Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

How Do You Heal Loneliness?

HP meditate:loneliness 2.jpgIf I had to name the most common complaint I hear among depressives, it is that they are lonely. Just five minutes ago, I replied on a thread within Group Beyond Blue to a woman who started a thread called “Who Do I Turn To?” She wants so badly to connect with another woman–as the anchors in her life, her mother and friends, have either passed on or moved.

So many of us are lonely. It is at the core of so many disorders and illnesses. Not just the imaginary ones made up in our psyches (or so many think), but heart disease and immunity functions and nervous system disorders. Many of our health issues in this country stem from loneliness.


In his PsychCentral blog, “Loneliness Is Not a DSM-5 Disorder, But It Still Hurts,” Psychiatrist Ron Pies reports on what loneliness does to the body. He writes:

It’s easy to assume that loneliness is simply a matter of mind and mood. Yet recent evidence suggests that loneliness may injure the body in surprising ways. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine studied the risk of coronary heart disease over a 19-year period, in a community sample of men and women. The study found that among women, high degrees of loneliness were associated with increased risk of heart disease, even after controlling for age, race, marital status, depression and several other confounding variables. (In an email message to me, the lead author, Dr. Rebecca C. Thurston, PhD, speculated that the male subjects might have been more reluctant to acknowledge their feelings of loneliness).


Similarly, Dr. Dara Sorkin and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, found that for every increase in the level of loneliness in a sample of 180 older adults, there was a threefold increase in the odds of having heart disease. Conversely, among individuals who felt they had companionship or social support, the likelihood of having heart disease decreased.

And lest there be any doubt that loneliness has far ranging effects on the health of the body, consider the intriguing findings from Dr. S.W. Cole and colleagues, at the UCLA School of Medicine. These researchers looked at levels of gene activity in the white blood cells of individuals with either high or low levels of loneliness. Subjects with high levels of subjective social isolation — basically, loneliness — showed evidence of an over-active inflammatory response. These same lonely subjects showed reduced activity in genes that normally suppress inflammation. Such gene effects could explain reports of higher rates of inflammatory disease in those experiencing loneliness.


What to do about it?

Dr. Pies suggests support groups, especially those for particular medical conditions, like cancer, depression, or addiction. Nurturing friends certainly fill in the hole … if we can keep our expectations in check.For some ideas on how to make friends, check out “13 Ways to Make Friends.”

And finally, just stay with it. Feel it.  Accept it, even as you want to run from it. Because it’s part of being human. I’ve always found great solace in the words of Henri Nouwen:


When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing–to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

It is not easy to stay with your loneliness. The temptation is to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for healing.


Illustration by Anya Getter.

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  • baltimoremom

    Huh? The Nouwen quote and the embrace your loneliness bit is as helpful as an eleventh toe.

  • joe gonzalez

    The only effective way to heal loneliness is to develop a sound relationship with God. Some people think this is very difficult, esoteric or exotic. It is none of those things. Just like everything alse with God, it’s the easiest and most normal relationship and innate activity there is. You start, like you start life, with baby steps. A prayer life. And the latter shouldn’t be based on learning prescribed and ritualistic, well-tested formulas. Just talking to Him ( or Her ) with utmost sincerity is the very kernel and the highest form of prayer. ” Seek and you shall find,” said Jesus. Seek Him/Her who is always present : come joy, come the doldrums, or come total bringdowns, and you will find yourself starting out on a journey that never ends and which, daily and nightly, brings new, unexpected, healthy and nourishing friends into your life.

  • Amelia

    Love the artwork accompanying the articles of late!
    Why is loneliness always seen as something to be erradicated? It can be a time of reevaluation. I think the media makes people think they have to interact 24/7 or there is something wrong with them. Loneliness can feel crushing at times, but how else to spark realizations?

  • KAH

    Although I often get enlightenment from Nouwen’s writing I take issue with his thoughts on loneliness at least for the mentally ill. I think loneliness and depression can be very dangerous. When a depressive gets to that lonely place that should be a red flag. Just my experience.

  • greyworld

    @joe gonzalez:
    yeah man screw the atheists they can suffer loneliness like the godless savages they are!
    maybe if they just devoted themselves to the invisible man in the sky he’d solve all their problems for them. It’s so obvious! And so easy when you just take little baby steps off the brink…
    People please find a more realistic way to deal with your problems than offloading them onto some hypothetical vindictive guy in the sky who is apparently even more lonely than yourselves (or why would he/she care whether or not we acknowledge them).

  • greyworld

    In the effort of supplying some reasonable suggestions to others suffering loneliness, I put forward the following:
    Maybe you’re a jackass.
    Its possible. Lets face it, the worlds full of them these days, you might just be one.
    I’m not saying there isn’t good reason for it. Sometimes it takes a jackass to make it through our world today. But you will likely remain a lonely jackass if that’s the case. So maybe you should consider restructuring your life in a way that doesn’t require you to be a jerk just to get by. Or go find yourself a similar jackass to hang out with.
    On a related note my email is and I’ll chat with any of you, about whatever, i dont really care. I wouldnt put my email on the web like this but maybe it’ll help someone, maybe it’ll help me, and googles got great spam filters, so i guess we’ll find out how great.
    Good luck people.

  • Nancy

    Dear Greyworld,
    Why do you subscribe to a site called, “Beliefnet”, anyway?

  • greyworld

    You assume I’m an athiest? You are incorrect. I don’t subscribe btw, i just happen to find myself here, and I’m trying to help (myself and others).
    Why do you feel the need to attack my belief structure?
    Besides, the article wasn’t titled ‘How god can heal your loneliness’, its ‘how do YOU heal loneliness’. So lets stay on topic here please. This subject is more serious than your divisive baiting (which smacks of insecurity btw). You do not well represent your faith with such petty antics. Let’s stay constructive.

  • Nancy

    not worth arguing and far from “constructive”

  • Nancy
  • James

    I think im a jackass….. Grey that was funny thanks for making my day.

  • greyworld

    @Nancy – Lighten up please. Seriously, it’s oppressive.
    @James –
    haha well knowing is half the battle! Glad to hear you got a chuckle out of that. And dont worry, truth be known I think the same could be said for most of humanity, at one time or another anyways. I’m a recovering jackass myself. So you’re in good company!
    Someday I’d like to open a ranch, where all the jackasses of the world can come frolic through the fields, wild and free….
    Until then though, the best thing I’ve found is to consider everything you say THREE TIMES. If after the third time you’ve considered a statement, it still sounds like a good idea to say it, then go for it. But if you find a nagging feeling in the back of your head like “I wouldn’t say that crazy crap if i were you”, well maybe you just wanna sit on that pearl of wisdom until you’re around closer friends.
    Good luck James!

  • Mark

    You alone (no pun intended) cannot heal loneliness. Thats the whole catch 22 of the thing. You need something or someone else to dissipate the loneliness. A strong belief structure in God alone will not accomplish that either (refer back to Genesis whn God said it was not good that a man be alone without a helper)SO….God has provided a companion for each person; the trick is to find that person and do everything you can to be unselfish and love that person. Only God can provide this. Only God can provide the peace we need internally as well. This loneliness is also indicative of internal consternation as well. A relationship with God as our Savior can calm and even remove those feelings. He is THE only way. He said it and I believe he always means what he says. The Bible proves that time and time again.

  • greyworld

    @Mark –
    Thanks! I can’t make one bit of sense out of what you wrote there but it seems like you’re trying to be nice about it so hey, thanks! I would suggest to you several things, in the clearest language I can pen:
    1) Lead by example.
    2) Be compassionate, inclusive, understanding and objective. Your words will never compel someone to your doctrine, only your deeds.
    3) Be patient. If your way is really so right, that will become apparent sooner than later. And if not, why be in such a hurry to prove yourself a fool?
    If you want to ‘convert’ some ‘heathen’ to your world view, don’t hold their happiness hostage with the knife of your dogma. Its insulting and it pushes people away. If anyone took the time to notice, my words may sound very understanding of atheists’ world view, but my deeds are as close as I can muster to what I think Jesus would have done in this exact situation. He would have reached out with a helping hand first, and made demands of worship later. Or never. The way multiple people here have demanded I accept god as the only way to alleviate loneliness is so obviously counter-productive, personally I feel Jesus would be ashamed of you right now. If people were open to that, it would have already happened. If they’re not open to that, an overbearing forum post will only push them away. And it really doesn’t feel like you or anyone else here pushing religious ideals is doing it for the benefit of those suffering, it seems a lot more like y’all are trying to accrue some ‘god points’, or something similarly inane.
    Again, I’m not an atheist, I’m just trying not to be a jerk to them. And if god or jesus or whoever is insulted by my open hand to these people, well I’m sure they’ll get over it.
    I will not respond to any further dialog regarding me complying with some spiritual ultimatum as the only path to contentment. You go ahead and believe whatever you want, but trying to project this onto me is a waste of effort. I am convinced my way is better and you are doing such a horrible job of convincing me otherwise I simply don’t see it happening.
    Have a nice day.

  • Judy

    To the lady who is grieveing for her brother due to taking his life. I know if you purchase the book “Heaven” by Randy Acorn you will fill 100% better. It saved me from continuing my grieving for my huband. I now feel at peace with his passing even through I miss him. I know without a doubt he is happy, in a good place, misses all of us and making a place for us when it is our time to join him. Eventually we will all be home together in a perfect world. Please purchase the book. I guarantee you will not beable to put it down. Sending you love and understanding. Judy

  • Mason

    I liked this article. It explained with some scientific fact that loneliness is not that great of a thing. So, after reading the article I go down to the comments. There are those trying to console, others openly mocking, and some trying to bring God into other peoples lives.
    I’m a Christian man, and I do believe that bringing God and Jesus into other people’s lives is a great thing. That, sometimes is hard for others to take, and trying to show others that way of life isn’t easy. This whole world is either on the religious side, spiritual side, or not on a side at all, and trying to get others to be okay with it isn’t that easy. I think that this article helps show that people should get out and not be alone. People understand that having that best friend to talk to helps someone feel complete.
    I’ll do my best to explain. I’m married, and my wife is a nurse. We are both each others best friends. When we are together, everything feels easier, and we are both happier. She works the night shift, so at around 6:00pm I’m alone all of the night. Some days I have band practice, but that is more like work, and doesn’t make me feel complete. When I’m at home, I would like to talk to someone, play a game (since I’m a gamer), or watch movies. I’m an outgoing person, but when I’m not out it’s hard to be outgoing. I had a best friend who moved, and ever since I’ve never been able to have a friend like that person, and this has been the hardest thing for me since. We both had these mirrored personalities, and together we never grew bored. Now, I’ve been searching for a friend like that, but it’s hard. I think a lot of people have this same searching. I’m alone quite a bit, and it is unnerving.
    I made great grades in High School, had support from friends and family. My first year of college I had a girlfriend, my best friend and family, and made good grades, my second year I moved to another college, and just had a girlfriend who I saw everyday, and I made good grades. My third year, she moved back home to go to nursing school, and I was all alone living in an apartment by myself. I became a different person. I made friends in class, tried to do things with people, but never did much, everyone already seemed to have their own friends. I started to have horrible anxiety. I prided myself on being able to write papers for class, and be creative, instead, I would write a paper and feel like it wasn’t good enough, and not even turn it in. I became more nervous, and I started showing sypmtoms of IBS (irratable bowel syndrome). I wouldn’t go to some classes, missed homework and quizes, and even failed a whole semester. This wasn’t me, because I knew I was smarter than that. I knew that I could do everything, but being alone made me feel like I couldn’t do anything, it changed my life, made me feel useless. I didn’t have people backing me up saying everything is okay, or that I will perservere. Instead I had my loneliness.
    I guess, out of all this rambling, I feel that if you find God to help you, do it with another person, because it means more to share it with others. Go to a church and find when they get together for bible studies or anything where people get together. You will find friends. No matter what religion or belief there are people out there if you look in the right place. I hope this helps somebody.

  • cindy

    Therese, I recently found you via your book, The Pocket Therapist. I recently signed up to get your blogposts. As a social worker who specializes in working with people with depression and as an individual who struggles with it, I so appreciate your honesty and HUMOR in the book and blog. I have really had some good laughs reading the book and have recommended it to several of my clients.
    Something that I have found helpful with the loneliness factor is attending Bible study weekly. Not only does it help you to realize that many Biblical figures dealt with despair, doubt, and depression and that God loved them and saw them through it, it also gives you a support group who loves you and prays for you and your situation. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has also been a helpful group for a couple of my clients you have had the courage to attend.
    Keep up your wonderful mission to help others cope with this illness.

  • Zazick

    Here you can chat, run your own page or blog, upload pictures and video, join thematic groups, and more…

  • Effecty

    Cyber life is very popular these days, so if you want to be a part of this society then you made the right decision. Register and enjoy your time.

  • sber7


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