Being alone and being lonely are two very different things.
Being alone is a situational state, either by choice or by happenstance. You can be happily alone, choosing to not socialize with others from time to time.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, is loneliness. A lonely person can be surrounded by people, yet still feel entirely isolated. A simple Thesaurus.com search of "lonely" versus "alone" results in deserted and desolate compared to solo and unattended.
Loneliness and depression are close relatives.
It's pretty clear that loneliness is not good for your heart or your health, but did you know that it can be as bad as lighting up? A study in PLOS found that severe feelings of loneliness may be just as horrible for your well-being as smoking. The research showed that loneliness and isolation are just as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, lead researcher and professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, told Daily Mail, "When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks."
From their findings, they concluded that people with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker ones. The research indicates that the influence of relationships on the risk of death is comparable with well-established mortality risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. In fact, social relationships exceeded the influence of other risk factors, such as physical inactivity and obesity.
If being isolated and lonely is something you’ve struggled with, and you’re not sure what to do about it, here are a few ways to get outside your comfort zone.
1. Reach out to friends.
If your friends haven’t asked you to do something in a while, it’s probably because they’ve noticed your state of isolation. It's time to take the initiative. If they see that you want to spend time with them, they won’t hesitate to start asking you to do more things in the future.
2. Get pampered.
Simply being around other people who are paid to talk to you and make you feel relaxed can work wonders on your mental state. Go out and pamper yourself.
3. Take a class.
Have you ever wanted to take a dance class or learn how to cook French food? Go out and do it. It’s a great way to meet people and bond at your shared lack of knowledge about a new activity.
4. Take a trip.
Immersing yourself in a new culture is good for the mind and soul. If "Eat, Pray, Love" taught us anything, it's that we all need a good getaway to reset.
5. Give back.
It's such a rewarding feeling to help others less fortunate. And what better way to take the focus off your loneliness than to find a cause you're passionate about and volunteer your time?
6. Seek professional help.
There’s no shame in turning to a licensed professional. If you feel you can’t go it alone, talk to a therapist.
There's far too much world out there to sit inside feeling lonely. Get out, meet new people — your life literally depends on it.