your identity, get advice, find support, and make friends in a moderated community intentionally designed for you.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Surgeon General's Advisory on Building Healthy and Resilient Communities