It’s a subjective feeling, but researchers have begun to find signals in the brain that put the need for social interaction on par with the need to eat. In a study published in November, scientists deprived participants of contact with other people and then scanned their brains. After just 10 hours of isolation in a lab — where they could read or draw but had no access to their phones or computers — people reported feeling lonely and craving social contact.
Research suggests you don’t even need to know the people you’re helping. Just donating money to a good cause might help, Dr. Uchino said. In a series of experiments, researchers found that people who gave money to others were happier than if they spent it on themselves.
But if you’re overwhelmed by giving, it can become detrimental. Instead, try hobbies like cooking, gardening, writing in a journal or even listening to music. Creative arts can reduce loneliness, too, and while singing in person in a choir might not be possible right now, singing from balconies or through virtual groups can be powerful.
This might also be a good time to help out your neighbors. Using the neighborhood social app NextDoor to randomly assign people to perform small acts of kindness — like delivering groceries, chatting over a fence or participating in a neighborhood cleanup event — Dr. Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues found that loneliness rates dropped from 10 percent of people to 5 percent in people who did the kind acts.