What is loneliness?

As noted by the world-renowned emotions’ researcher, Brene Brown, at the heart of loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interaction1. Social interaction can be anything from an intimate relationship to friendship or even community or work group connections.

Loneliness is an emotion experienced by all human beings at some point in their lives. However, loneliness is both complex and unique to each individual – there is no one size fits all. According to many experts, loneliness is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, if one feels alone and isolated, then that’s how loneliness plays out for them specifically.

Loneliness generally causes people to feel empty, unwanted, alone, isolated and can be a major factor in depression. And it is not to be confused with solitude.

Loneliness is marked by feelings of isolation despite wanting social connections and is often perceived as involuntary separation, while solitude is always voluntary.

What can cause loneliness?

For those of us experiencing loneliness, the following list of challenges is not an exhaustive list of situations that may cause someone to feel lonely, but a mere indication of potentially triggering situations we need to be aware of.

  • Physical isolation
  • Moving to a new location
  • Divorce (end of a long-term relationship)
  • Death of someone significant


Additionally, loneliness can be a symptom of depression and it is sometimes attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem. People who lack confidence, tend to believe they are unworthy of attention, which in turn can lead to chronic loneliness

How can you help someone who appears to be lonely?

Since there can be many scenarios to consider, one approach can be to sensitively ask someone who appears to be lonely, about their social interactions and connections. For example: How are you spending your days most often? Are you taking part in many activities with your friends / colleagues / etc.? This questioning should be done in an empathetic and non-judgmental way in order for the other person to feel safe to answer the question. Also, never assume you know their answer. Remember that we ask the questions because we want to hear the answers, which in turn can help us understand if there is anything we can do to help.

Additionally, overcoming loneliness is not only about getting support, but also about giving support back and mutual aid2. For example, a sensitive way to reach out would actually be to ask that person for their help. Ask them to help you be more socially active for example or ask them for a coffee after work. An act of kindness and inclusion can make all the difference for a person struggling with loneliness. So, if in doubt, just be kind and offer your support in the best way that you can and according to your own available resources.

Managing loneliness, the healthy way

One of the first things I would recommend to someone feeling lonely would be to acknowledge and accept the feeling itself. Many of us feel lonely at some point in our lives, while for others this could be an overwhelming feeling which does not seem to easily go away. However, many do not accept we feel lonely and this in itself negates or invalidates our own feelings which I would highly recommend against. I would say radical acceptance of our feelings (including loneliness) should lead the way. Yes, loneliness is an emotion just like all the other emotions and we should not feel any less worthy because of it.

In addition to the above I would encourage people who struggle with loneliness to seek:

This can mean different things to different people. For most of us this would mean we resort to mindfulness-like initiatives and place our focus onto the present moment. e.g. breathing, notice 3 things, seeking calming activities which allow us to reconnect with ourselves, etc. 

Because they are pleasurable and make them feel joy.

Joy can be a great emotion to counter loneliness. These joy infusing activities can be endless; some examples could be reading a book, watching a comedy, dancing, joining a new class, go walking, hiking or taking a relaxing bath.

Sometimes, it is very easy to see the things we did not do versus the ones we actually completed successfully. By focusing on those we’ve achieved, we can improve our own perception about ourselves. These achievements do not have to be large efforts to be mentioned; it can be anything, even doing the housework, cooking a new recipe, completing an exercise routine, or doing admin tasks. We need to seek and celebrate all of our achievements, no matter how small.

We are social animals; therefore, we thrive on meaningful connections which bring us closeness. A way to drive this would be to increase opportunities for social interaction, such as joining a group of likeminded individuals who share their hobby interests or choosing to volunteer for a cause they believe in (either online or in person). Or they can perform their own little experiment – why not talk to a stranger and see what happens?

Therapy can be of great help to people struggling with loneliness. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) in particular can prove to be very helpful as it is one of the most researched therapeutic interventions for loneliness2. CBT proves efficient because it deals with both cognitive and behavioural restructuring, while challenging the negative thoughts lonely people tend to focus on.


Challenging our thoughts allows us to reflect and find our own answers to the problems we face.

Just as much as we challenge ourselves to present proof to what we think, e.g. ‘What evidence is that for that belief?’ or ‘What would be a more helpful and realistic way of looking at this situation?’ in order to help shed light on the fact that we’re sometimes stuck in our own heads, and we do not realise that there are people out there who actually care about us and can help us feel less lonely.


  1. Brene Brown, The Atlas of The Hearth, 2021, Penguin Random House

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nihgov/pmc/articles/PMC4391342/

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