6 healthy ways to help you deal with loneliness

Feeling lonely? You’re not alone – and there are ways to help you cope and stay connected.

Australian research shows one in two people report feeling lonely at least once a week, and one in four people experience loneliness for three days or more.

It’s not uncommon to experience feelings of loneliness, with a report finding one in two Australian adults are feeling lonelier since the Covid-19 pandemic.

So why are many Aussies feeling this way?

“People feel lonely because of a lack of connection,” Twiss Psychology founder and psychologist Amelia Twiss says.

“What that really means is that they don’t really feel ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ by other people.

“Someone might have a lot of social connections and still feel lonely if they don’t experience being understood by anyone.”

It is important to try to find a sense of optimism to turn loneliness towards empowerment before it spirals “out of control”, Amelia says.

A recent study reported people who feel lonely are more likely to report major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder than those who did not experience loneliness.

“For many people, loneliness can have a negative impact on their wellbeing and can cause feelings such as stress, anxiety and depression,” ReachOut director of service Jackie Hallan says.

Want to feel connected again? Here are six things experts say you can do.

Get out in nature

If you’re experiencing loneliness, getting outdoors is one healthy form of distraction, according to Jackie Hallan from youth mental health service ReachOut.

“Time in nature for some people can be very therapeutic,” Jackie says.

“Getting outside will give you a break from the screen and help you feel relaxed.”

Exposure to the outdoors also has proven health benefits and can help your immune system.

Seek out community

Social connections could mean looking for ways to make new friends, or it could simply be about looking at ways to increase the interaction you have with your established network, Jackie says.

“It could be a boot camp; it could be a book club — the key here is that it happens on a regular basis, someone else organises it, you can just turn up, and it’s something that you enjoy doing,” Jackie explains.

“Often, when you keep showing up, you will find somebody there that you can connect with, even if it’s just for that time while you’re doing that shared activity.”

Those with a sense of belonging to a community had decreased feelings of loneliness, a recent study found.

Volunteer for organisations

“Becoming a volunteer in your community is a great way to connect with others without putting pressure on yourself to be too socially engaging,” Amelia says.

A recent longitudinal study found those who volunteered for more than 100 hours per year were less likely to feel lonely compared to non-volunteers.

Volunteering is also beneficial as it gives people a sense of purpose and an increased satisfaction with life, according to a University of Sydney study.

Embrace solitary activities

Clinical psychologist Dr Michelle Lim says keeping ourselves busy can help when we feel lonely.

That can include simple activities like reading, baking, focusing on a home project or taking up a hobby.

Activities where both concentration and skill are involved may result in reduced loneliness, according to a Penn State study.

“It’s really important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Dr Lim, from Swinburne University, says.

“You need to reflect a little on what works for you.

“Our social needs are very nuanced, so it could be listening to a podcast or getting out in the garden.”

Exercise to beat loneliness

When you’re lonely, negative thoughts and feelings can rise to the surface, but being active can improve both your physical and mental wellbeing.

Research has shown that adults who joined a regular exercise class reported decreased loneliness within months of becoming more active; and virtual activities were also effective.

Going on walks, stretching, yoga and even housework chores such as sweeping and mopping may also have positive impacts on your mental wellbeing.

Spot new opportunities

Relationship Australia national executive officer Nick Tebbey says creating opportunities can often assist with ending loneliness.

“Whether it be our personal lives or our physical environment, people need to have the opportunity to connect with those around them,” Nick says.

“On a personal level, this means having the time and mindset that means you can connect with those around you.

“Stopping to chat with your neighbours, for example, is a simple idea that has significant benefits.”

Updated November 2022.