By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
Arguably, the world is more connected than ever before. Friends and families who live on opposite sides of the world can communicate instantly with technology and social media. Yet so many of us feel increasingly lonely. Millennial depression and loneliness are on the rise, but why?
Millennials are the generation born between 1981 and 1996. They use technology to stay in close communication, they flock to co-working spaces, and they want to make a difference. But, loneliness is a real struggle many millennials face.
In a survey by YouGov, millennials were the loneliest generation based on a poll of 1,254 U.S adults. Thirty percent of millennials said they often or always felt lonely, compared to twenty percent of Generation X and fifteen percent of boomers.
That’s not to say loneliness only affects the millennial generation. According to a study of 20,000 Americans, loneliness has already reached epidemic proportions. It affects up to fifty percent of the American population. These figures are double the number affected just a few decades ago.
Despite appearing more connected to people and having the ability to communicate, a vast majority of us are feeling lonely. Loneliness doesn’t discriminate. Unfortunately, it can impact anyone at any age.
Loneliness is universal, but it feels unique for each individual. There’s not a single root cause of loneliness. Because of this, the prevention and treatment of loneliness can vary massively.
Trust me when I say you’re not alone in how you feel. Almost everyone feels loneliness at some point. Loneliness isn’t dependent on having lots of friends. It’s about the quality of those relationships and how connected you feel to the people around you.
Researchers define loneliness as feeling lonely more than once a week. While it’s common to label loneliness as solitude or being alone, it’s more of a state of mind. So, what causes loneliness exactly?
Loneliness can occur for several reasons. You might feel lonely if you:
In a survey from The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), more than twenty-two percent of adults say they always, or at least often, feel lonely, left out, and have a lack of companionship.
Studies suggest that social media plays a role in how lonely we feel. You might be wondering how you can feel disconnected when you have social media and technology. Although things like Facebook and Instagram can help us connect with friends, social media has its downside. Social media is associated with higher levels of anxiety and low-self esteem. If you’re spending hours scrolling through social sites as a substitute for real connections, feelings of loneliness will likely increase.
Loneliness is becoming a serious public health risk. The feelings associated with isolation often make it hard to get yourself out there and make new connections.
Feeling isolated and unable to connect with people around you can be damaging to your health. Being lonely doesn’t just affect your emotions or make you feel down. Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by twenty-nine percent.
Experts believe that loneliness rivals obesity and smoking as a health risk. Loneliness has a wide range of physical and mental health risks, including:
There are numerous reasons why loneliness is so harmful. Loneliness and isolation are associated with an increased risk of chronic illness.
You might also feel the effects of stress more. Financial problems, everyday obstacles, or health issues may take a more significant toll if you lack emotional and social support.
Loneliness can impact every area of your life. A lack of social connections and support is damaging our health. Friendships and social networks not only make us feel happy but have a ton of health benefits.
In a world where you can have hundreds, if not thousands of social media connections, it’s not about the number of relationships you have. It’s all about the quality of the connection.
Loneliness has the power to ravage our immune system and affect our health. So, how do you stop being lonely?
The first step is to recognize when you feel lonely and isolated. Name the feeling and identify it, so you can do something to change it. When you put yourself out there and find the courage to admit how you’re feeling, you take back that little bit of control.
You may be in a position where you’re not socially isolated, but you feel lonely. Feeling lonely in the company of others can feel particularly cruel. Feeling lonely is not usually directly caused by being alone.
If you’re not sure what to do when you’re lonely, here are some tried and tested ideas:
One change you can make to help open yourself up to new relationships, improve psychological health, and reduce feelings of loneliness is by being more grateful. Whether you write a few thoughts down in a journal or take a silent minute to reflect, feeling gratitude can transform your life.
Feeling lonely or not having many friends is nothing to be embarrassed about. It happens to most people at some point in their lives. Distractions like work or a serious relationship can take your focus, and a few years down the line, you realize you don’t have anyone to hang out with.
In a moment of loneliness, it’s easy to blame ourselves. But it’s so important to practice self-love and kindness. Give yourself a break and stop the hurtful self-talk.
Being more sociable and making new friends is a skill. It’s not something you’re born with. So give yourself some time and don’t be too hard on yourself.
One of the best ways to find new friends as an adult is to find groups of people that regularly meet up. You’re looking for people that have similar interests to you and shared commonalities. Try out your local tennis or badminton group for a great partner workout.
Step away from social media and connect more in real life, face-to-face. Engaging in trivial conversations with strangers is a great way to start interacting with more people. Reach out to other human beings and say hello and ask them how their day is going.
It’s ironic that in a world of video calling and instant messaging, we’re feeling more lonely and disconnected than ever. Most of us feel disconnected at one point or another. No matter how alone you feel, you can still change your state of mind. By recognizing and admitting how you feel, you can take back control of your life and be the best version of yourself.