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A Simple Solution To The Loneliness Epidemic!?


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. 

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. Most teens prefer to chat online than in person. We no longer have to leave the comforts of home to meet new people.

Is the rise of the internet going hand-in-hand with the rise in the proportion of people who feel lonely?

What is Loneliness? And it’s Consequences?

Loneliness is an emotional state. It’s characterized by symptoms such as anxiety, stress, depression and sleep disturbances. It’s caused a lack of human connection from not having deep and meaningful relationships. 

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. 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.
  • Chronic Loneliness: Occurs when the uncomfortable emotional state of being lonely goes on for a long time.

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. 

These Include:

  • 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.
  • Increased Cortisol: Cortisol 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.
  • Lower Immune System: Loneliness can affect your body’s immune system.
  • Cardiovascular Problems: Loneliness can make you more susceptible to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.
  • Obesity: Loneliness along with lack of exercise, overeating and an increase of cortisol leads to obesity.

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.

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. Meaningful friendships were formed through our workplaces, family and friends and community organizations. What changed? 

Since the 1980s there have been changes in the economy. This 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 people to move to unfamiliar cities. They took more temporary work assignments and had to move again when the assignment was over. These factors can make it hard to form meaningful friendships.

The Rise Of The Internet

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.

However, 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. They’re more complacent with the idea of sitting behind a computer screen.

I’ve mentioned many times in this blog about the overuse of technology on our mental health. Issues such as anxiety, sleep issues, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and loneliness.

We’re relying on online relationships more than real life ones. It’s making it harder to form meaningful connections.

What is The 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 we humans are naturally hardwired to make other connections with other people.

Our ancestors lived in communities to increase their chances for survival. They had a shared interest in hunting and gathering food. Later on this led to agriculture and other shared interests included religion, customs, traditions and culture appeared. 

The Rise Of Post-Modernity

Since the beginning of modernity there has been less emphasis on community. Instead there was 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. The world is no longer standardized under a single point of view. We are going back to forming communities of like minded people that share the same point of view as us.

The formation of communities also works. Individuals or groups of people gather for a common interest in a particular hobby or profession. They can also share the same relationship status.

The place to start is ironically through using social media. A positive part of social media is 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.

Conclusion

The loneliness epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges. It’s 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.

This post was written in 2019. As of 2020 face-to-face interactions have been harder due to COVID-19. Try connecting through zoom or FaceTime if you can’t connect face-to-face.

How Often do you Engage in Face-to Face
Interactions with Others?

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Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/loneliness-epidemic-consequences

https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2019/05/03/millennials-and-the-loneliness-epidemic/?sh=183ba867676a

https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the-heaviest-burden