For many people, the pandemic has been a difficult time. A recent survey commissioned by Cigna revealed that more than half of adults currently struggle with loneliness. Fortunately, there are ways to find a silver lining and experience joy again. Here are six expert-approved ways for how to feel less lonely and more at peace.
Find strength in prayer.
“I live alone; I work alone — but I am never alone,” declares expert Lydia Brownback. “When I’m feeling the heaviness of sadness, I cry out in prayer, and I feel God right there with me.” Indeed, studies show prayer decreases loneliness by connecting you with something bigger than yourself and triggering feel-good bonding hormones. Plus, the rhythmic nature of repeating a favorite prayer verse or phrase aloud is shown to calm anxiety.
Savor joy in nature.
Being surrounded by the great outdoors soothes the stress we feel when we’re lonely, grounding us in the moment, says expert Simone Heng. In fact, spending just a few minutes outside decreases feelings of loneliness by 30 percent. “I recently went ‘forest bathing,’ and my guide told me to close my eyes for a few moments and take it all in with my other senses.” When she opened up her eyes, Heng burst into tears, releasing pent-up emotion. “Whatever forces conspire to make us anxious or lonely, nature can be a spiritual experience that helps us heal.”
Show your big heart.
The simple question that can alleviate loneliness: “How can I meet someone else’s needs?” says Brownback, explaining that anything from helping a neighbor with their groceries to baking cupcakes for your fire department to buying coffee for a stranger increases your sense of belonging. “My elderly mother is in a nursing home, and when she feels lonely, she makes it a point to talk to someone who also feels lonely,” reveals Brownback. “Just saying ‘hi’ can be tremendously healing for you both.”
Connect with community.
In addition to the individual experience of loneliness, there is collective loneliness, or feeling disconnected from your community. “To alleviate it, find a shared purpose that brings you together with others,” encourages expert Jessie Everts, PhD. Whether you volunteer or plan a multi-street yard sale, using your interests to forge local ties can expand your entire world.
Let your imagination soar.
Not only does identifying with characters in a book enhance our emotional intelligence and soothe loneliness, it also helps us show ourselves more compassion, explains Everts. “If we empathize with a character or withhold judgment for a character who’s struggling, this helps us be kinder to ourselves and feel less alone.”
Write about yourself.
When it comes to finding comfort in the written word, reading is just one side of the coin —writing is the other, notes Everts. “Simply jotting down small things you’re grateful for pulls you out of inwardfocused loneliness,” she says. “Or, if you’re having distorted thoughts like, I don’t deserve love, look for evidence to counter that and write it down: ‘I am a good friend.’” Loneliness is a subjective experience, she notes, which is why challenging it concretely, with objective truths, helps you feel more deserving of connection.
Our Expert Panel
Lydia Brownback, author of several books, including Finding God in My Loneliness, is a speaker at Christian conferences and events around the world.
Simone Heng, author of Secret Pandemic: The Search for Connection in a Lonely World, is passionate about helping people find connection.
Jessie Everts, PhD, author of Connecting With Loneliness: A Guided Journal, is a therapist who helps people feel more self-compassionate.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.