Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of Americans reported feelings of loneliness or isolation. Now, almost a year since the pandemic began, that number has jumped to 65 percent. And 31 percent of U.S adults report struggling with anxiety and depression.

There has never been a more crucial time to learn how to manage feelings of loneliness. More than ever, people are turning to substances and alcohol to cope with negative emotions. These dangerous habits can have detrimental health consequences and don’t actually address the root cause of loneliness in the first place.

If you or somebody you know are dealing with the negative impacts of isolation, try these tips for managing loneliness.

Connect with new and old friends in non-traditional ways.

Zoom, Google Meet, and FaceTime proved invaluable throughout 2020 and the holiday season, helping friends and family stay connected. But over the months, those calls can lose their sparkle and feel more like a chore than a hangout. To stay connected and with purpose, try out (or bring back) some non-traditional forms of communication instead. 

Handwritten letters, postcards, and personalized care packages are excellent ways to bring out your creative side and connect with old friends. And although local hangouts are still off-limits for many, the online world is also filled with opportunities to meet new friends. Facebook groups, hobby forums, online multiplayer games, and even the recently designed “QuaratineChat” are exciting ways to connect with people who share similar interests and manage loneliness of their own.

Get into something meaningful. 

Sometimes, loneliness can contribute to an overall lack of meaning in one’s life. Ironically, losing your sense of self can hold you back from trying new things that can make you feel fulfilled. If you find yourself enduring these types of feelings, take a moment to think about things in life you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t had the chance.

From abstract arts to indoor gardening, the internet is an endless resource that can help you get started with a new skill. You may also encounter like-minded learners in the process, who can help you stay connected with the people and activities you enjoy. Likewise, do some research into local organizations you’re interested in. Animal rescues and food banks are always on the lookout for help and pose an awesome opportunity to get you out of the house and do something with meaning.

Ditch the house and get outside.

Between the pandemic and the holidays, the majority of us feel like we’ve been stuck indoors for months on end. This feeling can contribute to loneliness and even make us forget the joy of the great outdoors. Although regulations are still in place in many natural spaces, plenty of local state parks and trails are open to the public and offer a safe distraction from being cooped up.

Along with the numerous benefits of walking, like improved circulation and metabolism, tapping into nearby nature is a productive way to combat loneliness. According to a Harvard Medical School study, people who walked for just 90 minutes in nature showed significantly lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, the brain region that focuses heavily on negative emotions. Ask if any of your local green spaces offer outdoor activities, like hikes or organized clean-ups, to help get you moving and meet like-minded people. 

Don’t forget to exercise.

Research has shown loneliness is a risk factor for adult physical inactivity and increases the likelihood that you’ll become less physically active over time. Remember that even with COVID-19 regulations still in place, you can still exercise. Both indoor and outdoor activity reaps dozens of mental health benefits.

Many gyms have made adjustments to accommodate clients safely. Look into your local gym and ask if they offer any group classes, either online or safely in person. Classes like Tai Chi or HIIT might get you hooked on something completely new —plus you can meet new people. If gyms aren’t your thing, look into a new fitness routine from home. The recent explosion of at-home workout platforms means more options than ever before. Even online classes foster a sense of accountability and camaraderie. 

Remember, those lonely days never last forever.

The past year has put an understandable damper on everyone’s spirits. Loneliness has skyrocketed. As we continue to navigate this new normal, remember to stay aware of your emotions so you can address them as they happen. Connecting with new internet friends to embarking on an outdoor adventure keeps a rotating schedule of positive activities. And don’t hesitate to reach out to a health professional if you have any mental or physical health concerns, such as symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other concerning feelings.