Our society is one with a lot of opportunities for connection. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to chat with friends and family, or even total strangers, with just the click of a few buttons. Websites like Meetup.com are also designed to help people get connected and engage with each other through activities. But even with all of this technology at our fingertips, people are suffering from loneliness more than ever before.
What The Research Tells Us
A growing number of researchers have been studying the devastating effects loneliness and social anxiety can have – and a lot of them agree it’s actually a major health epidemic.
A nationwide survey released in May of 2018 used online responses from 20,000 people across the United States, aged 18 and older, to assess loneliness and social connectedness. Here are some of the main points of the study:
- Overall, 54% of people said they “always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well.”
- According to survey results, the average American loneliness score was 44. This suggests “most Americans are considered lonely.”
- Generation Z had an average score of 48.3, while Millenials had a score of 45.3.
- The Baby Boomers and Greatest Generation scored 42.4 and 38.6 respectively. A higher score suggests a larger level of loneliness and social isolation.
- Only about half (53%) of respondents said they have meaningful in-person social interactions, and 43% felt like they were isolated from others.
- Just 18% of people felt like they had people they could talk to.
Feelings of loneliness are not confined just to the United States. In fact, research from the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom discovered that 10% of people from 16-24 years of age were “always or often lonely.” This number was three times the rate for those aged 65+.
What Is Driving Modern Loneliness?
You might be wondering why these numbers are so high, especially since humans across the world have an array of methods to stay in touch with each other and interact.
The reasons are complicated, but John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago says diminished bonds between people could be to blame.
Cacioppo, Director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, explained how people today do not have the same sort of generational connections as seen in the past.
He states that people who use social networking sites as a conduit to create real-world interactions usually alleviate feelings of loneliness through social media use, but people who use online websites as a replacement usually end up feeling lonelier.
According to Cacioppo, these feelings of loneliness have a profound effect on people and can lead to longer-term depression and a greater propensity for mental and affective disorders.
Loneliness can also be fueled by feelings of social anxiety, where people feel inadequate from criticism, perceived failures, or upcoming events and activities. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says disorders related to anxiety are now “the most common mental illness in the U.S.,” now estimated to affect 18.1% of the American population each year.
Strategies to Overcome Loneliness & Social Anxiety
- Make A Plan: You might feel like not doing much of anything if you are lonely or anxious about an upcoming event or activity. But don’t let yourself wallow without a plan. One of the best ways to start feeling better is to make plans to interact with other people. Set up a time to visit or call a friend. Go online to research social events. Call a local charity and offer to volunteer for a few hours a week. Having a clear plan to interact with others face-to-face is a great way to meet new people and get you comfortable with social interactions.
- Bond With Pets: While it is great if you are able to make plans with other people, interacting with animals like dogs and cats can also be an effective way to work through feelings of social anxiety or loneliness. Pets are naturally social creatures and are usually happy to spend time with any human and receive attention. If you are not able to have a pet, finding a shelter to volunteer or even offering to walk a neighbor’s dog are good ways to ease loneliness. Strolling around town with a dog is also a fantastic way to meet other animal lovers.
- Don’t Forget Sleep: Proper sleep has a profound impact on every aspect of your life. Sleep affects your growth, hormones, immune system, appetite, and breathing. It also affects your mental health. People who do not sleep enough or who sleep poorly often feel lonely as a lack of sleep affects your mood and energy. Practicing good sleep habits can drastically reduce feelings of loneliness and social anxiety, and give you more energy to get out and seize the day.
- Respond to Self-Defeating Thoughts: Social anxiety is amplified by feelings of inadequacy, shame, or embarrassment, often in response to some sort of social situation. But a lot of your feelings are just stories created in your head. Don’t let your thoughts rule your mind. Whenever you feel anxious or overly self-focused, stop to reflect on your worries. Are you holding yourself to an unrealistic standard? Are you focusing on the worst-case scenario? If needed, take the time to correct your thinking. Reassure yourself of your successes and dispute any false thinking with examples of the opposite. This creates a positive feedback loop in your head that can help prevent mental self-sabotage. Slow breathing exercises can also be useful. Respond to feelings of anxiety or loneliness with slow, deep breathing to help you focus your mind.
Social anxiety and loneliness might be a big problem in your life. But they are problems that can be solved. Try the above strategies if feelings of loneliness or social anxiety are keeping you from living the life you want and deserve.
Schedule an Appointment
If you are still suffering from loneliness and social anxiety, we are here to help. Stepwell Mental Health and Wellness has specialized psychologists and psychiatric prescribers who are able to provide you with therapy and if needed, an appropriate medication evaluation.
Still have questions? We can discuss your specific situation and determine if therapy might benefit you. Schedule a free 15-minute consultation or your first appointment through our secure Client Portal or contact us.