America is getting lonelier. Cigna released their annual Loneliness Index report on January 23rd and it shows that three in five adults (61%) say they feel lonely, which is a seven percentage-point increase from the previous year.
The study produced some interesting facts:
- Greater feelings of loneliness among frequent social media users
- Men are slightly lonelier than women
- Those living in urban and suburban communities are less lonely than those in rural areas
- Younger people (18-22) are lonelier than older people (72+)
I’m sure you are not surprised to hear that the survey found social media platforms have a major impact on loneliness. Avid users are more likely to feel “alone, isolated, left out and without companionship.” Interestingly, people who use Twitter are more likely to feel lonely than those using image-based platforms like Facebook or Instagram. They assume this is from the dopamine triggered when people “like” our #dollypartonchallenge pictures.
I was, however, quite surprised to hear that younger people are lonelier than older people. It would seem to figure that the 18- to 22-year-old set is in the prime of their lives with endless energy and activities lined up. I know I had a ball at that age. But, it’s a much different time now and kids are under enormous amounts of pressure.
Young adults just don’t blow all of their money on alcohol, three-day parties and a good sound system like we used to. They’re so responsible anymore. One must wonder, will they ever go through that phase? When are they going to just say “fuck it” and go nuts?
It seems to me that 18 to 22 is the perfect age to get all of the fun out of our systems because we don’t yet have much to lose. Maybe thirty years from now these kids will be about ready to blow off some steam. Wonder what that will look like.
Something to look forward to, I guess.
Older people being less lonely actually makes sense to me. It’s those senior living communities popping up all over the place. My aunt and uncle live in one and they stay busy all day, every day. Cards, dinners, golf, bocce ball, endless get-togethers. Sign me up. Sounds better than college.
What Does It Mean to Be Lonely?
Former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told us this was going to happen back in 2017. “As a society, we have built stronger Wi-Fi connections over time, but our personal connections have deteriorated,” he stated when announcing his concerns over the “loneliness epidemic” in America.
And he had every right to be concerned as one of the leading spokespeople on matters of public health.
Health risks associated with loneliness:
- Loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day
- Lonely people are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships
- Corresponds with worse mental health outcomes including depression, dementia and suicide
- Reduces immunity
- Increases inflammation in the body
- Strongly linked with chronic physical health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes
But when we claim to be lonely, what are we really saying?
People can be lonely whilst surrounded by friends and family. When someone says they are lonely what they are really describing is a feeling of sadness generated when we don’t feel as though we have people close to us that we can talk to. Really talk to. Maybe we don’t have a best friend, or, if we do, we fear that they might no longer accept us if they knew the real us.
In a large national survey of 20,096 U.S. respondents aged 18 years and older, those reporting good social support and meaningful daily interactions claimed to also have lower levels of loneliness. Factors to feeling connected also included healthy relationships, family life, physical and mental health, close friendships and balancing one’s daily time well.
I’m Lonely. So, What Do I Do Now?
Loneliness is a tricky one for health practitioners to assist with. While mental health issues can often be detected through behavioral patterns, loneliness has to be self-reported. The only reason we know today that more people are feeling lonely is because we are asking them specifically through surveys like Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Index. Which, by the way, was probably started in order to track loneliness in older people which used to be the main concern before “like and share” came along.
If you are feeling lonely, don’t be shy about reaching out for help. Many of my clients struggle with this issue even though many of them are in their 30’s and always interacting with other people their age. Likely they are spending plenty of time with other parents, but they are all so busy that they don’t take the time to sit and talk for a bit. Not to mention the perfect life we are trying so hard to portray.
It’s important to recognize when you’re feeling lonely and isolated, so that you can take steps to improve your life.
1. Acknowledge your feelings of loneliness.
But first, you have to actually feel your feelings. For some of you, this will be neither fun nor easy. Start by journaling about your feelings to figure out why you feel this way. It could be that you legitimately do not have a support system around you. Or, it could be that you are not comfortable sharing your thoughts with others in an effort to protect yourself from judgement.
People who have a difficult time communicating their feelings with others usually have some trust issues.
You know what? It is none of your business what other people think of you or what they do with the information you provide. The only way you are going to find your best friend – and they are out there – is to start opening up to others.
I want you to journal about your feelings and find out why you are feeling lonely, when you feel the most lonely, and why you think you are lonely. Are you holding yourself back from getting out and meeting people? Or do you have many acquaintances but no ride-or-die buds due to communication issues?
Here’s how this exercise plays out in my office:
Issue: I feel lonely because I have no time to spend with my friends.
Me: Yes you do. Let’s make a plan to make plans. What can you commit to this week?
Issue: I feel most lonely around one o’clock in the afternoon when the kids are at school and I have no one to talk to.
Resolution: Join MeetUp and find some activities you can do during the day while the kids are in school.
Issue: I feel lonely because I don’t have a best friend because I never let anyone get too close.
Resolution: I have some exercises that are going to help you break through the limiting belief that you are not worthy of being loved.
2. Reduce time spent on social media.
When I’m working with a client who feels lonely the first thing I do is to tell them to get off of the social media and start participating in life.
Since social media use is closely tied to loneliness, I will ask them to start tracking their cell phone use and prove to me that they are reducing the time spent scrolling. This goes on the action plan immediately.
We may have a large quantity of friends on Facebook, but do we have any quality friends on Facebook?
3. Shoot for some little wins to build confidence.
If we have a child that is experiencing anxiety and self-doubt, one of the first things a therapist will recommend is to get them in a position where they are likely to achieve small wins to boost their confidence.
For adults struggling with loneliness this may mean joining a book club and practice opening up about non-adversarial issues. It is a great way to expose our thoughts to others who are geared to welcome input. After all, the point of book club is to talk about the book!
Another idea is to join an activity you enjoy, like yoga. But, don’t just go to yoga and then leave. Make it a point to strike up a conversation with somebody.
If you find yourself lonely on the weekends it is a good idea to create an itinerary of activities and make sure your time is gobbled up. Be intentional about the activities and select some that involve other people. You’re an introvert? Too bad. Do it anyway – it’s not going to hurt.
Many studies have proven that supporting a cause or a group that is personally meaningful releases feel-good chemicals in our brains and adds to our own happiness. It’s called “helper’s high” and evolution has provided this innate drive to help others because it’s beneficial to human survival.
There are many ways to volunteer:
- Help out at the local senior center
- Volunteer at a children’s hospital
- Read to kids at school
- Work in a soup kitchen
- Volunteer in an animal shelter
One of the ways I volunteer is helping out with our local chapter of Wellness Warriors. This amazing group has a mission to stop the stigma surrounding childhood mental health issues by leading initiatives that encourage open and honest conversations. I’m able to take what I love doing, which is coaching, and use my talents to help others who are truly in need.
Do you know what your talents are?
I am on a mission to help people transform by helping them find their value and worth. Watching them evolve, grow and change over time lights me up! When the magic happens, I can feel it in the center of my chest.
Are you ready to supercharge your 2020 health and wellness?
Brooke Collins is a professionally-trained Wellness Coach living in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Her passion is working with women who are overwhelmed and helping them get clear on their priorities by making them accountable. This holistic approach allows her to target the mind, body, and spirit so they are in-sync able to become the best version of themselves.
Image courtesy of Aziz Acharki.