Craving more companionship in your daily life? You’re not alone. More than half of U.S. adults are lonely — and that number was rising even before the COVID-19 pandemic.1 It’s become such a problem that Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, has declared an “epidemic of loneliness.”2 And that lack of social connection is harming people’s physical, mental, and social health.
What’s the difference between loneliness and being alone?
Loneliness is a feeling — it’s the gap between the social life you want and the one you have. Feeling lonely doesn’t always mean being alone. It can happen even when you’re with others.
Isolation — being apart from others — means having few close relationships and social groups. Not everyone who’s alone or isolated feels lonely. But ongoing isolation and feelings of loneliness can both be harmful to your health.3
How loneliness can hurt your health
Loneliness and isolation can increase your risk of:
- Heart disease4
- Type 2 diabetes6
- Premature death8
Feeling lonely can also lead to depression or anxiety, says Janice Schneider, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and adolescent psychology specialist at Southern California Permanente Medical Group in Los Angeles.9 “When we don’t feel like we can access our social support systems, that will increase all the negativity around us.”
How to improve your social connections
Here are 6 ways to improve your social connections and feel less lonely.
Nurture your relationships
Strong relationships take time and effort to grow, but they’re worth the investment for your health and well-being. Dr. Murthy recommends taking time each day to reach out to a friend, co-worker, or family member.
“Be mindful of assuming that others don’t want to hear from you,” Dr. Schneider says. “They’re probably thinking the same thing.”
Show people that you care — answer your phone when they call. Make time to see them in person. Listen and follow up on what they share. Did they tell you about a vacation they booked, a work presentation, their child’s recital? Check in soon after. Be the type of friend you want to have — authentic, supportive, and engaged, Dr. Schneider says.
Another way to increase connections with others is to write people thank-you notes. Even a sentence or two can make someone feel seen. Plus, practicing gratitude has the added benefit of helping you build resilience. It’s a win-win for their well-being and yours.
Spend less time online and on your phone
When you’re with others, be present. Put down your devices and give them your full attention. Being engaged helps you listen and enjoy the moment.
Dr. Murthy recommends spending less time on social media. Studies suggest a connection between social media use and increased depression and anxiety.10 If you need a way to keep in touch with loved ones, it’s more engaging to call or video chat, says Dr. Schneider.
Help people in your community
Volunteering can ease your feelings of loneliness and even improve your health by lowering your stress levels.11 Joining a group that serves others can widen your social network and help you meet people with similar interests. Volunteering also supports social connections throughout your community.
Get involved in something you’re passionate about — from charity to the arts. Mentor someone in your community who values your life experiences. Even small acts of kindness for a neighbor, friend, or stranger can help you feel less lonely.
Join social groups
Group activities are a good way to meet other people who want to connect. Join a sports club or professional group, go to a community event, attend a religious service, or take a class. “Something that raises your endorphins and gives you a sense of belonging is best,” Dr. Schneider says.
- Sign up for activities at your local community or senior center
- Discover like-minded groups on Meetup
- Take a fitness class through ClassPass
When you’re ready, take the first step and introduce yourself to someone new.
Adopt a pet
If you’re not allergic, consider adopting or fostering a pet. Caring for an animal can help reduce loneliness, depression, and anxiety, Dr. Schneider says.12 Plus, pets offer unconditional love and the comfort of having something to come home to.
Some feelings and situations are too much to overcome alone. Kaiser Permanente members can explore self-care resources like digital apps that help with stress, depression, and sleep. There’s also text-based emotional support coaching.
If you need more help, contact your doctor or make an appointment with a mental health professional.
When someone you care about is lonely
Seeing a close friend or relative struggle with loneliness can be painful. Spend time with them and encourage them to create more social connections.
If you have children, model healthy behaviors for them to learn. For example, stay in contact with old friends and socialize without your phone.
Foster relationships with your older children like you want them to have with others. Check in and take the time to listen, but don’t offer advice unless they ask, says Dr. Schneider. Trying to fix your kids’ problems can drive them away — especially adolescents.
Connect with yourself
Your relationship with yourself is one of the most important you have. When you treat yourself well, it will be easier for you to connect with others.
- Make time to do things you enjoy.
- Be kind to yourself with the same compassion you would offer a good friend.
- Create a self-care routine to support your well-being.
- 1 The Loneliness Epidemic Persists: A Post-Pandemic Look at the State of Loneliness Among U.S. Adults, The Cigna Group, accessed June 14, 2023.
- 2 Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community, May 2, 2023.
- 3 Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Andrew Steptoe, “Social Isolation: An Underappreciated Determinant of Physical Health,” Current Opinion in Psychology, February 2022.
- 4 Nicole K. Valtorta et al., “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Observational Studies,” Heart, July 1, 2016.
- 5 See note 4.
- 6 Stephanie Brinkhues et al., “Socially Isolated Individuals are More Prone to have Newly Diagnosed and Prevalent Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus — The Maastricht Study,” BMC Public Health, December 19, 2017.
- 7 Luyao Qiao et al., “Association Between Loneliness and Dementia Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, December 1, 2022.
- 8 Julianne Holt-Lunstad et al., “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, March 11, 2015.
- 9 Farhana Mann et al., “Loneliness and the Onset of New Mental Health Problems in the General Population,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, November 2022.
- 10 Roy H. Perlis, MD, MSc, et al., “Association Between Social Media Use and Self-Reported Symptoms of Depression in U.S. Adults,” JAMA Network Open, November 23, 2021; Liu Yi Lin et al., “Association Between Social Media Use and Depression Among U.S. Young Adults,” Depression and Anxiety, January 19, 2016.
- 11 Michael J. Poulin, PhD, et al., “Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality,” American Journal of Public Health, September 2013.
- 12 Andrea Beetz et al., “Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin,” Frontiers in Psychology, July 9, 2012.