Maybe it’s because it’s been raining for the last four days here in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s because there are Gilmore Girls reruns playing in the background while I work. That show is heavy on dialogue and, even though it’s only from the late 90s-early 2000’s, there isn’t much social media usage in the script. As a result, it’s a reminder how much things have changed in a short time.
Whatever the reason it’s on my mind, the data on the loneliness epidemic sweeping developed countries has caught my attention. It’s having a real, measurable negative effect on the quality of lives as time goes by. Scientific research has determined that loneliness is at epidemic proportions, it’s leading to an increase in mental illness and premature death. This is a real thing and it’s actually getting serious.
I have found research as far back as 30 years, but the numbers have escalated in the last decade. Attention to the decline of meaningful relationships garnered a lot of attention from a 2017 Harvard Business Review article featuring our former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy cited over 200 studies conducted throughout the world and comprising more than 3 million subjects. Dr. Murthy identified that the most common threat to public health was not cancer, diabetes, obesity or heart disease; the most common threat to public health today is loneliness. This epidemic is not isolated to any one age group or sex, it’s hitting every demographic.
In his startling Harvard Business Review cover story Dr. Murthy states, “..are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking fifteen cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. Loneliness is also associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.”
Here are some of the most recent statistics:
- Feelings of isolation have been linked to greater risks of dementia, diabetes, depression and even premature death.
- More than half of Americans experience loneliness.
- Men are prone to feelings of isolation, despair and loneliness.
- Loneliness affects your sleep which affects your ability to function efficiently throughout the day. Because humans are not meant to live alone, feeling alone keeps your brain on high alert, as in on alert for predators. Loneliness activates our primal physical and physocological stress responses, this keeps you from going into the low-wave deep sleep necessary for rest and rejuvenation.
- According to a Brigham Young University study, social isolation can increase a person’s chance of premature death by as much as 14%. That’s more than heart disease.
- Loneliness doesn’t depend on how many friends and relationships you have, it’s the quality and meaningfulness of those relationships.
What can you do about loneliness?
- Stop blaming yourself. You may think you’re lonely because you’re single, but even 40% of married people even experience loneliness. Cultivate meaningful relationships through shared interests, outings and experiences. Watching Netflix doesn’t count.
- Disconnect from social media. Limit your time on social networks. Perhaps they should be called non-social networks because most of what is posted is the highlight reel, or worse yet, filtered, edited, unrealistic version of carefully selected events in someone’s life. Spending a ton of time on social media can contribute to feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and loneliness based on unrealistic representations by your online ‘friends’. Try limiting your time looking at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc to an hour a day.
- Clean your house and your car. Your personal space is a reflection of your thoughts and feelings about yourself and your life. A messy house will not only keep you from inviting someone over, it also triggers feelings of disappointment in yourself and low self esteem. Low self esteem and shame will prevent you from being open to personal interactions.
- Find your tribe. Think about the things that make you happy or areas where you would love to make a difference and find a community (organization) around that cause. Think about a church, synagogue or other spiritual organization. It may be an animal rescue or homeless shelter. Whatever speaks to your heart. Not sure where to start? Check out VolunteerMatch.org
- It’s not all about the money. Even if you’re employed, consider a side gig. The business model is often misunderstood however joining a network marketing company is a fantastic way to meet like minded people! These businesses are team focused, have fun events that are often focused on personal development and you can even make some money. Find one that has a product or service that you already use and it puts you in a position to save money, make money, learn new things and make new friends.
- Want to step out of your comfort zone in a low key way? Check out a book club. Joining a book club, even if you’re not usually a reader, is a safe and comfortable way to interact with people. They are usually small groups and the topic is preset, it’s the book!
Like so many things in life, the solutions are simple but not easy. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of isolation or disconnect, it becomes a matter of creating new behavior patterns to replace your current habits. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is rarely easy, this won’t be any different. Take things one step at a time, perhaps start by cleaning and decluttering your home an vehicle, and then moving on to the next step. Stay focused on the outcome like your life depends on it. Any temporary discomfort will be worth it as you find more feelings of happiness, contentment and satisfaction in your life.
As always, if there is any way that I can assist you or provide additional information, please contact me!