Long term strategies that work
Below are a number of strategies you can use to address feelings of loneliness in the long term. Remember, what works for one person might not work for another – so try a few and see what works for you. For most people, a combination of different strategies is the most effective approach.
- Go at your own pace
- Practice vulnerability
We often wear ‘masks’ to fit in with the environment we’re in. We’ll say “I’m fine, thanks” when asked how we are, say we did “nothing much” when talking about our weekend, or water down our true opinion when asked.
These masks are important - they keep us safe when we’re feeling vulnerable or unsure, and help us fit in when we’re somewhere new. But strong friendships and connections are built around authenticity. We feel valued as a person when we show someone who we really are, warts and all, and are still shown care, love and acceptance. Showing our true selves is also usually when our personalities light up and we become more interesting to others.
Gradually taking your mask off is an important step to forming closer relationships. You don’t have to do it all at once - it’s best to start with something small first, because it’s important to know the other person is going to treat our vulnerability with respect, and open up a little themselves too.
You might like to try sharing a little of how you’re really feeling the next time someone asks genuinely, or opening up about one of your passions or hobbies when someone asks about your weekend.
Celebrate the courage and bravery it took to share something that felt a little uncomfortable. And if the other person wasn’t interested, authentic, or respectful, don’t be discouraged! That’s on them, and you did your best to connect. Try again with someone else!
- Be curious about others
- Learn and practice social skills
Fake it ‘till you make it
The old saying ‘fake it until you make it’ is absolutely true for social skills. From small talk to public speaking, “acting out” or “performing” is a great way to try something that feels uncomfortable. You might like to watch someone else who does it well, or even consult a movie or some youtube videos to see how other people do it well.
The first time you try and ‘fake it’ will probably feel awkward and unnatural, and that’s totally fine - the important part is that you tried. Once you’ve ‘faked it’ a few times, you’ll realise that you can do it, even when it’s hard and challenging. This will increase your confidence, which will gradually make it easier, until suddenly one time you realise that you don’t have to fake it anymore. ‘Faking it’ allows you to acknowledge the discomfort it takes to try something new, but does not let it hold you back from trying.
- Prioritise people
Find ways to spend time with people
Deep relationships don’t happen overnight. They take tens, or hundreds of hours spent together. It’s no coincidence many long-term friendships come our of school, university, work or shared experience.
It also helps to have mutual interests, to laugh and play together, and to talk about things that are more important and meaningful to us, rather than small talk.
Developing new relationships means finding situations where you will have the opportunity to spend extended periods of time with people. Below are some examples of how you can do just that:
- Try volunteering
- Join a club, organisation, or online community
- Try small acts of kindness
- Try a walking routine
- Get social online
Although connections in the natural world are generally better at combating feelings of loneliness, sometimes online connections can be a good option too. Particularly if:
- Natural-world connections make you feel anxious or feel too challenging to start with (if so, it’s important you work towards tackling natural-world interactions eventually).
- Your health or physical ability makes getting out and about challenging.
- You’re in a regional or remote area.
- Your family or friends are far away.
- There aren’t real-world communities for your interest or hobby around you.
Online communities can be just as supportive, nurturing and long-lasting as natural-world ones. Online communities also enable you to connect with people around the world with niche interests, or to do things that work best online (like play online games together).
Here are some ideas for socialising with people online:
- Play a multiplayer game. For example, you could start a Words With Friends game with a friend or family member.
- Start a group chat and share some photos with extended family
- Join an online forum dedicated to people experiencing loneliness
- Join a live online event or conference
- Get an app that has a social aspect to it. For example, many fitness apps encourage their subscribers to get involved in challenges together.
"Sometimes, I think my friends from my online hobbies are better friends than the friends that I met in the “real world”."
- Spend time with animals
- Consider therapy
What should you do if you’re still feeling lonely?
If you’ve tried to make yourself feel better but nothing has worked, or if you’re feeling hopeless and discouraged, remember Lifeline is always available.
There are also a number of support services that are available to help, including ‘Friend Line’, established specifically to help with social connection.
Sometimes, even when you know what may make you feel better, it can be difficult to muster the courage and motivation to go ahead and do it. It can help to talk about what’s holding you back and get support from someone who understands and can meet you where you’re at.