Ever been in the middle of a crowd and felt lonely?
Or had numerous connections on social media but still felt lonely?
COVID exacerbated an already increasing problem among every age group.
The isolation and fear of getting sick forced all of us to face lonelier times. Dining out, going to the movies, partying and socializing stopped. It may be improving but the after effects are significant.
Add to that the divisiveness differing political, medical and economical views have caused, making many fear that sharing on any level could incite an already incendiary climate.
No one is immune.
A 2021 online survey found 36% of all Americans feel “serious loneliness.” That included 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children. It found 63% of young adults have medical symptoms as a result e.g. anxiety, depression, GI issues, chest pain, shortness of breath, and more.
I can attest to this shocking statistic. Where I used to see teens and twenty year olds just for physicals I now see a significant number for additional concerns. It’s heartbreaking. When they should be excited about their futures all they see is turmoil and hardship ahead.
Another report showed 30% of adults 45 and older and 25% of those 65 and older considered themselves socially isolated.
Feeling socially isolated has hit epidemic proportions and has been shown to increase the risk of sudden death and developing a neurocognitive disorder and other serious medical conditions by 50%. In particular it increases the risk of heart disease by 29% and stroke by 32%.
Where we once had opportunities to socialize at school, work, religious gatherings, sports events, after hour activities, travel, they all ceased to exist overnight. Even now we are still struggling to return safely.
Human beings are social beings, meant to live in groups. Depending on each other for survival and comfort.
With the advent of social media dozens, even hundreds of “friends” on the internet and access to everyone’s lives on a minute to minute basis has given the impression we are connected when we aren’t. Having a mechanism to “interact” sounds great. And that dopamine surge we get every time we’re liked or followed doesn’t hurt. But it’s not real. And it sets up unrealistic expectations to look perfect and draw in the most likes and followers. None of whom are actual friends, there for us in real life.
No one actually uses the phone to talk and even voicemail has become obsolete. If it can’t be expressed in a quick text or with cute emojis its not worth saying. As a result that sense we have someone there when needed is no more than an illusion. One that comes crashing down when we need to talk and share.
Loneliness is an overwhelming force impacting every aspect of our emotional and physical well being. Feeling alone and scared can lead to GI distress, cardiac issues, chronic pain, obesity, cognitive concerns, anxiety, and depression.
We all require a support system to flourish. Yet we all assume from what someone drives, how they dress and look, where they live, their job, the size of their family, how much money they make, how many friends they seem to have, or what they write how happy they must be. We all like to put on a good front. Acting as though we’re fine when we are not, it’s easy to diminish or minimize the struggles brewing under the surface.
FINE has become our go to word when we really don’t want to share or burden others.
Often standing for:
Frustrated, insecure, neurotic, emotional.
It’s a safe, automatic response that usually cuts off more inquiry. It’s a polite reply we use to avoid answering truthfully.
How awkward would it be if you asked innocently, “How are you?” Expecting a quick, “I’m fine.”
When instead you got a torrent of, “My wife died last month, my kids and I don’t get along, I have terrible back pain…. ”
Granted, with casual acquaintances and strangers that wouldn’t be a reasonable response, but you did ask the question.
We all need to feel connected and supported. With deeper resources then just social media.
We can start by,
Being nice to others.
Giving our time.
Actually wanting an answer to the question, “How are you?”
The worse we feel, the harder it becomes to open up and share. Believing someone really wants to hear the answer can get things started.
Know someone who’s lonely?
Talk on the phone. Get them out of their home. Take a walk. Encourage them to share.
Take a leap of faith and tell a friend, family member, or clergy member how you feel.
Adopt a pet who needs you too.
Donate your time.
Join a group that champions the same things you do.
Take loneliness seriously. When it’s harming your health, your life, please contact your provider.
You are not alone.