What to do When You’re Lonely

What to do When You’re Lonely

It’s not easy to admit that you’re struggling with loneliness. It can feel embarrassing and vulnerable to reveal a serious feeling like this, but it’s much more common than you think. From Bumble’s exclusive research*, we found that a majority (60%) of respondents want to find new friends, and 1 in 4 agree that they’re stuck in outdated friendships that no longer serve them. We’ve spoken to an expert psychologist, as well as our global community, to answer the question you may not wish to ask: how can I feel less lonely.

Break out of the loneliness bubble

What to do when you’re lonely isn’t always straightforward. In fact, you may not even realize you’re experiencing loneliness. “Something I think many, many people disregard is the human need for community,” says psychologist Gemma Grainger. She believes that this is due to our ever-growingly insular lifestyles. “I think especially because we can do so much from home now—work, entertain ourselves, exercise—it can be easy to remain in our own bubbles whilst accidentally neglecting relationships.” The pandemic unfortunately heightened this, and it can be difficult to bounce back and re-adapt. 

Based on Bumble’s research*, Gen-Z friendships were the most impacted by the pandemic, as 61% shared that they lost at least three or more friends since the beginning of spring 2020. (You can read more about fading friendships here). “It was a weird time,” says Emma, 24. “I spent so many hours scrolling on my phone, searching for human connection.” Grainger encourages physical interactions to combat loneliness. “The most common places people find community is in places like book clubs, volunteer programs, gym classes, or something based on their own values,” she says. “You don’t even necessarily need to speak much, but it provides a sense of familiarity, structure, warmth, and friendliness that can be tapped into if you really are alone.”  

How to make new friends 

At some point, all of us have wondered how do you make friends when you have none? It’s important to remember that everyone generally has more friends than they think. It can be easy to wallow and isolate yourself when, in fact, you should be doing the opposite. “I would encourage someone to open up about feeling lonely to one other person, to encourage awareness,” says Grainger. “They’ll probably tell you that they feel lonely at times too! You can then provide support for one another.” And in our digitally focused world, she confirms that “even a person with a hundred friends can feel lonely.”

Sara, 27, says she experienced a period of intense loneliness in her life after moving to a new city. “The only real coping mechanism I had was to video call friends,” she recalls. “One of my best friends from back home in Northern Island, we used to call each other on a Saturday and dissect just how lonely we were both feeling. Knowing that I wasn’t alone really helped.” As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Being honest with people you trust can be a helpful thing to do if you are lonely.

While it’s undeniable that technology can increase our feelings of loneliness, its power can also be used to combat it. From our research*, we found that more than 1 in 3 respondents have met their friends online, whether through apps or social media. A huge 66% of Gen-Z respondents shared that they have met their friends online —nearly two times more than the national average survey respondent. “I’m really into make-up, and have found such a big community of other fanatics online,” says Tamzin, 22. 

Using your passions and hobbies as a springboard to make friends can be an enriching experience. “Think about the things that you identify with, that you enjoy, things you feel good at, and then look for clusters of people with similar values,” suggests Grainger. “Find some people who talk about those things publicly and see what circles they get involved in for some inspiration.” If you’re shy, or unsure how to approach people in real life, using social media and apps can be a great entry point. Hopefully this can then lead to an IRL friendship. 

After making friends on a community social media page, Sara plucked up the courage to attend a gig. “It was nerve wracking turning up alone, but I had nothing to lose,” she says. “No one thought it was weird that I came on my own, because most of them did too.” She continues: “A year later and we’re all really good friends—and often still go to gigs together.” Of course, you always need to be safe when meeting up IRL with online friends—read more safety advice here

It’s a generational thing

Grainger has noticed that plenty of her clients, particularly members of Gen-Z, struggle with anxiety and depression. “It’s an uncertain time, with even more trial and error than the rest of life,” she says. This can exasperate feelings of loneliness. “There’s more pressure than ever before, and most people haven’t got a clue what they want to do with their career or lives,” she explains. “The choices are so overwhelming.” This, though, is where a strong and supportive network comes into play. Friendships, relationships, and family can all help. “Most people seem to believe that they are alone in their utter confusion, and feel less than as a result,” she says. “But this couldn’t be further from the truth.” Again, even though it may feel difficult, it’s important to open up. As Emma says, “Friends should make you feel uplifted, lighter, seen, and appreciated.”  

If you don’t feel you have that kind of existing network, it’s time to create one. “Unfortunately this is the part where I encourage putting yourself out there,” says Grainger. Start by looking for someone with similar interests. “If you know you love creative writing, for example, then there is likely someone out there who would love to chat to you about it, and maybe even invite you somewhere to do it together or just to bond.” She believes it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone: “I completely acknowledge it isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Be creative, and gently approach some spaces that feel a bit uncomfortable.” Instead of waiting for someone else to reach out to you, why not be the one to make the first move? 

Figuring out how to not be lonely is a process—there’s no quick fix or one-size-fits-all solution. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” says Sara. “Loneliness is often situational and rarely has anything to do with you as a person.” It’s important to try and avoid negative thoughts: Constantly thinking you are lonely, have no friends, or are overcome with loneliness isn’t going to help. Instead, Grainger offers some more practical advice: “I would suggest keeping note of a handful of people and revisiting that list weekly to book in a coffee, a walk, or a dinner to touch base.” She stresses to “keep people you care about top of mind, and act on it.” 

If you’re looking to try to make new friends, Bumble for Friends is a great place to start. Download the app now. 

*About the survey: This research was commissioned by Bumble and carried out online by Censuswide in February 2023. The survey was conducted among a sample of more than 1,000 US adults who have either attended college or are currently in college. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society, which is based on the ESOMAR principles.