Evidence in U.S. Census surveys have shown that the rates of loneliness among Americans have gradually increased since the 1970s. This epidemic has been a problem long before the Covid-19 pandemic, which, of course, only exacerbated the issue of social isolation and loneliness. Add in things like big tech, busier schedules, excessive social media use, increased video game usage and more — and the causes of loneliness have combined to make isolation and disconnection a real issue for many people around the U.S.
The effects of loneliness are both physical and mental. Individuals who report feeling lonely are more likely to experience things like dementia, heart disease and stroke. And it’s not just older adults and retirees reporting loneliness — recent studies show that around 60 percent of college students have felt lonely, even when living in group settings. Experts attribute this loneliness to connecting via technology, rather than establishing in-person connections.
So what can you do if you’re experiencing loneliness?
1. Know that it’s a common problem, and you’re not alone. Feeling lonely can be stigmatized, but understanding that 6 out of 10 people are feeling the same way can help destigmatize loneliness. Admitting that you’re feeling lonely is the first step in changing that feeling.
2. Connect to the people in your life. Really prioritizing establishing and maintaining the connections in your life can remove some, if not all, feelings of isolation. Making the time to spend with friends, family members and coworkers can help you feel socially connected and cared for.
3. Work to build new connections. Feelings of community are important, and while it can feel uncomfortable to step away from our phones and computers to meet new people, in person, can make a huge difference. Joining a group with shared interests, a new exercise class, or a team can help you build new connections.
4. Be kind to yourself. Feeling lonely sometimes is normal, but if you’re lonely all the time, it’s a sign you should take the necessary steps to help yourself. Connecting with others can be a process, and you can take your time in doing so. Be kind and patient with yourself, and know that you’re not alone.
The connection between loneliness and your health is complex, but recognizing when you’re feeling disconnected and taking the steps to help battle the loneliness can show you the light at the end of the tunnel.