Though people worldwide have always experienced loneliness, this emotional epidemic has only worsened in recent decades. Even before the pandemic, studies showed that people were becoming increasingly lonely and were experiencing decreased mental health and well-being.
People have only become more isolated through the rise of technology, social trends, and a pandemic. Even when surrounded by people or friends, people often feel disconnected and alone. This article aims to discuss why this is and provide tips on alleviating loneliness.
Humans are social creatures. We evolved to live together in tribes and groups. Nature intended us to connect with others daily, not to live alone.
Loneliness is not just a social problem; it is a major mental health crisis. Loneliness leads to various mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. It is also a contributing factor to serious psychiatric disorders, such as personality disorders.
Furthermore, chronic loneliness creates a major risk of early death. It contributes to many health conditions, such as dementia, and further deteriorates physical health. The risk of death due to loneliness may even rival deaths caused by obesity and smoking.
So loneliness is not an isolated issue. On the contrary, being lonely destroys our entire well-being and prevents us from being happy and healthy.
There are many reasons why loneliness has become more prevalent in recent decades. Currently, many people blame the pandemic or technology for this problem, but the fact is that loneliness has been a trend for decades. Below are four major factors that have contributed to the loneliness epidemic.
It’s no secret that the rise of the internet has led to social isolation. The internet has completely changed every aspect of life. From work and school to hobbies and dates, the internet has changed out we interact with people. More and more people prefer to stay at home on the internet to find connections rather than go out and meet people.
The internet has become a double-edged sword. While it’s great that many people can easily connect across the globe and meet people that they would never interact with in real life, it has also created an isolation epidemic.
The internet makes connecting with strangers easier and more comfortable, as you don’t have to really put yourself out there to meet people. However, these connections are rarely as satisfying as in-person relationships. As a result, many people remain acquaintances and don’t develop the deep bond needed to create meaningful friendships or partnerships.
Furthermore, many people choose to remain anonymous when online. The internet has made it much easier to interact with others without revealing their identity. Though this has some benefits, the truth is that it is much hard to connect with others when you don’t know who they truly are.
Loneliness was already a major problem all around the world before 2020. However, the pandemic only worsened this trend due to social distancing measures and severe lockdowns. Though these measures were ultimately necessary to protect people from the virus, they, unfortunately, were not always helpful for people’s mental health.
As mentioned before, though technology has been helpful for connections in many ways, the fact is that it cannot replace intimate in-person connections. Though people used dating apps, social media, and Zoom to connect, it was not the same as talking to them at a party or enjoying an outing together. As a result, many people experienced terrible loneliness, even if they still interacted with people through their computers and phones.
This factor is probably one of the most important yet is the least understood or discussed. Over the past century, social and family dynamics have changed dramatically. Urbanization and the loss of the nuclear family have created a trend where people move far away from their homes and tribes to start a life alone. Creating new friends and a social circle is often difficult and takes time, which means that people spend a significant amount of time alone before creating a new tribe in their new city.
Furthermore, how we define a family unit has changed. For centuries, most people lived in a nuclear family unit, which consisted of a couple and their dependent children. However, many social changes have altered this dynamic completely. Fewer people choose to get married, and even fewer are having kids. Many people prefer to live alone or live with roommates and friends.
Though this has had many positives, with many new family structures and dynamics forming, it can also lead to loneliness. For example, sometimes living with roommates is not enough to get adequate socialization, and living alone can have detrimental effects.
Furthermore, more people are disconnecting from their birth families for various reasons. This is empowering for those who survived abuse but creates a sense of disconnect and not belonging that is hard to heal.
If you are a survivor of abuse and need help or support, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).
Though self-awareness is ultimately a good thing, unfortunately, it can make us realize how unhappy we truly are. The globe is successfully fighting mental health stigmas and embracing the importance of caring for your mental well-being. Though this is ultimately a good thing, sometimes understanding how you need to improve your mental health can make you more aware of your emotional pain.
The trend in loneliness has been measured through polls and studies. Decades ago, loneliness was a taboo subject to discuss. Therefore, many participants in loneliness studies may have told researchers they were not lonely simply because they weren’t truly connected to their emotions.
In recent years, mental health and mindfulness have increased in popularity, which means more people are aware of their loneliness and other mental health conditions. Therefore, there is a possibility that loneliness hasn’t actually worsened. Instead, it is possible that this is just a case of the world finally confronting their mental health conditions and emotional pain.
Loneliness hurts people of all ages, sexualities, genders, and nationalities. It is a global crisis that may be getting worse. However, combating loneliness isn’t easy, and current social and technological trends make it harder to connect with others.
Even so, combating loneliness is not impossible. There are still many ways to connect with others and create meaningful relationships. If you live with acute loneliness, try some of the tips below:
- Talk with a counselor about your loneliness
- Be mindful of any negative thoughts that may be preventing you from socializing
- Use technology mindfully to create meaningful connections
- Try new hobbies and skills to meet people with similar interests
- Cut out habits that may make you feel more lonely, such as social media usage
- Chat with people at work, school, or in your family that you don’t talk with often