Let's Talk About Loneliness
Fact: There has been a recent spike in population loneliness that came along with Millennials and Gen Z.
This can be linked to a lot of depression, anxiety, addictions, low self-esteem and so much more. With so much emphasis in today's world on independence, there is often an underlying tone that commits to the idea "I have to do everything on my own" or "I feel like no one even sees me".
Loneliness is different than isolation and solitude, which equate to the simple fact of being alone. Instead, loneliness holds its weight through the imbalance of connections needed versus the connections available to us at a given time. This is why we can often find ourselves feeling lonely one day and then totally filled another.
That said, how many people are physically around you or are a part of your life has little to do with how lonely you may feel. The actual quality of our connections tends to far outweigh the quantity. For example, have you ever been in a public place or a crowded room and still felt a sense of loneliness?
Despite the number of people you may have around you, what seems to be most important is the secure connection to even just one of those people. With this, we're given the ability to feel as though we can let our guard down, be ourselves.
So how does social media play a role in this?
While social media has helped connect us at lengths humans once only dreamt, it can also distract us from our daily lives and the connections we have within our families, co-workers, classmates, and friends. With proper balance, this wouldn't be an issue, but when social media begins to pull us further away from the life we physically know, it can leave us with not understanding where we belong or who we connect to.
The issue is, many are using technology to replace the quality in-human connection that we need. Think of things like body language, eye contact, physical touch, mimicked behaviors, little things we may not notice in moments of connection and interaction. Still, our bodies sense when we've gone too long without.
Deep conversations and opportunities to truly connect have fallen behind the convenience of a quick text message, a tag in a good meme, or (guilty as charged) communication via emoji.
Not to mention the constant bombardment of all the messaging stating you need to buy this, be that, look like this or conquer the world one filter at a time. These unrealistic standards can lead to believing you're not enough and generate low self-esteem. Lacking such confidence can make it more challenging to seek out and build secure connections with others.
Question for you...
What are your top 3 priorities in life?
Take a moment to secure them before moving on.
For most of us, family, friends, personal evolution, passions, work, etc. tend to top the list.
Now, what are your actual lived priorities? It may be hard to be honest with ourselves. We may find we spend more time scrolling, chasing wealth, worrying about our reputation, or dreaming of power rather than building strong connections with the life going on around us. Do your day-to-day actions line up with your chosen priorities?
There's a truth that many of us end up learning the hard way. In the pursuit of such "success," we often find ourselves feeling lonely and unfulfilled. Such feelings can then generate a vicious cycle of believing we "need more," so we work more, do more, chase more, and completely miss the giant elephant in the room.
The only "more" that is needed is that of human connection.
And that isn't just individually, but globally as well.
There are 3 types of loneliness.
1. emotional/intimate loneliness (a deep bond you share with either a loved one, a best friend, your home family or soul mate)
2. social/supportive loneliness (the enjoyable connections with friends, some co-workers, clubs or teams, people who support you and vice versa)
3. community/belonging loneliness (where you come from, your family roots, communities or clubs, people who have similar life experiences)
This may make you feel better if you identified with any of the above...
Almost everyone in their lives will experience loneliness. It doesn't mean there is something wrong with you or that it's a permanent diagnosis that you're stuck with forever. You may go through phases of life alternating between the different types of loneliness, or you may find yourself in a harder chapter that combines more than one of the examples above. This is normal, and the emotion itself is only a signal from your inner self that something is missing.
So what can you do about it?
Here are just a few ideas that can start helping almost instantly...
- set aside some time to deepen the bonds you have in your life currently
- get rid of distractions when interacting with other people
- open up and be more vulnerable (this can help with emotions loneliness)
- try being of service to the people in your life (this can help with support/social loneliness)
- get involved in a hobby, a cause of one of your interest (this can help with community/belongingness)
- take action and make plans (cement them in your calendar even if they are only video chats for the time being)
Here's the thing, while your loneliness is yours to nurture and might leave you feeling like you're the only one in the world feeling so low and alone, given the graph above it's likely that people you know are feeling this way, only they may not be expressing it. It's an unfortunate truth that we feel shame to admit when coping with these harder feelings in life, but just as the classic cliché goes, the truth will set you free.
Don't be afraid of loneliness, for it's only a reflection of what might be missing from your life. Reach out to others and let them know you're thinking of them. Make plans to catch up. Try putting people first. Perhaps even share your struggles. You may just find you're not the only one feeling lonely after all.
▹ Photo & Thumbnail shot by the ever-so-talented Amanda Kuo