I’ve Been Hearing a Lot About Loneliness
When I was doing my research for my previous post about holiday related loneliness. I’ve stumbled upon some interesting facts about how the way people interact with each other has changed over the years.
I was listening to the radio on my way to work and it was said that 2019 was a record year for people who preferred to find relationships online vs. face-to-face.
About 40% of couples meet each other online now vs. through family and friends, and most teens prefer to chat online than in person. We no longer have to leave the comforts of home to meet new people.
I’m wondering if the rise of the internet; including online dating and social media is going hand-in-hand with the rise in the proportion of people who feel lonely.
If you’re struggling with loneliness symptoms such as depression and anxiety please click below:
What is Loneliness? And it’s Consequences?
Loneliness is an emotional state characterized by symptoms such as anxiety, stress, depression and sleep disturbances due to a lack of human connection from not having deep and meaningful relationships.
Sometimes, the terms lonely and alone are used interchangeably, however they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. There are many single people that live solitary lives, but don’t feel lonely and there are many people in committed relationships that are always around other people that feel lonely.
Two Types of Loneliness
There are two types of loneliness:
- Acute Loneliness: Occurs when a life change such as a job loss, loss of a relationship/death of a loved one, being alone for the first time or moving to a new place.
- Chronic Loneliness: Occurs when the uncomfortable emotional state of being lonely goes on for a long time. This is partly due to the inability to connect with others on a deeper level due to social isolation, underlying mental issues, being incapasitated or having few or no meaningful relationships.
Health Effects of Loneliness
We all will experience loneliness at least once in our lives, but has many negative effects on physical and mental health.
- Stress, depression and anxiety: Feeling lonely can lead to an increase of stress and results in depression and anxiety.
- Lack of Self-Care: The negative effects that loneliness has on your mental health can lead to a lack of motivation to eat right and exercise. Many people who suffer from loneliness, also cope in a negative way through overeating, drug and alcohol abuse and seek attention from negative people so they’re not alone.
- Increased Cortisol: Stress can lead to an increase of the hormone cortisol. It increases the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increase the substances that repair tissues. However, prolonged stress caused by loneliness can lead to too much cortisol and this can wreak havoc on your body’s physiology and contribute to problems with anxiety, depression, weight gain and cardiovascular problems.
- Obesity: The negative effects on mental health caused by loneliness along with lack of exercise, overeating and an increase of cortisol leads to obesity.
- Lower Immune System: Loneliness can affect your body’s immune system.
- Cardiovascular Problems: All of these different health problems put together can make you more susceptible to cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.
According to webMD loneliness has the potential to be just as deadly as obesity and smoking.
The Loneliness Epidemic and Its Causes
All of us will experience loneliness sometime or another. We will all end up in situations that can lead to the depletion of our social networks.
- Death of Loved Ones
- Friends Moving Away
- Moving To an Unfamiliar City
- Impaired Mobility
- Job Loss
Feelings of loneliness are usually temporary. However, there are a lot of people that are lonely all the time. It’s estimated that ½ of all Americans report either having no meaningful friendships or they chronically feel lonely.
Social isolation that leads to loneliness is not just a problem for the elderly or the homebound. It’s also a problem for younger people; the largest group of chronically lonely people are adults age 25 to 44, however the loneliest group of all are young adults aged 18 to 25.
Do you notice a pattern?
There have been many social and technological changes over the years that have changed how we make friends. In the past face-to-face interaction was more common than it is now and meaningful friendships were formed through our workplaces, family and friends and community organizations. What changed?
Since the 1980s changes in the economy led to more people taking temporary jobs or taking other full jobs after a short period of time. Another thing that changed was less participation in community organizations; more people had to work longer hours and didn’t have as much time to socialize with others. The changes in the economy required more and more people to move to unfamiliar cities for temporary work assignments and had to move again when the assignment was over. These factors can make it hard to form meaningful friendships.
The biggest change of all was the rise of the internet; especially the rise of social media. Social media has led to many positive changes, but it led to alot of negative ones. It has led to a decline in face-to-face interactions with the people we associate with and in the last several years with the rise of smartphones this problem has gotten worse.
Beling online using social media allows communication between people to be done easier and more efficiantly, but at the same time there has been a decrease in the quality of our face-to-face interactions as our communication skills suffer. Also, many people have become more antisocial and increasingly complacent with the idea of sitting behind a computer screen while many personal and societal problems are swept under the mat including their own loneliness.
I’ve mentioned many times in this blog about the effects the overuse of technology such as social media have on our mental health. Issues such as anxiety, sleep issues, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and loneliness. We increasingly relying on online relationships more than real life ones and it’s harder to form meaningful connections with them and between that and the decline in our mental health may be contributing to a lot of cases of social anxiety when it comes time for a real connection.
What is a Solution To Loneliness?
This is a tough question, because everybody is different. What worked for me may work for other people, but it may not work for others.
What does work is for you to find your tribe or community. As a species humans are naturally hardwired to make other connections with other people. Our ancestors lived in groups that formed communities to increase their chances for survival by having a shared interest in hunting and gathering food and later on leading to agriculture. Other shared interests included religion, customs, traditions and culture.
Since the beginning of modernity there has been less emphasis on community and more emphasis on unifying the world under a single point of view. Since the end of world war 2 we have been entering a period of something called post-modernism or age of aquarius in which instead of the world becoming standardized under a single point of view resulting from industrialization and modernity we are going back to forming communities of like minded people that share not only the same interests, but also the same point of view as us.
The formation of communities also works when individuals or groups of people gather for a common interest in a particular hobby, profession, relationship status or even simple as having drinks on saturday night.
The place to start is ironically through using social media; a positive change social media has brought was being able to network with like minded through sites like facebook or meetup.com.
This solution to the loneliness epidemic has shown positive results. Many previously lonely people have reported fewer hospital visits and better physical and mental health.
The loneliness epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time not only in the United States, but worldwide as well. Reducing social media usage and reemphasizing face-to-face interactions are a simple solution to an otherwise complicated problem.
How Often do you Engage in Face-to Face
Interactions with Others?
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