The Epidemic of Loneliness
In 2017 the U.S. Surgeon General listed America’s greatest health challenges. The common culprits were on the list, obesity, immunizations, and smoking. But, for the first time he added loneliness to the list of national health-care issues. He found that people from every background and socioeconomic status were struggling with loneliness at an alarming rate.
A national survey revealed that 50% of respondents feel alone or left out “always” or “sometimes”. Only 53% of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis. One might think the growth of social media would cure America’s lack of interpersonal connection, but this is not the case. In fact, Generation Z (Ages 18-22) has the highest rates of loneliness. If feeling alone is rampant in our country, and on the rise, what can a person do to combat feeling alone?
WHAT IS IT?
Before combating loneliness it is important to understand what it is and is not. Loneliness involves feeling isolated and disconnected from others. Olivia Lainng writes, “Loneliness centres on the act of being seen. When a person is lonely, they long to be witnessed, accepted, desired, at the same time as becoming intensely wary of exposure.” The feeling of being alone in the world is the heart of loneliness.
But, there’s nothing wrong with being alone. In fact, there is a distinct difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Loneliness can create an empty feeling, as if something is missing. But, being alone is different. Gretchen Rubin explains, “Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative.”
Plenty of people are perfectly happy being alone. But, for others loneliness is an ever-present darkness, draining joy from their life. Like weeds growing in a garden, loneliness must be confronted and held at bay for the healthier feelings of joy and peace to grow.
5 Ways to Combat Feeling Lonely
The feeling of loneliness can feel overwhelming at times for many people. But, the good news is that a person is not stuck without any way to fight against lonely feelings. In fact, here are five helpful ways to combat the feeling of loneliness.
You’re Not Alone
As stated, half of Americans feel lonely sometimes or always. This means as you look around in a restaurant, half of the people you see share your same struggle. They feel alone and unseen. They wonder if anyone cares. They also struggle with feelings of isolation and disconnection. They may share beautiful selfies or pictures of dinner on social media, but their posts only serve to cover their desperation to combat their feelings of deep disconnection with the world. Understanding you’re not alone can help empower you to be the one to initiate the connection everyone around you is hungry to find.
In stories, no stranded survivor was ever saved from an abandoned island by spending all his time sitting in a dark space feeling bad for himself. Survivors are saved only when they get up and take action toward their own survival. They must make fire, find food, and contemplate a way off the island.
If you are looking to combat loneliness, it will involve you taking action to connect with others. Instead of waiting for a friend to call, pick up the phone or text a friend and ask to hang out this weekend. Chances are, your friend is feeling lonely too and waiting for someone to initiate connection also.
Make Healthy Choices
Our health impacts every part of our lives. Lack of health can contribute to feelings of loneliness. One important way to combat loneliness in your life is to work on your personal health. Make sure you are taking time to exercise, eat healthy, and getting the sleep you need. You could be surprised how much taking small steps towards health will help alleviate your feelings of loneliness.
Try Something New
It’s possible that you are stuck in a rut. Your friends are getting busy with work and family and have less time to hang out than they did a few years ago. It may be time for you to try something new. Join a gaming group or check out a meetup group for sports or reading. These groups can lead to new pockets of meaningful friendships that can help fill your need for people.
Consider Professional Help
Consistent feelings of loneliness can indicate other issues you might have. For example, you might also be struggling with depression. You might also be dealing with some sort of fear that prohibits you from initiating friendship or allowing others to know you. A good counselor can help you work through your feelings and work on an action plan to initiate friendships.
Do One Thing
Everyone feels lonely at one point or another. In many ways, the feeling of loneliness is healthy and good because it reminds us that we have a need for meaningful connection with others. It may feel overwhelming to attempt to combat loneliness. But, the important thing is to start small. If you are feeling lonely today, consider one thing to try to combat your loneliness. Maybe text a friend to see how they’re doing. Or, make the choice to go exercise tonight after work. As you begin stringing small healthy choices together, you might see your struggle with loneliness begin to lessen.
At South, we believe all of us are created to live deeply with one another. If you’re looking to build new friendships and find community, we welcome you to try one of the following: