If You're Single & Lonely, Here Are 5 Practical Steps You Can Take To Fight Loneliness

Being single and lonely don't have to go hand-in-hand, but if you are experiencing the blues due to the fact that you're not in a romantic relationship, that's totally understandable. Whether most of your friends are coupled up and it feels like you've been on your own for a while now, or you've gotten used to always being in a long-term relationship and are recently single, it can sometimes be difficult to deal. The single life definitely has its ups and downs, but rather than sit around and make yourself feel worse, there are steps you can take to counteract loneliness.

You shouldn't jump into a new partnership just because you're craving companionship. Instead, focus on forming meaningful platonic relationships and having genuinely fulfilling social interactions with other people. You can also bolster your own life by developing a satisfying relationship with yourself and becoming more familiar with tools to boost your own mood.

I spoke to Josh Klapow, PhD. clinical psychologist and host of radio show "Kurre and Klapow," about how to stop feeling lonely and start embracing your single status. By setting small goals and actively working toward them every day, you can fight those lonely feelings. You'll soon find new strategies, activities, and people to counterbalance any feelings of emptiness left by your last significant other. Here are five practical ways to fight off loneliness when you're single, because you deserve to be happy.

1Force yourself to have at least one fulfilling social interaction every day.

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While loneliness can be driven by not being in a relationship, it can also be a result of not having enough quality social interaction, Dr. Klapow explains. You might think you're lonely because you don't have a significant other, but in reality, your romantic relationship probably provided quality social interactions in addition to love and romance. "When you are feeling lonely because of not being in a relationship, make sure that you are getting regular social interactions," says Dr. Klapow. "As a general rule, you should have at least one fulfilling social interaction a day to prevent from feeling deeply lonely."

This doesn't mean you should go out and party every night. It's important to seek out interactions with people that make you feel loved, engaged, interested, and happy. Call your mom and catch her up on your life, or make an effort to talk to your roommate when you're both home after work instead of watching Netflix alone in your room. "Make sure you don't look at it as a substitute [for a relationship] but rather as a way to nurture your need for social interaction. Force yourself to do it and you will find you feel less lonely — because you are less lonely," says Dr. Klapow.

2Engage in meaningful experiences, rather than just "having fun."

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Of course some of your socializing will be with friends, but Dr. Klapow suggests mixing it up to maximize the potential for truly meaningful experiences. Co-workers, mentors, mentees, or even people you volunteer or worship with can all provide the quality human interaction you crave. Spend time volunteering at your church or synagogue, a nearby shelter, hospital, or humane society, or mentor a child at a local school.

Make sure you aren't looking solely for 'fun' interactions. Just like with a romantic relationship, you want something that is worthwhile as well as enjoyable. "As much as this feels like it won’t be a substitute, it can be," says Dr. Klapow. Your family, job, on-campus network, and spiritual community can all give you a variety of opportunities for socializing.

3Sign up for a new sport, class, or activity that involves other people.

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There are other, more recreational ways to socialize as well. Get out of your apartment or dorm room and get involved in a new activity — preferably one where you literally can't be alone. Join a book club, sign up for partner yoga, join a club sports team, attend a panel discussion, or take a pottery class just to name a few ideas. Whatever your interests, branch out and "force yourself to be in situations where there are other people," says Dr. Klapow. It's almost impossible to feel lonely while you're with a group of like-minded individuals.

4Start changing the way you think.

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According to recent research, over time, loneliness can make you more sensitive to feelings of rejection or hostility. So if you're in a social situation that isn't clearly negative or positive, your tendency toward loneliness might mean you automatically assume the worst. You may pay more attention to disagreements or criticism, meaning you're more likely to remember negative aspects of a social encounter over positive ones. By identifying these thoughts when they occur and actively replacing them with more optimistic ones, you can begin to build confidence and have more enjoyable interactions with others. Working to change these maladaptive thinking patterns is actually scientifically proven to be the most effective way to reduce feelings of loneliness.

5Talk to a mental health professional.

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If you've tried all of these things and you still feel lonely, even when you are engaged in activities with other people, it may be time to seek outside help. There are other related signs you should talk to a mental health professional, according to Dr. Klapow. Red flags include: "If you feel lonely most of the day regardless of how much you are doing with others; if the feelings of loneliness morph into feelings of hopelessness — that you will never not feel lonely or that you will never meet the right mix of people where you don’t feel lonely," he says. If these things are happening, it's time to talk to a psychiatrist or therapist who can help you sort through your loneliness and get to the bottom of your feelings.

Being single is something you should embrace, and you can't do that if you're overwhelmed by lonely feelings. Take the necessary steps to fight loneliness and soon you'll be well on your way to achieving Beyoncé-in-a-leotard status. If these strategies feel too big, you can start smaller. Put down your phone and go for a walk. Smile at a stranger or give them a genuine compliment. Pet a cute dog, or ask your friend for a hug.