Growing up in the age before the technological boom, there were no smartphones, Kindles, or laptops. And obviously no apps like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat. To connect with others, we had to visit people in person and make a quick call to schedule plans. To meet people to date—well, that was limited to in-person encounters.
As a counselor, I have many clients who believe that technology connects them to others, but they still feel lonely. They rarely actually meet and see friends, they talk less in person, and they share fewer intimate conversations. That is why more people are feeling lonelier than ever.
Loneliness is a big problem that can lead to a variety of physical health issues, psychological problems, and societal issues. Unfortunately, loneliness seems to be a growing epidemic (especially during the current pandemic). Studies show half of Americans are feeling lonely and isolated.
The Difference Between Being Alone and Being Lonely
Loneliness isn’t the same thing as being alone. Some solitude is good for you. Learning how to spend time enjoying life on your own is a very rewarding thing.
But being alone needs to be a choice in order to be healthy. Elderly people who want companionship yet lack visitors, for example, are more likely to experience the physical and emotional effects of being alone.
It’s also quite possible to feel lonely even when you’re around people. If you don’t feel as though those around you truly understand you, or if you fear that they wouldn’t accept you if they knew the “real” you, being around people won’t necessarily resolve your lonely feelings.
Why Loneliness Is Harmful
Researchers have found that lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.
There are several reasons why loneliness can be deadly. First, it reduces your immunity, which can increase your risk of disease. It also increases inflammation in the body, which can contribute to heart disease and other chronic health conditions.
Let’s Start Cultivating Healthier Ways of Connecting
1. Develop a few close, caring relationships with friends, family, or coworkers.
Put effort into maintaining your closest relationships by checking in regularly, acknowledging important life events, listening, showing up when they need you, and being there through life’s ups and downs. Call your people on the phone and schedule social-distance plans (if you both feel comfortable, of course). I promise you will feel better after.
2. Prioritize balancing your work/life schedule.
Think about creative, social, or volunteer activities that you would naturally enjoy or find meaningful. Do some research and make a specific plan about how to fit these into your busy schedule. What are you willing to let go of to make more time for socializing?
3. Take inventory of your relationships.
If most of your relationships are superficial, consider if you’d like to go deeper with these people. Are they capable of being the kind of close friends you’d like? Depending on the answer, you may decide to speak up more about your needs, reach out and initiate more, or look for different types of friends.
There is always something we can do to create a life of connectivity.
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