10 tips to overcome social isolation and loneliness

Levels of loneliness and social isolation in America have reached an all-time high. More than a quarter of the US population lives alone—the highest rate ever recorded—as marriage rates have declined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely. However, building connections with others is easier than you may think. Incorporating simple, effective strategies to enhance your well-being can help you overcome feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

The difference between social isolation and loneliness

Loneliness and social isolation are related, but different. Loneliness refers to the feeling of being alone or disconnected, even if you have regular contact with others. You can feel lonely in a crowd.

Social isolation, on the other hand, refers to the state of being separated or detached from others or having few people to communicate with on a regular basis. While social isolation can lead to loneliness, you can feel lonely without being socially isolated.

Who is at risk of social isolation and loneliness?

Anyone can experience social isolation or loneliness. As people age, they often spend more time alone. Older adults who live alone or in care facilities—particularly those who have hearing loss, memory issues, or limited mobility—are at greater risk of feeling socially isolated.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community who experience stigma and barriers to care tend to be lonely more often than others. This is a particular concern for youth and adolescents who often feel rejected, bullied, or discriminated against.

Others at risk include single and low-income parents who juggle work and childcare responsibilities and have limited time for social activities. In addition, anyone negotiating a major life transition, such as retirement, divorce, or the loss of a loved one, can experience disrupted social networks that lead to loneliness and social isolation.

Health risks of social isolation and loneliness

Long-term loneliness and social isolation can have serious consequences that affect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The risks of prolonged loneliness and social isolation include:

  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety
  • Changes in eating habits that cause weight gain or weight loss
  • Feelings of irritability or frustration
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Reduced interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Loss of motivation to engage in physical activity
  • Consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Reduced quality of sleep

Loneliness and social isolation are also linked with higher risks of heart disease, reduced cognitive function, and other serious health conditions.

Tips to overcome social isolation and loneliness

Here are some practical solutions to help you build connections with others and enhance your well-being:

  1. Talk with people you trust and share your feelings. We are social by nature, and high-quality relationships can help us live healthier, happier lives. Getting together with friends and family members can provide emotional support and help you feel better.
  2. Revealing things that make you unique and matter to you may inspire others to share their stories in return and build connections. If you can’t get together in-person, use email or video chat. Sending letters or cards is also a great way to maintain strong friendships.

  3. Build authentic connections with other people. Figure out what gives your life meaning—what motivates you and brings you joy—and connect with people who share your interests. Join a book club or take a class to learn something new.
  4. Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet, limit your screen time, and try to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep. If you smoke, make a plan to quit tobacco.
  5. Stay active. Join a fitness club, take a dance class, or schedule weekly walks with a friend. Make sure to get the amount of physical activity recommended for adults.
  6. Take advantage of opportunities for creative expression. Whether you’re inspired to write, paint, play a musical instrument, or take up cooking, engaging in creative pursuits can go along way toward enhancing your well-being. Looking for hands-on activities? Plant a garden or try woodworking.
  7. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Giving back to your community and interacting with like-minded individuals can foster a sense of belonging and help you build meaningful connections with others. Developing a sense of purpose in life can help you build resilience.
  8. Attend local events. Explore cultural activities, classes, and clubs in your community and participate in activities that interest you. Over time, you’ll build confidence as you navigate social situations.
  9. Adopt a pet. In addition to providing companionship and comfort, pets can help reduce stress and lower your blood pressure. Taking care of an animal also gives you a sense of purpose and a routine.
  10. Practice mindfulness. Encouraging a deeper connection with yourself and your environment can provide a sense of grounding and stability. To be fully engaged in the present moment, incorporate relaxation techniques into you daily routine.
  11. Try behavioral therapy. If you feel lonely and need to talk to someone, consider scheduling an appointment with a mental health professionals, counselor, or therapist. Learn how to get the most out of your behavioral therapy sessions.

Overcoming loneliness and social isolation involves connecting with others, building a strong support system, and developing a deeper understanding of yourself—which, in turn, can lead to a richer, more emotionally satisfying life.

Talk with your doctor about loneliness and social isolation

People are lonely for different reasons, so a one-size-fits-all approach is not likely to work. Rather, you need to address the underlying cause.

If you feel isolated or lonely, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. You may want to discuss any major changes in your life, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one. Being open and honest about your emotional health can help your doctor identify the issue and recommend treatment options.

Additional source

National Institute on Aging, Loneliness and Social Isolation — Tips for Staying Connected