These days, we’re more connected than ever - you can FaceTime with your husband during his business trip abroad or plan a holiday with friends around the country via iMessage. Still, more than half of Australians report often feeling lonely, according to Lifeline.

What exactly does that mean?

“Loneliness is a subjective experience or feeling,” explains psychologist Dr Sari Chait. It often describes not feeling connected to people and being sad about that lack of connection. “It can be brief or situational, such as if you’ve recently moved to a new town where you don’t know anybody yet, or loneliness can be more chronic,” Chait says.

Loneliness is not just a byproduct of living alone, being without a spouse, or lacking a big group of friends. “It can happen whether there are people around or not,” confirms psychiatrist Dr Jacqueline Olds.

And, when chronic, the feeling comes with real consequences; researchers go as far as calling loneliness a public health epidemic. In fact, studies have even linked loneliness to an increased risk of early death. Lonely people’s immune systems appear to work differently, activating the body’s fight or flight stress response and increasing inflammation. The feeling has been associated with a slew of chronic conditions, from depression to heart disease, and even cognitive decline.

“Loneliness can negatively impact almost all aspects of your life,” says Chait. Fortunately, there are measures you can take that’ll benefit both your happiness and your health. “If you can become more socially connected, it’s like giving up smoking,” says Dr Olds. So, how exactly do you deal with loneliness? Here, eight strategies to feel more connected, whole, and happy.