As someone who has struggled to form friendships in the past, I spent a good chunk of my late teens and early 20s feeling pretty lonely.
Then, when I moved abroad at the start of the pandemic, I truly was alone, with only my partner for company.
I thought I was alone in this, which is ironic really since studies show that roughly 33% of adults experience loneliness worldwide.
Looking back, I can see how certain habits and behaviors were formed due to my lack of fulfilling relationships and general social interaction.
And that’s what I’ll be covering today – 10 things you don’t realize you’re doing because you’re lonely.
1) Over-engaging on social media
Do you find yourself constantly refreshing your feed? Scrolling non-stop, looking at posts and videos that you’ve already seen?
If so, you could be using social media in an unconscious attempt to feel a connection with others.
And I totally get that – in my loneliest moments, there’s no doubt that social media was a way to feel involved, talk to others, and distract myself from reality.
But that’s what it is – a distraction.
It’s not a cure, and as much as it may make you feel less lonely, online interactions don’t compare to bonding with people face to face.
I advise using social media to your advantage; look for groups or meetups in your local area, push yourself out of your comfort zone, and meet people in reality.
2) Excessive shopping
Ah, who doesn’t love a bit of retail therapy?
The problem is when you can’t stop spending and it’s spiraling out of control. Let me explain the cycle:
You’re feeling like something is missing from life (this is where loneliness comes into it), so you decide to go shopping to treat yourself. This gives you a rush of instant gratification.
But it’s short-lived. Soon, you’re back to feeling the same way as before, so you go shopping again.
And that’s how you can fall into the trap of buying things you don’t need, and wasting a ton of money.
If this sounds like you, try turning your focus onto other (cheaper) hobbies that will bring you the same gratification and excitement. If you decide on something social, like joining a local football club, you may even make some friends in the process!
3) Binge-watching TV shows
I love a good binge-watch just as much as anyone else does, but looking back I can see how my obsession with “Friends” and “Sex and the City” probably wouldn’t have existed had I had more social connections.
As sad as it is to admit it, I’d watch these shows and wonder what it’d be like to have a close friendship circle like they do. Their highs and lows became mine.
I was living vicariously through them.
And perhaps that’s true for you too.
Ultimately, it’s about balance. Enjoy your TV shows, but don’t forget to get out into the real world and have real-life experiences too.
Over or under-eating is a classic symptom that there’s a deeper issue at play.
And often, it can result from feeling lonely, even if you don’t realize it.
When you do one of the above, you’re essentially turning to food for comfort. Some people indulge themselves, others don’t eat enough.
But either way, this can have serious consequences for your health.
And not to mention, it’s easy to get stuck into this negative cycle. Remember what I said above, about the retail therapy cycle? This is essentially the same.
Except you’ve swapped shopping for food.
The thing to remember is – if you’re not eating healthily, your mental health is going to be affected as much as your physical. And this could hinder your chances of getting out and dealing with loneliness.
5) Neglecting self-care
Leading on from the last point, you might do the following if you’re lonely:
- Neglecting hygiene
- Not getting proper nutrition
- Avoiding physical exercise
I know during the pandemic when I was particularly lonely, I’d spend days in my pajamas. Granted, I had nowhere to go, but some days I didn’t even bother showering.
I had given up on myself.
But once I started making an active effort to get involved in the community (once everything opened up again) and making friends, I got the motivation to start caring for myself too.
So if you’re struggling with self-care, don’t worry. Take it one step at a time. Look after yourself, and in doing so, you may find the motivation YOU need to get out and combat your loneliness.
6) Sleeping too much or too little
Changes in sleep are often linked to emotional distress.
When you can’t sleep at all, it’s likely because you’re worrying about things, feeling anxious, or stressed due to isolation.
And when you oversleep, it’s a way to escape reality.
Try to get into a good sleep routine. Turn off your electronics an hour before bed, read a book, drink some camomile tea, or listen to some calming music.
It takes time to pull yourself out of loneliness, but it’ll take even longer if you’re sleeping all the time, or are constantly exhausted.
7) Keeping busy to avoid quiet moments
Now, another thing you don’t realize you’re doing because you’re lonely is constantly being on the go.
I had a friend who was like this. She prided herself on always being busy. But the reality was, she felt incredibly isolated, living away from all her friends and family.
When she was finally forced to stop being busy due to an injury, it hit her how much she’d been using work and hobbies as an escape from the quiet moments.
Because ultimately, it was in those moments that she had to confront her loneliness.
Do you resonate with that? I think to a degree, we all can end up doing this.
It’s easier to ignore the elephant in the room if you’ve got a list full of tasks to tackle every day, but it doesn’t address the root issue!
8) Clinging to relationships
Are you remaining friends with people who you know deep down aren’t good for you?
Are you clinging to a partner who you probably wouldn’t be with if you weren’t afraid of being totally alone?
Both of the above are things you might do without realizing it, due to loneliness.
And while I completely understand why you’d do that (even I’ve done it in the past), the thing I’ve realized is; sometimes it’s better to be lonely than in bad company.
Loneliness, you can work on, if you’re proactive about it. But being with toxic friends or partners can stop you from ever making that first step.
So, have a good, long think about the people in your circle, and whether you’re keeping them around because you genuinely like them, or you’re lonely.
9) Frequently feeling bored
When we’re lonely, we’re lacking mental stimulation. We might not have friends to call up for a coffee on a quiet afternoon, or to make plans with on the weekend.
And this can lead to feeling bored.
You may have tried to engage in hobbies or things you used to enjoy, only to find that they don’t bring you the same satisfaction any more.
I’d say the best thing to do is keep an open mind, continue to push yourself to try new activities (the more social the better), and eventually, you will pull yourself out of this funk.
10) Overcompensating with work
And finally, if you’re drowning yourself in work, it could be another unconscious attempt to distract yourself from feelings of loneliness.
But as we’ve covered above, doing this is a short-term measure. It doesn’t tackle the root cause of why you’re feeling this way.
So, we’ve covered things you don’t realize you’re doing because you’re lonely, but how can you overcome loneliness?
I’ve shared a few tips above in the article, but I’ll summarize them below:
How to overcome feeling lonely
It’s easy for people to judge and say, “Just go out and make friends”…if it was that simple, no one would ever feel lonely!
The truth is, it takes time. It’s not about rushing out and diving into friendships with people you don’t know. That could backfire and lead to toxic relationships and even more dissatisfaction and loneliness.
Instead, try the following:
- Be proactive. I can’t stress this one enough. Good company isn’t going to fall into your lap, you need to go out and look for it.
- Join a few different groups; whether you’re into pottery, sport, or pole dancing, there’s something for everyone nowadays.
- Be open to making friends with people who aren’t your usual type. This year, I met a lovely girl who I truly enjoy spending time with. She’s a rock chick, I’m the opposite. But it works!
- Consider a pet, but only if you’re capable of looking after it. Cats and dogs can make for great company and will lessen the sting of loneliness.
- Reach out to old friends or family you’ve lost touch with. Sometimes, it’s easier to re-spark a relationship than start afresh.
And finally, consider therapy. Sometimes, loneliness goes deeper than how great (or poor) your social life is. A professional can help you work through any issues that are holding you back from forming deep, meaningful connections.