If you are feeling lonely or isolated, it can be difficult to reach out and make meaningful connections. However, social connection is essential for reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. In this post, I share key tips on how to start making connections socially that will help you feel more connected to the world around you.
Loneliness is an epidemic. People are designed to be in community with one another, yet so many of us suffer from loneliness and isolation. Pre-pandemic studies revealed that over 61% of the population admitted to feeling lonely, and that has only worsened in the past three years. On a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast, I chatted with colleague, Dr. Gregory Jantz about the importance of meaningful connections to combat the effects of loneliness. If you missed that episode, you can listen here [How Building Meaningful Connections Can Combat the Effects of Loneliness – Episode 234]. Both loneliness and isolation are prevalent but with the right tools and strategies, it is possible to reduce these feelings and build meaningful connections with others.
What is the Difference Between Loneliness and Isolation?
Loneliness and isolation are related but there are distinct differences. Technically, isolation is the actual lack of interaction and social contact with others while loneliness is the feeling of distress that results from being alone or separated from others. Loneliness is the feeling or emotion. But the interesting thing is that you can live or work with others and still feel lonely, while others have limited social interaction or engagement and yet never feel lonely. Personality plays into our response, as does outcomes of prior interactions, and modeling within the home.
Know the Signs You Are Isolating Yourself
- You tend to avoid social interactions, even those activities that you previously found enjoyable.
- Frequently canceling plans at the last minute, and feeling relieved once you’ve escaped that commitment.
- Exhibiting or experiencing elevated anxiety, worry, fear, or panic when you think about engaging in social interactions.
- Feeling distressed, uneasy, or ill at ease when you are in a solitary environment.
- Not looking forward to, or even dreading, social activities.
- Limiting your social interaction with others, and intentionally spending more time alone.
The Impact of Loneliness and Isolation on our Health and Mental Health
Social isolation is an objective lack of social relationships or decreased frequency of social contact. Loneliness is a subjective feeling of isolation. A person can be socially isolated but not feel lonely. A person can also feel lonely when they are surrounded by people. Regardless, isolation and loneliness frequently co-occur.
Studies have shown that loneliness and isolation can have devastating effects on our physical well-being as well as on our mental health. Social isolation can involve emotional isolation, which is an unwillingness or inability to share one’s feelings with others. When individuals who are socially isolated experience insufficient emotional interaction and support, they can put up their defenses and become emotionally numb — detached from their own feelings.
Consider ways to combat the negative effects of loneliness and isolation by engaging in physical exercise, eat nutritious protein-rich meals, limit processed foods with lots of preservatives, get outside in the sunshine, consider talking with a professional. Many also find that having a pet to care for can improve mental health and simultaneously decrease feelings of loneliness.
Increasing Social Connection: Keys to Reducing Loneliness and Isolation
- First, assess what’s at the root of your isolation (fear of failure? Fear of rejection? Fear of success? Projecting previous hurts on future relationships?) Once you start to understand the root of your isolation and/or loneliness, you’ll be more likely to recognize that trigger before it takes a devastating toll on your social and emotional health.
- Start with people you know. It’s a relatively low risk but high reward endeavor to attempt to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation through a direct message, text, email, or even a phone call with someone you are well acquainted with, especially when in-person get togethers aren’t realistic.
- Start slow. If you’ve been experiencing loneliness for quite a while, you may feel overwhelmed when it comes to efforts to re-engage with people. Start slow with those you already have contact with, and your success in these situations will increase your motivation to reach out to those you don’t know quite as well. For some, feelings of loneliness will dissipate just by being in places where there are many people or lots of activity such as in a coffee shop or exercise class.
- Learn who you are and what you enjoy. The most fulfilling interactions with others are when we share some kind of common bond. Either we went to the same high school, or share the same hobby, or have the same sense of humor. But many who are isolated and/or lonely stop doing things they previously enjoyed, and that’s the perfect place to begin to foster deep social connections to reduce loneliness and isolation.
- Keep in mind that having lots of friends and contacts doesn’t ensure you won’t experience loneliness. Often, loneliness is directly related to a lack of confidence or self-esteem rather than the number of people one interacts with.
- Consider your daily life and where possible, try to establish a routine. This will make it easier to notice and recognize others who regularly show up at the same place and time as you, making fostering new deep social connections easier in an effort to reduce loneliness and isolation.
- Consider the activities you enjoy doing by yourself (i.e. walking, baking, crocheting, listening to music, organizing etc.) Sometimes loneliness and isolation are less about the company of others, and more about living a fulfilling life on our own before inviting others to join us. So it’s important to get back to learning what you enjoy when you are alone.
- Try a new activity to make new social connections. We can get so stuck in our ruts, that trying new things feels risky. But fostering deep social connections comes with time, interaction, and intentionality. Doesn’t it feel good when others take an interest in you and the things that matter to you? What if you do that for someone else and try a new activity that thrills their heart?
- Avoid comparing yourself to others—things aren’t always as they seem. We often have no idea how others really feel when they are alone, and we rarely give thought to the fact that many feel alone even when they appear to be surrounded by friends and family.
- Look at online groups to connect with others with shared interests (Bible study, gardening, cooking, crafts, book clubs, etc.). Social media and virtual interaction has done a lot in terms of shrinking the miles between two individuals, and has in many instances, fostered deep social connections with people in real life. But when getting out or interacting in person isn’t feasible, virtual interaction can still lead to fostering deep social connections to reduce loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness can be heart-wrenching. It’s my prayer that as you put some of these strategies into practice that God will bring about new social connections for you to enjoy doing life with.
What have you found to be helpful for combating loneliness? Or for fostering deep social connections? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
If you are struggling with isolation or loneliness, let me encourage you to request to join our #HopePrevails Community on Facebook where you can receive hope-filled virtual support and encouragement.