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Can You Overcome Loneliness Even When You Are Alone?

Updated: Apr 16

Each of us is capable of feeling lonely. After all, it's a signal telling us to connect with others, which is essential for our survival as a species.

As expats, repatriates, or people who are culturally different in some way to others where we live, the feeling is very familiar.

Research shows that when we feel lonely, we might start seeing the world as a more dangerous and threatening place. This can lead to a cycle where we expect negative interactions and remember negative social experiences, which only reinforces our feelings of loneliness. We might even start distancing ourselves from others, which only makes it harder to connect.

Loneliness can also affect our ability to regulate our own emotions, which means we might not make as much effort to maintain a positive outlook or engage in healthy behaviors like exercise. It can affect our sleep, which can in turn make our feelings of loneliness worse.

So, what can we do about loneliness? Researchers Hawkley LC and Cacioppo JT analyzed 50 studies on the effectiveness of different types of interventions for loneliness conducted between 1970 and 2009. These interventions covered 1) improving social skills, 2) providing social support, 3) increasing opportunities for social interaction, and 4) addressing negative thought patterns. Interestingly, it seems like interventions that focus on changing our thoughts and attitudes about social situations can be especially effective, sometimes even more than improving social skills or increasing opportunities for social interaction.

The bottom line is that there are many ways to combat loneliness, and it's not just about finding more friends or social support. This may be reassuring to people who, for whatever reason - life circumstance, location, etc. may have no choice but to be alone. By understanding how loneliness works and taking steps to change our thought patterns, we can start to feel more connected.

Note: This article is not meant to be a replacement for therapy. These are only a few first steps based on research, and I hope they have been meaningful to you. Changing thought patterns is done most effectively with the guidance of a therapist, especially one trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

About the Author

Diya John is a counselor and psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychology and a Diploma in Counselling from Australia. She founded Therapy Garden to make evidence-based counseling more accessible to expatriates, immigrants and the international community. She is based in Japan, but works with clients in different parts of the world via online therapy. Read more about her areas of specialisation and services here.

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  • Hawkley LC, Cacioppo JT. Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Ann Behav Med. 2010 Oct;40(2):218-27. doi: 10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8. PMID: 20652462; PMCID: PMC3874845.

  • Pinquart M, Sorensen S. Influences on loneliness in older adults: A meta-analysis. Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 2001;23:245–266

  • Tong F, Yu C, Wang L, Chi I, Fu F. Systematic Review of Efficacy of Interventions for Social Isolation of Older Adults. Front Psychol. 2021 Sep 7;12:554145. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.554145. PMID: 34557122; PMCID: PMC8452930.


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