There’s a Loneliness Epidemic in America, Here’s What You Can Do About It

Loneliness Epidemic

Did you know that loneliness can be as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day? Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, has recently issued an 85-page advisory that details why loneliness is now a serious health risk in the United States.

“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Murthy said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right. That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”

Loneliness is affecting over half the U.S. population with loneliness being greater among young adults. This epidemic is just as bad as smoking and obesity since it can lead to serious health problems.

“When you struggle with loneliness when you’re socially disconnected, it increases your risk of depression and anxiety and suicide but it also increases your risk of physical illness as well,” Murthy told NBC News.

Some of those physical illnesses include stroke, heart disease, and dementia.

There are many different factors that are contributing to the loneliness epidemic. Covid did make it worse since it isolated people for years and made us afraid to get close to each other but even before Covid happened, loneliness was still on the rise due to people having a harder time finding a sense of community and being able to trust others.

Humans are naturally social beings because we had to be for our survival. Ancient humans needed to live in groups to protect each other. Now that more people live alone and don’t need to leave their houses to eat or work, it’s a lot harder to find people to connect to.

You can have 20 friends and still feel lonely if you don’t have friends that you can feel vulnerable with. Quality is better than quantity when it comes to having friends. It’s better to have 1-2 close friends that you trust and can talk to about your thoughts and feelings than 100 friends that you can only have superficial conversations with.

Young people are at more risk of suffering from loneliness because they’re dealing with a lot of rapid changes both in their social life, school life and their own bodies.

An article by Psychology Today discusses the reasons why loneliness is so prevalent among teens, “Teens and young adults may be more vulnerable because of typical developmental—they are in the process of forming a sense of identity and seeking who they are and where they belong in the world. This is usually a stressful and confusing period in life, often filled with drama and loss or changes in relationships.”

The article also goes on to say, “Young people also haven’t developed the coping skills of adults to deal with challenging situations, like tolerating the feelings of isolation. Their brains haven’t developed fully enough to dampen the power of their emotions—they can’t yet use their higher, rational abilities to regulate their feelings, reactions, and impulses. These processes may make FOMO more intense.”

Social media and technology are also making people feel lonelier because its making people spend more time on devices and less time with other fellow humans.

Thankfully, there are things that you and your family can do to feel more connected to others.

1) Have More Quality Time with Friends and Family

If you have a household where everyone is on different schedules, or just doing their own thing, it’s easy to end up feeling disconnected and lonely even with a house full of people.

Talk to your family and come up with a time, at least once a week, when you can do something together. It can be a family game night, outing, meal, or movie night. You can also invite extended family and family friends as well.

It’s also important that you make time for yourself where you can hang out with a friend and do something fun without needing to worry about work, kids, or running errands. Schedule some more “me time” with friends so that you can relax, catch up, and bond with others outside of your family.

Have Designated Screen-free Time

Everyone’s addicted to their screen right now. The major issue with that is we’re not present and enjoying the moment when we’re looking at a screen. We miss out on some great moments because we’re too busy scrolling through Instagram instead of looking at the person in front of us.

Choose a place and time where you and your family put your phones away and have a conversation or just hang out. Your teenagers might roll their eyes at this concept, but it’s important for them to learn how to communicate with their mouths and read body language. It’s also good for everyone’s mental health to have some time away from the screen and enjoy the present moment.

Volunteer & Help Others

Every time I’ve volunteered at an animal shelter, beach cleanup or orphanage, I always feel happy afterward. I also always meet some really cool people while volunteering, which gives me a sense of community.

Volunteering and helping others is a great way to connect to people and feel good. According to the same article by Psychology Today, “The process not only helps extract you from physical isolation, but the gratitude of connecting with others is a relief. We also know that the process of giving releases oxytocin in the brain, which is instrumental in feeling attached.”

Join Classes or Group Activities

Hobbies are not just fun, they’re good for your mental health and a great way to meet new people. Sign up for some classes based on your interests or join some group activities like outdoor adventure groups or language exchange meetups. Encourage your kids and the rest of your family to do the same.

Whatever your interests are, you can find group classes and activities so that you can enjoy your interests with other likeminded people. This is a good time to try something new. Maybe you want to try hip-hop dancing or painting, you might find a new passion or talent you never knew you had.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about self-awareness, being in the present moment, and being aware of yourself and your surroundings. Mediation is amazing and can help you better understand yourself, feel calm, and also see things that are bothering you that you might be overlooking due to being busy or distracted.

Mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga, and nature walks will help you find out why you’re feeling lonely and can lessen that loneliness because you will feel more relaxed and be able to see the positives in your life.

By modeling healthy connections, spending quality time with your family, and talking to your kids to make sure that they are having meaningful social connections and are doing ok, you can help combat this loneliness epidemic.

Tracy Lowe

Tracy is a writer and filmmaker from Los Angeles, but Thailand has been her primary home for over a decade. She has more than 13 years of experience teaching young children and is a major proponent of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning.

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