September 7, 2018

Have you ever been in a crowded restaurant, at a table with your friends, and suddenly realize that you’re together, but you still feel lonely?

Maybe everyone is looking down at their phones instead of talking to each other. Maybe the conversation feels like it’s just skimming the surface of what matters. Or, maybe you just don’t feel close to the people you’re talking to. In the modern era, it is common for us to feel lonely, even when we’re not physically alone.

In the modern era, it is common for us to feel lonely, even when we’re not physically alone.
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Many of us feel alone together, disconnected from passersby on the street, in our workplace, maybe even in our own home. So we turn to our smartphones for comfort, connection, entertainment, or distraction, not realizing that socializing through text—emailing, messaging, or chatting on social media—rarely makes us feel better. Instead, it gets us stuck in our loneliness. Here’s how to get unstuck.

1. Tap Into Your Full Attention

Some of us are around people all day long. Why, we wonder, do we still feel lonely? Well it turns out that many of us are distracted during the majority of our social interactions—something we have technology to thank for. But if we’re not actually paying attention and being fully present while interacting with others, we don’t benefit as much and can end up feeling alone, even when we’re together.

Perhaps we are distracted because so many things are going on in other places—online and in real life—that we have developed a fear of missing out (FOMO), and so we keep our phones handy 24/7, just to make sure we don’t miss anything. And maybe everyone else does this too—Why bother paying attention to them when they don’t pay attention to me?, we might think. But what we're all missing out on: The chance to connect for real.

If we’re not actually paying attention and being fully present while interacting with others, we don’t benefit as much and can end up feeling alone, even when we’re together.
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What to do: Be more mindful. Now, does this mean we have to meditate, sit in silence, and spend time reflecting on ourselves? Not at all! It doesn’t require a fluffy pillow on the floor, an incense-filled room, or any other prop. It just requires that you be present in the moment and open to life as it unfolds.

Step 1: Start noticing when you're not present. If your thoughts are beyond the present moment, you're not present. If you’re thinking about what you will say after the other person stops talking, you're not fully present. If you’re judging yourself or others, you’re not present. Keep an eye on whether you are thinking about anything other than what is happening right in front of you.

And, if so, don't shame yourself—just start to pull yourself back to the moment by focusing on what’s happening right in front of you. What is the other person saying? How are they feeling? What’s happening in the room around you? If you are able to focus on the moment you're in, it can help you feel real connection and combat loneliness.

2. Make Connecting a Habit

Because we only have a limited amount of time each day, our habit of spending more of our time using technology can result in us spending less of our time doing things that combat loneliness. So it’s likely that you actually do have an hour per week that you could spend with a friend of co-worker.

What to do: Take a moment now to reach out to one or two people you’d like to spend time with and ask if they could make time for a weekly lunch or coffee date, game of tennis, or whatever, as long as it’s something you do together IRL. Make connecting with people—on a deeper level—part of your routine, and it'll help you curb loneliness before it sets in.

3. Use Texting For Deep Convos (If IRL Isn't an Option)

Social media often tricks us into thinking that everyone is doing better than we are. But it’s a show, a rouse, a false presentation of what’s really happening in the world right now.

In reality, people are increasingly struggling with mental health issues , like loneliness. By reaching out for help, you’ll discover how true that really is.

What to do: If you’re feeling lonely, first try to find someone to talk to in person. If that's not possible, research suggests that texting with someone can help you feel better, at least in the short term. So when in doubt, reach out!

4. Talk to New People

After hearing, “don’t talk to strangers” so many time in our lives, we can feel a bit anxious about talking to people we don’t know. But research suggests that even small social interactions with strangers—like chatting with someone in the line at the grocery store—can make us feel less lonely.

So if we’re always on phones—on the train, while we’re shopping, while we’re walking somewhere—we miss out on the small opportunities to connect.

Research suggests small social interactions with strangers—like chatting with someone in the line at the grocery store—can make us feel less lonely.
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Challenge yourself to talk to one stranger per day. Say hello to someone you pass on the street, chat with a cashier, or strike up a conversation with someone on your commute or at work. You’ll be surprised by the little burst of social connection you’ll feel and how it keeps your loneliness at bay, even if only for a short time.


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Read next: In Honor of Mental Health Month, Let's Get Real About How We Feel