A Practical Guide to Reducing Loneliness

11 awkward, life-affirming ways to connect with others.

how to combat loneliness

Feel alone? Turns out, you’re not as alone as you think. According to a survey from October 2020, 60% of American millennials experience loneliness regularly during COVID-19.

Unfortunately, the loneliness epidemic won’t go away when COVID-19 ends.

In fact, COVID-19 simply accelerated realities that we would have encountered anyway — including widespread loneliness.

The loneliness epidemic is a societal problem that requires societal solutions. However, large-scale social change is notoriously slow, meaning that change is up to you. Here are 11 practical, dorky, and life-affirming ways to combat loneliness today.

This article is part of a series on loneliness in America. Next Up: “Americans Are Lonelier Than Ever. Why?”

how to overcome loneliness
how to overcome loneliness
Man staring at his phone rather than at the stunning view

Put Down Your Damn Phone

Yes, that means put down your phone on the subway, while waiting in line at the grocery store, and during awkward lags in conversation.

But what do I do, then?

Try doing nothing, 1990s style.

Won’t that be awkward?

I guarantee it. You need to leave space in your life for good things to happen. Remember the first day in your college dorm and how awkward that was? Did some hilariously cringe-y things happen? Did you meet some cool people in the process?

Bear in mind that some of the smartest people in the world are paid to write the algorithms that keep you glued to your phone so that companies can sell you stuff to fill the void. Outsmart them by becoming comfortable with the void, instead.

Stop Ordering Stuff Off Amazon

There are lots of ethical reasons not to buy stuff from Amazon (think: terrible labor practices, putting small businesses out of business…), but this isn’t about that.

How about you try something revolutionary: Put on your shoes, leave your home, and buy stuff in person — ideally by walking there.

Crazy, right?

There are always dozens of reasons not to do something. I’m feeling lazy / I won’t meet my soulmate the second I walk out the door / I don’t know where to go.

  1. Seeing other human beings makes humans happy.
  2. Walking makes people happy.
  3. Vitamin D makes people happy.
  4. How are you going to meet other people if you never leave your house?

Our deepest-rooted fears and anxieties look better in sunlight. In other words, loneliness seems more solvable when you get out of your house — even if you don’t meet anyone.

You could argue: I don’t have to leave my house to meet people. I can meet them online.

That may work for dating. But if online friendships were working for you, would you be reading this article?

Say Yes to Everything You Are Invited To (and Even Some Things You Aren’t)

The first month of college didn’t go so well for me. I was an introverted only child who didn’t identify with the raucous, seemingly popular kids in my dorm. I was miserable and I knew it would stay that way if I didn’t make any changes.

On September 23, I decided that I was going to say yes to everything within reason (and more than a few unreasonable things).

I said yes to outings with people I knowingly disliked and activities I thought I would hate (It turns out beer pong is very fun). I said yes when I was exhausted, sad, or busy.

What happened? I met my best friend (another person who said yes to everything with people she didn’t much care for). She is still my best friend seven years later. I also built a friend group in the process.

None of this happened overnight. It took years of effort. But months and years of work are worth it for a lifetime of friendship.

Join a Club and Go a Minimum of 3 Times

Yes, I hate Zoom, too. And yes, we’re still in a pandemic. But these are just excuses to maintain the status quo.

  1. Start by thinking of 3 interests you have. I’ll say mine are entrepreneurship, cryptocurrency, and mezcal.
  2. Go on Meetup.com and check your area for groups having to do with these interests.
  3. Commit to going to one active group (some are not during COVID-19) a minimum of 3 times. This group can also be AA or a Facebook group.
  4. Commit to a minimum of 1 group you will attend in person post-COVID-19.

Don’t see something you like or want to talk to people in person? Found your own group based on one of the interests outlined above. Then, find a local park and host a meetup.

Don’t assume that you are going to meet your BFF or future partner. Instead, go into it with one goal: Disrupt your current routine to make space for new connections.

Say Hello to Your Neighbors

Studies show that knowing six neighbors can help reduce loneliness. This can be as simple as saying hello to people you encounter in your building or neighborhood.

Remember: Over 30% of Americans surveyed say that they are lonely “frequently” or “all the time.” Saying hello to your neighbors is not just for your benefit; It’s also the kind thing to do for the millions of other people struggling with their mental health.

how to overcome loneliness
how to overcome loneliness
Howdy, neighbor.

It turns out, there are lots of Facebook groups for specific neighborhoods. At worst, these groups are mildly amusing forums for people to complain. At best, they’re cool communities where people help each other out.

In my neighborhood group, people have shared local spots to get vaccinated, helped people recover lost pets, disclosed movie filming locations, and supported small businesses.

Make Small Talk in Public

Don’t freak out. You’re not asking anyone out (though you can). Instead of staring down at your phone in line for coffee, say hello and make eye contact with the people around you. Ask them how you are doing.

Will people think I’m a freak?

Maybe, but that’s up to them, not you. Of course, not coming off as a creep in public is easier for women than men. But, on the flip side, getting unwanted attention from the opposite sex is a greater risk for women.

Simply put, be casual, not creepy, and read the room.

Play (or Learn) a Sport

I’m no good at sports and dreaded gym class. At the same time, I solidified many of my strongest high school friendships playing soccer and running cross country.

Why wouldn’t that work as an adult, too?

If you’re not looking to shell out for tennis lessons, join a workout in a local park. Head to Eventbrite or do some Googling.

Don’t Flake on Plans — Especially with Yourself

Said you would go to a workout class/meetup/drinks/[insert thing you no longer want to do here]? Do what you said you’d do.

When you cancel plans, you’re not letting others down; you’re letting yourself down.

You can, however, set limits of how much time you want to spend doing [thing you don’t want to do]. For instance, I can go to this presentation on entrepreneurship in Brooklyn and I only have to stay for 30 minutes if I’m not having a good time.

Reach Out to Friends of Friends

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert moves to Rome and suddenly has a great group of friends. How?

  • Gilbert reached out to everyone she knew who might know someone in Rome.
  • She took a language class and made a friend there.

Remember how 60% of millennials are lonely? Not only do you probably know more people than you think in a new place but, chances are, they want to make new friends, too.

The absolute worst thing that can happen is that people say no.

combat loneliness by getting off social media
combat loneliness by getting off social media
Social media does terrible things for your mental health (but you knew that already).

Cut Out Social Media — Especially in Public

If you don’t feel like you have any passions or hobbies, you aren’t alone.

The average Instagram user spends 53 minutes on the app every day.

What is something you could be doing with that time? Is there a hobby of yours you could be sharing via social media instead of passively consuming content?

Social media is shown to increase feelings of loneliness and depression — no matter whether you’re an influencer or passively consuming other people’s content.

The big companies that run social media are not your friends. It’s actually in their best interest to keep you lonely as studies suggest that isolated people shop more.

The secret to spending less time on social media — and more time in the real world — is awareness. Pay attention to when you subconsciously open the app.

The Long Con: Deepen Existing Interests

It’s harder to meet people outside of college. While you may have been able to make friends in a matter of days or weeks in school, you find yourself alone post-graduation with no idea how to meet people.

The best way to meet people as adults is to share a common interest. That requires having interests.

Ask yourself: what are 3 things that I would like to know more about?

Not things that you think you should know more about, like the news or books that you’ve been meaning to read. These things can be as “superficial” as fashion or YouTube makeup tutorials or as cutting-edge as De-Fi or programming.

Awkwardness Is Endearing; Vulnerability Is Cool

As anyone who has watched a rom-com knows, awkwardness is endearing as heck.

Inspired by Tim Ferriss’ fear setting exercise, every time you are scared of doing one of the many (at worst) cringey and (at best) life-changing things on this list, do a risk vs. reward calculation:

  • What risks am I assuming by not altering my behavior to increase connections?

Chances are, the risks associated with the status quo are high — and you already understand the rewards that your current behavior yields.

  • What is the absolute worst thing that can happen if [insert most awkward item from this list] goes wrong?

The benefits of changing your behavior are infinite. The risks are real, but the pain is fleeting.

Up Next: “Americans Are Loneliner Than Ever. Why?”

Burning the candle at both ends somewhere between New York and Maine.

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