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What’s the difference between being alone and lonely?

Alone and loneliness are two words that are often used interchangeably. While these words are both adjectives used to describe one’s state of being, they have very different meanings. Alone refers to being in a state of solitude. For instance, when someone’s roommate goes out on a date, that person is currently alone, but is not necessarily lonely. Loneliness on the other hand is used to describe an emotion, or an overwhelming sadness due to being/feeling isolated. In other words, someone who is alone might say something like, “I’m home alone tonight,” versus someone who is lonely might say, “I feel like I have no one who loves me in my life.” Often, people who feel lonely feel this despite having people in their lives who care about them. There are many big issues that may come with conflating these two concepts: First, people who are lonely are just alone. Second, people who are lonely are not comfortable with being alone.

How am I impacted by loneliness?

Loneliness is a very common emotion, hardly anyone is a stranger to it. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a common emotion that was shared by many of us was loneliness. Even the most introverted individuals may desire human connection from time to time. Persistent feelings of loneliness can have detrimental and long-lasting effects on our wellbeing and mental health. Research has indicated that loneliness has been associated with depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and even various physical health problems. Loneliness may also lead people to adopt unhealthy coping skills, like substance use or eating pathology.

How can I combat loneliness?

The first (and probably most important) skill needed to combat loneliness is to learn how to become comfortable with loneliness (or being alone). It is not possible for us to go about our lives without being alone at times. So, rather than trying to figure out how to avoid being alone, it is more feasible and productive to learn how to become comfortable being alone. Some tips for this are to stop comparing yourself to others, step away from social media/your phone, take yourself out on “me dates,” find a hobby or do something creative. Whatever it is you decide to do, make sure it is something that brings you joy. The next thing to do is manage loneliness. We do this by taking time to reflect on what is triggering our loneliness and what it is that we might need. Many people find comfort in leaning into our loved ones for support and being vulnerable with others, as they find it brings them closer to those they love. Other ways to combat loneliness is to open yourself up to creating new connections, strengthening your self-care activities, and seeing a therapist.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.