We all feel lonely sometimes. Loneliness is a feeling that occurs when we don’t feel socially connected in healthy, meaningful relationships. It’s normal to experience loneliness from time to time and in certain seasons of life, but if you find it’s impacting your mental health or detracting from your ability to relate to others, therapy can help.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a common emotional experience characterized by an overwhelming sense of disconnection. People tend to think about loneliness as being physically alone: an image of someone staying in their room and not speaking with anyone else. However, people can still be lonely amongst large groups of people.

Loneliness can happen in all settings, including the workplace, within a family, within a friend group, or in a relationship. It’s generally experienced as sadness, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction that can lead to or exacerbate mental health conditions.

Prevalence of loneliness

Experiencing loneliness is a typical human experience. For some, it happens every once in a while and lasts only hours or days, ceasing its negative impact upon social connection. For others, an intense sense of loneliness can last weeks or months and can be harmful to their overall wellbeing.

According to one study, between 9.2-14.4% of adolescents report feeling lonely. For adults, the prevalence of loneliness ranged from 2-24%. Variables such as geographical region and gender influenced the rates of loneliness, with adults from Northern Europe reporting much less loneliness. Women tend to report feeling more lonely than men. Culture also plays a huge role in the development of feelings of loneliness.

Symptoms of loneliness

Loneliness can include feelings of sadness, unhappiness, lack of joy, or despair. When someone is lonely, they want to connect with other people, however they have either an external or internal barrier towards doing so. Some people engage in conversation with others every day, however do not feel an authentic connection in these interactions. This can result in lowered self-esteem or even worthlessness.

Loneliness can also have physical manifestations. Some people find themselves physically exhausted when they’re feeling lonely. Others might find that they have high energy levels, however don’t have an outlet for this energy. This can lead towards irritability or anxiety. Loneliness can contribute towards harmful behaviors like substance abuse or negative self-talk.

Isolation is a common symptom of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, making loneliness both a cause and an effect of mental illness.

Therapy for loneliness

Therapy inherently combats loneliness through the meaningful and engaging therapeutic relationship that is developed. However, therapists can also help clients identify their loneliness and process through any root causes for this intense feeling. Therapists may offer their clients different perspectives from which to see their situations, relationships, or assumptions. Clients may learn effective communication skills to help them better connect with others, which can decrease their feelings of loneliness.

Because loneliness is such a powerful emotion, it’s important to get help from a therapist when it becomes overwhelming. Therapy is a great resource to sort through the difficult or uncomfortable feelings and come up with an action plan for addressing those feelings.