Do you ever feel like you don’t fit in, or like you can’t be your “real” self around anyone? Feeling lonely can be horrible, but there are things you can do to cope with it. Remember that everyone feels lonely at some point. Even if you have friends, you can still be lonely if you feel misunderstood or not supported.
Alone vs. Lonely
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. Spending some time alone is necessary, healthy and rewarding. Everyone needs alone time to recharge and do things they enjoy, like reading, writing, playing videogames or making music. Some people need more alone time than others, and that’s completely normal! But if you’re spending more time alone than you want to be, you may feel sad or rejected. When this happens, it’s easy to feel like you’re always going to be alone or misunderstood.
You can also feel lonely when you’re with other people. This could be because the people you’re with aren’t interested in the same things you are, no one laughs at your joke, or they’re talking about something you don’t understand. This happens to everyone sometimes. Often, the feeling passes when the topic of conversation changes, or you connect with someone new.
Sometimes big life changes bring about loneliness, like losing a friend or a loved one, having to move away from your friends, or breaking up with a boyfriend, girlfriend or significant other. Having a chronic illness can make you feel lonely if it keeps you from doing things you want to do or hanging out with friends.
Some people may dismiss your loneliness as teen angst or a passing feeling. But feeling connected to others is actually a really important part of being healthy. Remember that your feelings are valid.
What can you do if you’re lonely, and it’s not just a passing feeling?
Talk to a Trusted Adult
Talk to your school counselor or another adult you trust about what you’re feeling. A trusted adult should be able to give you some insights into what’s causing your loneliness. Is it because you don’t have friends who you enjoy being around? Or are your lonely feelings disconnected from what’s going on in your life?
If you don’t have friends or don’t feel like you can trust the friends you have, a trusted adult may have insights into why. You can control some reasons, but can’t control others. Maybe you don’t have much in common with the students at your school, or they perceive you as different from them. Maybe other people think you think you’re better than them because you’re quiet, when actually you’re shy! Or you could be going through a rough time, feeling down, or struggling with your emotions. Frequently feeling lonely even when you have friends and loved ones can be a sign of depression or another mental health issue. A counselor or other mental health professional can help you explore why you feel lonely and take action to feel better.
Try Reaching Out
If you’re shy, it can be really hard to start talking to new people. Being the first one to start a conversation takes serious guts, but practice makes perfect when it comes to developing social skills. Try starting a conversation with someone who sits near you in class or at lunch. Sometimes, it’s easier to start a conversation when you have an “excuse,” like asking about a class assignment. Ask a friend target to sit with you at lunch or hang out. Ask open-ended questions (ones that can’t be answered “yes” or “no”) and really listen to the answers. Be thoughtful and kind. These are often the building blocks of friendships! You’ll probably find that more people are open to friendship than you think. However, remember that not everyone is compatible as friends. Some people just have different values, senses of humor and views on life. Just because one friendship doesn’t work out doesn’t mean another one won’t!
Do What You Like to Do
A great way to find people you may like is to join a club or other group you’re interested in, or to take a class to learn something new. This could be a cooking class, language class, sports team or cosplay group—anything that you enjoy or are curious about! You’ll get to develop a skill and learn something new, and meet people who have similar interests.
Another great way to feel less lonely is to bond with a pet. Cats and dogs don’t judge or shame you, and they’re always glad to have your attention. If your family is in favor, consider adopting a shelter dog or cat. You could also get a pet lizard, turtle, hamster, or something else a bit easier to take care of. A pet is also a fun topic for conversation with other pet owners.
Getting a part-time job or volunteering is another way to meet people and expand your horizons. As an added bonus, both these activities look great on college applications and resumes. Your guidance counselor, teachers or religious organization may know of good volunteer opportunities—ask around!
If you are part of a church, synagogue, or other religious group, consider joining a youth group. This can be meaningful to you and provide a low-pressure way to find potential friends.
Feeling Lonely? It Gets Better
Most teens are still figuring out who they are and how others see them. While this is healthy, it can lead to a lot of insecurity and self-consciousness. This can sometimes make people put down or exclude others to make them feel better about themselves and shape how others see them. Because of this, a lot of people are lonely in high school, especially if their school has a lot of cliques. It can be hard to find your group.
Thankfully, as people become more mature and confident in themselves, friend groups lose that clique-y, exclusive feel. In the “real world,” people generally don’t get labeled “cool” and “uncool” in the same way they sometimes do in grade school. If you’re going to college, almost everyone is starting fresh and wants to make new friends. This can feel lonely sometimes too, but it’s also a lot easier to meet new people who share your interests and view of life.
If you still are feeing lonely after trying these coping mechanisms, talk to a school counselor or therapist. It may feel like you’re alone, but you’re not. A therapist can help you develop ways to deal with and process your feelings. They can also see if you have depression, anxiety, or another mental illness that could be making you feel this way.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.