How To Cope With Loneliness As A Teenager

How to cope with loneliness as a teenager

The current youth mental health crisis presents a multifaceted challenge, with loneliness being just one aspect affecting young adults. A study from NCBI revealed that adolescents reported significant shifts in their relationships during the pandemic, citing diminished support from peers, heightened negative feelings, and a drop in positive emotions.

Crucially, these observations correlated with an uptick in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and loneliness — a trend that persisted even when considering their mental health status before the pandemic.

According to a nationwide poll from Harvard, a staggering 61% of young adults and teens admitted to feeling seriously lonely, experiencing this emotion "often" or "almost all the time."

And a more recent study by Children-Basel Journal found more than 50% of children and adolescents reported feeling at least moderate levels of loneliness during the pandemic.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a noticeable increase in anxiety and depression among teens and young adults, and as we approach Suicide Prevention Month in September, it's crucial to emphasize that no one has to navigate these feelings alone.

If you or someone you know is grappling with such emotions, the following coping strategies can help teens overcome feelings of loneliness.

1. Understand And Accept Loneliness

The first step towards coping with loneliness is understanding why you feel lonely. Loneliness is a universal human experience, but it can be particularly intense during the teenage years. This is often due to the many changes and transitions you're going through, from physical changes to shifts in your social circles.

What is the difference between feeling lonely and being alone?

Feeling lonely and being alone are two different experiences. It's possible to feel lonely even when you're not physically alone. Loneliness is often associated with feelings of sadness and can have a negative impact on mental health and issues like depression if not addressed.

Being alone is literally the physical state of not being in the company of others. It's a state of solitude and can be a choice or a circumstance. Some people enjoy being alone as it gives them time to relax, recharge, focus, and engage in activities they enjoy doing solo.

Feeling lonely is an emotional state characterized by a sense of isolation or disconnection. It's a feeling of being alone even when you're surrounded by people. This can happen when you feel like you're not understood or valued by those around you, or when you lack meaningful relationships.

It's important to remember that feeling lonely doesn't mean you're alone. It's a feeling that can occur even when you're surrounded by people. So, take some time to reflect on what's triggering these feelings. Is it a lack of close friendships? Difficulty fitting in? Or perhaps feeling misunderstood?

  • Keep a journal to record your feelings and thoughts. This can help you identify patterns and triggers.
  • Try to differentiate between being alone and feeling lonely. They are not the same.
  • Don't blame yourself for feeling this way. It's a normal part of the human experience.

2. Reach Out To Others

Once you've identified the root of your loneliness, the next step is to reach out to others. This might seem daunting, especially if you're feeling isolated, but remember that many people around you are likely experiencing similar feelings. Reconnecting with old friends, making time for extended family, or even volunteering can help you feel less alone. It's also a great opportunity to develop your social skills and build a support network.

  • Join clubs or groups that interest you. This can be a great way to meet new people in an environment where you're surrounded by people with shared interests. It's easier to start conversations when there's common ground.
  • Volunteer for a cause you care about. Volunteering allows you to meet new people and bond over shared tasks and goals. Plus, helping others can give you a sense of purpose and reduce feelings of loneliness.
  • Start small. You don't need to have a deep conversation immediately. Begin with casual conversations, asking someone about their day, or discussing common interests. Over time, these small talks can lead to deeper connections.
  • Seek peer support. Many schools and communities have peer support or mentorship programs. Engaging in these programs can help you connect with others who might have gone through similar experiences.
  • Join a social skills group. These groups provide structured environments where members can practice and improve their interpersonal skills. It's a safe space to learn, make mistakes, and develop confidence in social situations. By regularly attending, you can build connections with group members and expand your comfort zone.

Don't be afraid to reach out to people and express how you're feeling. You might be surprised by their understanding and support.

3. Practice Mindful Awareness

Mindful awareness is a powerful tool for combating loneliness. It involves focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Remaining objective enough to understand why you're feeling this way gives you a chance to figure out what to do about it.

Learning to accept your feelings of loneliness without letting them overwhelm you is a skill that takes time to develop, but it can make a big difference in your overall well-being.

  • Start by setting aside a few minutes each day to focus on your breath and observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
  • Try to incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities, like eating, walking, or listening to music.
  • Consider using mindfulness apps or guided meditations to help you get started.

4. Engage In Creative Arts

Engaging in creative arts can be a great way to cope with feelings of loneliness. Whether it's painting, writing, playing an instrument, or any other form of artistic expression, creative activities can provide an outlet for your emotions and help you connect with others.

Art can be a form of self-expression and a way to communicate your feelings when words are not enough. It can also be a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts and focus on something positive.

  • Find a creative activity that you enjoy and dedicate time to it each day.
  • Try music, painting, drawing, digital art, creative coding, video editing, or any other medium of expression that gets your attention.
  • Share your creations with others. This can be a great way to start conversations and make connections.
  • If you've been getting too much screen time, consider joining an art class or club to meet and collaborate with like-minded individuals in person.

5. Be Kind To Yourself

Remember to be kind to yourself. It's easy to fall into the trap of self-criticism when you're feeling lonely, but it's important to remember that everyone experiences these feelings at some point. You're not alone, and it's okay to feel this way.

Try to focus on your strengths and the positive aspects of your life. Practice self-care and do things that make you happy. Remember, it's okay to take time for yourself and it's okay to ask for help if you need it.

  • Practice self-care: Activities like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or going for a walk.
  • Show Youself Compassion: Understand that every individual, including you, is a work in progress. It's normal to have flaws and okay to make mistakes, especially when you can learn from them. Instead of berating yourself, ask, "What can I learn from this?"
  • Positive Affirmations: These are positive statements that can help you challenge and combat frustration and negative thoughts. For instance, instead of saying something negative "I'm so alone," try saying "I am open to forming meaningful connections."
  • Limit Comparison: It's easy to compare your life with others, especially on Youtube, Instagram, Tik Tok and other potentially harmful social media platforms. Remember that everyone has their struggles, and what you see online is often a curated version of reality. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Write them down if it helps.
  • Set Boundaries: It's okay to say no. If you need time for yourself or if certain situations make you uncomfortable, it's important to set clear boundaries.
  • Engage in Activities You Love: Whether it's a hobby, sport, or just listening to music, doing things you enjoy can be an instant mood booster.
  • Celebrate Small Wins: Did you speak up in class? Did you cook a meal for yourself? Celebrate these moments, no matter how small they seem.
  • Maintain a Gratitude Journal: This can shift your focus from what you feel you lack or desire, to what you already have. It can be a daily reminder of the positives in your life.
  • Avoid Negative Self-talk: Negative self talk can be your greatest enemy, so it's important to notice it and put a stop to it quickly. Try to replace negative thoughts with constructive ones. For instance, instead of thinking "No one likes me," consider thinking "I haven't found my group yet, but I will." Approach problems with curiosity and be open to learning as you go.
  • Create a Safe Space: Make a corner in your room or a spot in your home where you feel calm and can retreat to when things feel overwhelming.
  • Educate Yourself: Understanding the human psyche, emotions, and reasons behind certain feelings can sometimes help in dealing with them. Books, articles, or online courses on self-compassion, psychology, or emotional intelligence can be beneficial.

6. Build New Connections

Building new connections can be a great way to combat feelings of loneliness. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to make a lot of new friends. Even one or two meaningful relationships can make a big difference.

Try to seek out people who share similar interests or values. Joining clubs or groups can be a great way to meet new people. Remember, it's okay to take things slow and build connections at your own pace.

  • Join clubs or groups that interest you. This can be a great way to meet new people.
  • Be open to new experiences and opportunities to meet people.
  • Remember, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to relationships. Focus on building meaningful connections.

7. Know It's OK To Seek Help

If feelings of loneliness persist and start to interfere with your daily life, it may be time to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide you with the tools and strategies to cope with these feelings and improve your overall well-being.

There's no shame in seeking help. In fact, it's a sign of strength and self-awareness. Remember, you don't have to face this alone. There are many resources available to help you navigate through this challenging time.

  • Reach out to a trusted adult or school counselor to discuss your feelings.
  • Consider seeking help from a mental health professional. They can provide you with strategies to cope with loneliness.
  • Remember, it's okay to ask for help. You're not alone in this.

You Are Not Alone

Loneliness can feel overwhelming, especially during your teenage years. But remember, you're not alone in this journey. With understanding, reaching out to others, practicing mindful awareness, engaging in creative arts, being kind to yourself, building new connections, and seeking professional help when needed, you can navigate through these feelings.

These strategies can take you far beyond just “coping,” and help set you on the path away from loneliness and towards a life of connection and growth.

Key Strategies to Overcome Teenage Loneliness

  • Understand your feelings of loneliness and identify their triggers.
  • Reach out to others, join groups, and volunteer to feel less isolated.
  • Practice mindful awareness to understand and manage your feelings.
  • Engage in creative arts as a form of self-expression and connection.
  • Be kind to yourself, focus on your strengths, and practice self-care.
  • Build new connections with people who share similar interests or values.
  • Seek professional help if feelings of loneliness persist and interfere with your daily life.

It's completely normal and okay to feel lonely. You have the strength and resilience to navigate through these feelings. And remember, you're not alone. There are resources and teen support groups available to help you along the way.

Written by Dr. Cari Whitlock

Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist at Healthy Young Minds

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