Ngaire Kerse's seven tips to combat loneliness

Loneliness is isolating, but it’s something many of us experience at some point. Professor Ngaire Kerse has seven practical tips to help us all feel better connected.

A pile of birds on phone lines but one bird sits all alone

1. Recognise that loneliness is very common
Some 60 percent of all people are lonely at any one time and about five percent experience persistent loneliness that interferes with life. Some feel lonely in a crowd, while others are isolated and unable or unwilling to contact others. It’s important to realise loneliness is an emotion that doesn’t simply equate to ‘being alone’, as some people need alone time for well-being. Given that feeling lonely may actually be a universal experience, thinking ‘what can I learn from this?’ may offer some distraction for a time.

2. Make the most of current relationships
Most people do know others, and often those other people may be lonely at times, too. Reaching out to people can seem like a mountain to climb, but often other people are as keen to get together as you might be – and talking about the issue can be very helpful. Making connections – whether with family, friends or new acquaintances – takes time and energy, but even small interactions can make a difference, so contact of all kinds is important.

3. Be kind to yourself
Self-care is important, including eating and sleeping well and exercising regularly. Treating yourself is also important. Few people are used to doing things just because they enjoy them, but boosting self-worth can help loneliness, and avoiding self-blame is essential. Treat yourself as you would a friend who was in need. Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to do this, as is spending time in green spaces. Taking a little time to seek out the parks and walks around you can help and, even better, ask someone to walk with you.

Treat yourself as you would a friend who was in need. 

Professor Ngaire Kerse, Chair in Ageing Well Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

Ngaire Kerse portrait
Trying new things and making the most of your relationships are among the things people can do to combat loneliness, says Professor Ngaire Kerse. Photo: Chris Loufte

4. Try something new
For younger people, this could involve joining a school club or sport, and for older people taking part in community events, joining a reading group at the local library or maybe aligning with a cause you feel strongly about, even protests. Trying something new is also good for brain stimulation and might connect you with like-minded people.

5. Find volunteer opportunities
Assisting others, providing care and support, and contributing to society are all good for our well-being and usually entail contact with others. Those who volunteer have a higher quality of life and maintain that status over time in older age. For young people, contributing through volunteering helps gain valuable experience as well as the good feelings that come with contributing. Like-minded people will probably be involved as well, so volunteering creates further opportunities for connections.

6. Rethink downtime
Some think that working more can offer a way through loneliness, but we all need downtime to recuperate and rest. If that leads to loneliness, then use your downtime to connect with friends, plan events or join group activities. There are many ways to engage with others, so be creative and productive in your downtime. Online connection is okay, and many people do use online contact to alleviate loneliness.

7. Seek professional help
Loneliness can be a consequence of circumstance, or a symptom of a psychological problem, such as depression. If you don’t have enough energy to reach out to others, or the ‘oomph’ to try something new over an extended period, you may benefit from seeking the advice of your general practitioner or nurse practitioner. Counsellors are also available through primary care or privately, so seek professional help if needed.

Professor Ngaire Kerse, MNZM, is the Joyce Cook Chair in Ageing Well and Director of the University Research Centre for Co-Created Ageing Research in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2024 edition of Ingenio