A loneliness epidemic in the age of connection and seven steps to climb out.
Posted December 6, 2020
This has to be one of the most tragic ironies of modern life as we know it; we have the ability to find and connect with nearly anyone across the globe, yet so many of us feel entirely alone. Never has the cliché “alone in a crowd” felt so real. We can spend a full day on Zoom calls, social media, and texting, and not only feel disconnected, but completely fatigued from staring at a screen for so long.
This often leaves us with the residual fogginess of the Rona-brain and a feeling of emptiness that tends to reside somewhere in the mid-to-upper torso.
Some experts are referring to this surge in loneliness as an epidemic, with a recent Ipsos survey finding that nearly half of the 20,000 American adults surveyed reported feeling lonely always or sometimes. Another sobering statistic is that 1 in 4 reported that they rarely or never experience the feeling of having close family members and friends who truly understand them.
And, as I often say to my students, these numbers are probably even higher, as in order for something to become a statistic we need to know about it first. This is especially true with loneliness as it seems to carry its own stigma. People feel badly for us if they think we’re lonely which makes us feel even lonelier. So, we keep it inside. This creates a vicious cycle.
Add in a pandemic, and a splash of the holidays which market family cohesion, warmth, and emotional security, and there is a good chance that many are walking around in silent agony.
Though loneliness is a different experience for everyone, there are two common denominators. The first is that loneliness stems from the dissonance between the connection we need versus the connection we have. This relates directly to the second denominator which is our connection with ourselves, the ability to see and embrace our own value.
Loneliness also has three dimensions and all three are needed to feel fully connected in a way that feeds our spirit. The first is intimate connection, which means a partner or someone else who we can truly trust and confide in. The second is relational connection, which has to do with friendships and having people to simply hang out or eat lunch with. Lastly, is the collective connection, and this refers to our primal need for community and a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
This is why it is possible to be in a great marriage and still feel lonely, or to have friendships and still long for intimacy or a sense of belonging.
Though we all have felt lonely at times, chronic loneliness is the danger, as the impact on physical health is now right up there with smoking and obesity as far as the risk of death. The impact on mental health has obviously led to increased isolation and depression.
It is also important to note that Americans are not the only ones struggling with loneliness. In 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May, in response to the widespread feelings of isolation in the UK, appointed a Minister for Loneliness to address this huge issue for the first time in the nation’s history.
Though there is certainly no easy-fix for loneliness, here are some steps toward climbing out:
- Awareness. We can’t do what we don’t know. Acknowledging the feeling of loneliness is a solid start.
- Realize your value. Obviously, this is a big one. For now, realizing this is largely the source of loneliness is a step in the right direction. As difficult as this may be, when you wake up, head straight for the mirror. Look yourself in the eyes and tell yourself one positive quality you like in yourself. Don’t stop. Do this every day, forever.
- Euthanize your cell phone. Or, at least choose a designated amount of time to have it completely turned off so it cannot grab your attention. Unplug the drug and be free.
- Seek out real connections. Regardless of where you might land on the Myers-Briggs introversion/extroversion spectrum, we are all wired for real human connection. This may take baby steps, but it is essential to make time for F2F interaction. We need this like we need oxygen.
- Write a letter. Hand-write this and send it via snail-mail. If you don’t have someone to write to, sign up to send a letter to one of our soldiers overseas.
- Pay it forward. Especially at this time of year, there are loads of opportunities for do-gooding. Practicing conscious acts of kindness not only pulls us out of our heads, but there is also a release of dopamine. What we do for others, we do for ourselves.
- Practice gratitude every day. After your visit to the mirror when you wake up, say out loud, “I am grateful for ____________. Do this every day, forever.
Heid, M. (2017). The loneliness epidemic. Time Magazine (Special Edition) Mental Health.
Murthy, V. (2020). Together-the healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world. New York, NY: Harper Collins.