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8 Signs and Symptoms of Loneliness

Loneliness isn’t always easy to notice. More and more, clinical psychologist Emily Bly, PhD, a licensed therapist for…
8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

Loneliness isn’t always easy to notice.

More and more, clinical psychologist Emily Bly, PhD, a licensed therapist for over ten years, observes a phenomenon she calls “hidden loneliness.” Clients often visit her with issues such as increased drinking or overwhelming stress, which initially don’t seem related to loneliness. However, as they talk more, it becomes evident that they feel deeply lonely without recognizing it.

According to the American Psychological Association, loneliness is the uncomfortable feeling of being alone or like you’re alone.

Dr. Bly, who started Pleasantville Psychology Group in Chappaqua, New York, believes loneliness is a natural reaction to not having the human connections we need.

Because being socially connected is essential for overall well-being, loneliness can disrupt many aspects of your life, affecting your body, mind, and actions. If you suspect you might be lonely, here are signs to watch for.

1. You Wish You Had More Friends

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

“The most obvious sign is feeling like you’re missing people and wanting more connections in your life,” says Bly.

According to psychologist Daniel Russell, PhD, loneliness occurs when your social circle doesn’t match your expectations. This idea comes from the discrepancy model, developed by social psychologists Daniel Perlman, PhD, and Letitia Anne Peplau, PhD.

2. You Feel Like No One Understands You

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

When you’re lonely, you might feel disconnected from those around you. According to Dr. Russell, this feeling is so common that it’s included in the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a widely used tool in loneliness research.

Over time, you might believe that you struggle to connect because others don’t understand you at a deep level, explains Bly. She notes that feeling misunderstood can stem from various factors like race, class, sexual orientation, or past trauma. Loneliness and lack of social interaction can reinforce these feelings.

At its worst, loneliness can lead to paranoia. Research shows that lonely individuals are more likely to believe that others dislike them, feel suspicious of others’ intentions, or think that others mean them harm. This pattern holds for people with and without a history of serious mental health issues, suggesting that loneliness can trigger paranoid thoughts even in those not prone to such thinking.

3. You Feel Alone — Even When You’re in a Crowd

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

Lonely individuals often express feelings of being alone, which is expected. However, surprisingly, feelings of isolation or exclusion can persist even among those who seem very social.

Research shows that the number of people someone knows or the number of friends they have doesn’t reliably indicate whether they’re lonely. According to Dr. Russell, one person can feel lonely even with many friends, while another may not with just a few close companions.

4. You Don’t Want to Socialize

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

A typical but paradoxical sign of loneliness is feeling less inclined to socialize than usual. When lonely, even thinking about going out can seem draining or overwhelming.

Over time, you might start avoiding social gatherings altogether. According to Bly, this is like forming a habit of isolation: You begin to feel worse about yourself, which leads to further withdrawal from social interactions.

5. You Feel Down and Stuck in Your Head

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

Feeling lonely can cause emotional distress. Research found that Latinx college students who felt lonelier were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and stress. According to Bly, loneliness is a common factor in various mental health challenges.

Over time, feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness can grow. Bly explains that our self-image often relies on how others see and understand us. We can feel lost and unsure about our identity without interactions with others.

6. Your Body Feels Off

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

Researchers have long known that ongoing loneliness can lead to poor physical health and even death, explains Russell.

The strongest evidence linking social connections to physical health comes from studies on heart disease and strokes, as highlighted in the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory from May 2023. This advisory cites research showing that loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease by 29% and stroke by 32%.

Russell clarifies that these health risks are primarily associated with chronic loneliness, not the temporary loneliness everyone experiences.

However, even short-term loneliness can have negative effects. The Mayo Clinic notes that physical symptoms of loneliness may include headaches, body aches, flu-like symptoms, and sleep problems.

7. You’re Spending More Time on Social Media

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

Spending endless hours scrolling through social media? Loneliness might be the reason behind it.

According to Bly, social media can hide and create loneliness. While platforms like social media offer the appearance of connection through followers, likes, and online friends, they often only provide a superficial sense of human relationships.

Research shows that relying on social media for connection may not fill the void of loneliness. A study across four countries found that people who used social media primarily for socializing were likelier to feel lonely than those who used it for other reasons, such as passing time.

Using social media when feeling lonely could also heighten the fear of missing out (FOMO), as indicated by brain activity studies using EEGs. This cycle suggests that loneliness may drive increased social media use, which can intensify feelings of FOMO. Ultimately, this cycle can reinforce loneliness, creating a harmful loop where loneliness, social media use, and FOMO feed off each other.

8. You Notice Your Healthy Habits Slipping

8 Signs And Symptoms Of Loneliness

When clients compulsively engage in activities like overeating, shopping excessively, or using substances, Bly suspects they might be trying to cope with feelings of emptiness or loneliness without realizing it.

Research supports this idea. For instance, studies show that loneliness can lead people to spend more than they normally would, including on digital platforms.

If you find yourself struggling to control these behaviors or feeling overwhelmed by loneliness symptoms, Bly suggests seeking help from a therapist or healthcare provider you trust. She advises that regularly connecting with others can help prevent loneliness as part of your self-care routine. However, if self-help strategies aren’t effective, it may indicate a need to explore other potential issues, such as depression or another mental health condition.


Understanding these signs and symptoms can help you identify and address loneliness in yourself or others. It may indicate underlying loneliness if you notice persistent feelings of isolation, withdrawal from social activities, or changes in behavior like overeating or excessive shopping. Seeking support from friends, family, or a mental health professional can make a significant difference in overcoming loneliness and improving overall well-being.


Q1: What are common signs of loneliness?

Ans: Common signs include persistent feelings of isolation, withdrawal from social activities, and changes in behaviors such as overeating or excessive shopping.

Q2: How can loneliness affect your health?

Ans: Loneliness can impact both mental and physical health, contributing to conditions like anxiety, depression, and increased risk of heart disease.

Q3: Can social media use contribute to loneliness?

Ans: Yes, relying on social media for connection may mask loneliness but can also intensify feelings of loneliness and fear of missing out (FOMO).

Q4: What should I do if I feel lonely?

Ans: Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist for support. Regular social connections and seeking professional help can help alleviate loneliness.

Q5: Are there DIY strategies to combat loneliness?

Ans: Yes, making efforts to engage socially, pursue hobbies, and practice self-care can be effective in combating loneliness. However, persistent loneliness may indicate a need for professional intervention.

Q6: Is loneliness a temporary feeling or a chronic condition?

Ans: Loneliness can be temporary, such as after a major life change or chronic, depending on individual circumstances and social connections.

Q7: Can loneliness lead to other mental health issues?

Ans: Yes, loneliness is linked to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions.

Q8: How can I help someone lonely?

Ans: Show empathy, actively listen, and offer companionship or encourage them to seek professional help.

Q9: Can loneliness affect sleep?

Ans: Yes, loneliness can lead to sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restful sleep. This can further impact overall health and well-being.

Q10: Is loneliness more common in certain age groups?

Ans: Loneliness can affect people of all ages, but it is often more prevalent among teenagers, young adults, and the elderly. Each age group may face unique challenges that contribute to feelings of loneliness.

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