According to a 2018 CIGNA study published by Psychology Today, nearly half of all Americans have reported intense feelings of loneliness, thus rendering it a public health crisis. While it’s perfectly normal to feel lonely from time to time, statistics are increasingly revealing a connection between loneliness and depression, addiction, and even suicide.
But how is today any different from, say, a few decades ago? With all of our societal, scientific, and technological advancements, surely we’re significantly better off than earlier generations?
Well, yes and no. While one would be hard pressed to argue against the benefits of present life vs that of our ancestors, in many ways we’re at a disadvantage *because* of those aforementioned advancements.
Below we’ll discuss some of the key influences on the mass state of loneliness being reported today, and what can be done to counter them.
Modern technology, particularly in the last decade, has drastically altered the way we connect with one another. While communication is now lightning fast thanks to numerous devices, apps, and social media platforms, our actual ability to sustain face-to-face, interpersonal relationships is dwindling.
Referring to the endless scroll of photos, updates, and instant messaging options, Eugene Stall writes: “With these new technologies, people are happy to stay in because these apps give the perception that you are not really alone.”
We’ve grown accustomed to the sensation of “being there” without actually being there, and while our brains tell us this is socializing, it’s quite the opposite.
It’s said that comparison is the thief of joy, and nowhere is this more apparent than on social media. Anyone spending an inordinate amount of time perusing someone else’s travels, happy memories, or allusions to a mass supply of friends is bound to feel in some way inadequate.
This is why it’s important that you limit your time online each day, and put that effort towards real-life, real-time activities that connect you with others in person.
Regardless of where you stand on the myriad of deeply troubling issues taking place in the world today, it’s hard to argue their day-to-day impact on the psyches. With a 24/7 supply of troubling news reports, stories, and graphic images, people are finding it more difficult to forge trusting connections with those whom they’re not familiar with.
Additionally, troubling news has been shown to trigger or enhance the effects of certain mental illnesses such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, which in turn make it harder for one to step outside of their comfort zone.
Much like social media, it’s important that you disconnect from current events after an allotted amount of time. Exposing yourself to the nonstop horrors of today will not only prevent you from enjoying aspects of your own life, but taking the necessary risk of putting yourself out there and meeting with like-minded individuals.
By volunteering in your community and with local organizations, you can forge meaningful connections while putting some much-needed good back in the world.
Long Hours, Limited Funds
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 44 hours per week (about 8.8 hours per day), with a previous poll clocking in at 47 or higher. This figure only increases for those working in competitive industries such as finance and tech, who report an average of 60 hours or more a week, and Bloomberg Businessweek nearly doubles that number with a report that American factory workers typically log in 12 hours or more a day, six to seven days a week.
With the cost of living going up right alongside insufficiently compensated hours, it’s no small wonder leisurely time with one’s loved ones has become a rare luxury. And while sadly there’s no immediate fix to reconcile this, recent events have seen a rise in union protest and workers rights activism, as well as the push for improved legislation in regards to workers’ hours and compensation.
The Loneliness Stigma
Nearly a decade ago, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study that found that people are 52% more likely to feel lonely if they’re directly connected to someone in a similar state. While it seems unfair to treat loneliness as a contagion, it may encourage you to treat others with more empathy, rather than repulsion.
While many solitary souls happily prefer their own company to that of others, no one chooses to be lonely. Most of us have probably felt isolated and disconnected from others at some point, making the extended kindness of another all the more welcome.
The next time you encounter someone who gives off those perpetually lonely vibes, rather than distancing yourself try opening up and sharing your own experiences. Not only could you forge a new friendship, but relieve some of your own loneliness.
Why Your Mental Health Matters
You may not be able to change the current state of the world, but you can certainly take control of your own corner of it. Seeking professional help from a counselor or therapist may be the best form of self care you seek in the new year, and the good news is you have a number of options to choose from.
Community support programs, in-office as well as online therapy, and even free apps offering peer-supported group chats and trained listener sessions are all popular, viable resources.
Ultimately, most of us have more in common with one another than we realize, and that includes feelings of loneliness.
Perhaps this is the perfect time to remind ourselves to treat each other with care and compassion while we pursue our own course of healing..