Man sitting by self

Everyone needs a person in their lives who simply ‘gets you’.

Feeling lonely is tough, but it’s actually your mind trying to tell you something very important –  that you need deeper human connections in your life. 

Feeling connected is more than having lots of people around you. You can have a partner, a family, and lots of friends, but still feel alone in a crowd. 

  • All of us need people in our lives that we can trust, who make time to listen, and understand what we’re going through – especially when we’re feeling down and defeated. 

Tackling loneliness means forging these types of meaningful bonds. While it’s no easy task, it is something we can take direct action to address. 

Here are some tips to help you fight loneliness and build meaningful connections:

1. Understand where your loneliness is coming from

Fighting loneliness requires being honest with yourself and looking at why you feel alone. 

There is no shame in feeling alone and wanting connection – in fact, it’s a lot more common than you might think. Based on the feedback of thousands of men who have completed our Stress Test, loneliness is one of the top stressors in their lives. 

While both men and women experience loneliness, guys often try to hide or deny the pain caused by these feelings. [1] But this only makes things worse, as we further withdraw and isolate.

There are three main overlapping reasons why people feel lonely:

A. Comparing and judging yourself

This is an easy trap to fall into, especially with social media. We see people posting photos with their friends and/or partner and we judge ourselves as not being as good or worthy of the deeper connections it looks like they have (even though their photos may not represent what their life really looks like).

We are all worthy of friendship and connection, and there are a lot more people out there looking for human connection than we realize. 

B. Anxiety around talking to others and making connections

Everyone has different levels of stress and anxiety in social situations; for some, it can be intense enough that it prevents them from forming relationships.

Whether you have a lot of social anxiety or are simply a little shy in large groups, it’s important to understand this and acknowledge that making new connections makes all of us a little anxious at first. 

The best way to deal with this is by going out there and doing it. 

The more often you reach out and the more often you start conversations, the less stressful it will be – and the more people you have the opportunity to connect with. 

Start slow, talking to people in places where you feel most comfortable; for example, if you prefer smaller groups, trying to connect with others at a busy party might not be the best route for you. As you build confidence, it’ll get easier to approach people in different situations.

For more on how to make connections see our section on Social Life.

C. From not letting people in 

Forming more meaningful relationships means having someone you can trust, but if you never give someone a chance to really know you, your connections can get stuck at more superficial levels.

When you are honest and authentic with others, it shows your confidence and trust in them, which in turn makes it easier for them to trust you. 

2. Commit the time and make addressing loneliness a priority

For a lot of guys, taking care of their mental health tends to be a rather low priority – if at all. 

But feeling lonely can really take a toll on you, which affects how you tackle all other aspects of life. Your happiness and mental well-being shouldn’t be your lowest priority.  

  • Start by setting aside a couple hours a week to do something social and give yourself a chance to connect with others. 
  • You can also use the time you already have available, like while commuting to school or work to check in with others.

Remember that meaningful relationships aren’t formed overnight. It often can take a while to really know and trust someone. 

The great thing about forming these types of bonds is they can last a lifetime, so putting in the time and effort is worth it.

3. Don’t let the fear of rejection stand in your way

No one makes 100% of his free throws, it requires practice to get good and even then, the best don’t make every shot. The same thing goes for talking with others and making friends. 

Making connections means opening ourselves up to the possibility of rejection, which can hurt, but you have to ask yourself, is not putting yourself out there really helping either?  

Whether you’re asking a new person to hang out, asking a co-worker to meet up on the weekend, or taking the next step in the relationship with your partner – at each step you face the possibility of rejection, so learning how to brace yourself and not take it so personally is a crucial skill – one that requires practice. 

It may sometimes be awkward or painful, but that’s okay. Someone not wanting to spend time with you doesn’t change what you have to offer and is not a reflection of your worthiness, and often has more to do with the other person’s priorities at the time.

If you don’t get the response you were hoping for or their feedback isn’t useful, that’s good to know too. Testing your bonds let’s you know how strong they are and whether or not your time and energy would be better spent elsewhere.

4. Forge stronger bonds and deeper connections

Whether you’re strengthening old bonds or forming new ones, having people you can regularly be in contact with is crucial. 

When you get to the point that you’re starting to be more comfortable and building trust with someone, open up a bit and tell them something real, maybe:

  • Something that’s causing you stress at work
  • An interest or goal you’re passionate about

Thank them for listening and let them know you’re there if they ever want to talk about something too. It’s only through having more meaningful conversations like this that we really begin to build trust and connect with someone. 

A. Strengthen existing connections

Cementing connections with people you already know can be easier than trying to start from scratch. Take some time to think if there are people you already know who might be good to reconnect with. Once you’ve identified a few people, reach out to them to catch-up. 

Remember, lots of people are also looking for deeper connections too, so you may be helping them as much as you are helping yourself.

B. Form new connections

The reason why many people feel alone is because almost everyone dislikes initiating contact. But if you want something to happen, you have to work to make it happen. 

Don’t focus on whether or not someone could become a really great friend right off the bat. It’s good to set realistic expectations and let things flow naturally from there. As you get to know someone better you can see how well you get along and if you want to be connected with them more. 

A great way to start is by pursuing your interests. Here are some common ways to connect with others who share similar hobbies, interests, values, etc:

  1. Sign up for a class or group activity.
  2. See if there are any sports leagues in your area.
  3. Volunteer for a group that interests you. 
  4. Adopt a pet – you get companionship from the animal, and more chances to socialize with other pet owners. 
  5. Look at Meetup or Facebook groups in your area or create your own.
  6. Reach out to people through social media. For example, if someone posts a bunch of nature photos and you’re into photography, send them a message and ask them about their favourite places to shoot nearby. 
  7. Gardening – this can be a good way to meet people in your neighbourhood.

Once you’re in these situations with new people around you, reach out to ask people how their day is, listen and give compliments, ask for help with something, and see if they would want to hang out. 

5. If your loneliness is continuing to stress you, seek professional help

Loneliness isn’t something to ignore, as it can increase your risk for depression, heart disease, problems with your immune system, and a variety of other health issues [2].

Therapy is a common way to address loneliness. If you’re struggling to get your footing and make connections, talking to a professional is a great step to take. A therapist can help you understand what factors are getting in your way of making connections and help you find strategies to overcome them. 

You don’t have to be lonely forever – reach out and take steps to make the types of connections you deserve. 

Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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