Written by Violaine Guéritault, Ph.D.

What is it?

Loneliness is an emotion experienced by all of us from time to time. Although each and every one of us experiences it differently and for different reasons, a well agreed upon description of it is the feeling that our needs for social contacts and meaningful relationships are not being met. Certain life events are well known for triggering a deep sense of loneliness, such as a break-up, the death of a loved one, moving to a new area, or going to college. However, if you’ve felt lonely before, you know very well that loneliness is not necessarily the same as being alone. Sometimes we are surrounded with plenty of people and yet we still feel lonely and isolated.

The problem is that when we are lonely we tend to feel empty, alone, and not wanted. We crave for meaningful social contacts but because of our state of mind, we can find it difficult to connect with other people. Loneliness is a painful emotion that shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked because of the negative consequences it can have on your mental and physical health. These can include depression, anxiety, altered cognitive and brain functions, and substance use.

What is it telling you?

This emotion is telling you that your needs for closeness and belonging are not being met, and that your relationships are not emotionally fulfilling or are inadequate. Loneliness alerts you that it is time for you to take necessary action to cultivate relationships that are more in tune with who you truly are, or that it is time to let go of the pain associated with a loss such as a break-up. It is easier said than done, of course, but remember the Chinese proverb that says “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” Whether you need to let go of a painful situation or meet new people, all you have to do is choose to take that first step. You might be surprised how easily the next steps will follow.

How to manage it?
  • Spend more quality time with those you love and who are already in your life.
  • Take the first step to meet people who share your values, interests, and attitudes. Join a group of people who practice an activity that resonates with who you are such as photography, art, sports, or volunteering. Remember that quality is a lot better than quantity, and that just one or two close and caring friends are enough to repel loneliness and its negative impact on your health.
  • Welcome the kindness of others. Keep an open heart and embrace the love people around you want to give you. Love is very healing and, if you let it, it will effortlessly shatter the walls loneliness has built around you.