We are getting lonelier as a society.
As the world is getting more and more connected in today's day and age, people are becoming increasingly isolated. According to studies conducted in the US, there is an increasing trend of people feeling disconnected from those around them. This, mysteriously, holds true especially for the millennial generation.
So why is it that millennials are feeling socially isolated and lonely? There seem to be two possible explanations for this.
First, incredibly, loneliness is contagious. Studies have found that participants are 52% more likely to be lonely if someone they’re directly connected to (such as a friend, neighbour, coworker, or family member) is lonely. People who aren’t lonely tend to then become lonelier if they’re around people who are. Lonely people are less capable of picking up on positive social stimuli — in many cases before they’re actually socially isolated. Their withdrawal may, in turn, make their close connections feel lonely too.The gist of it is, that we as millennials are spreading loneliness much like the common cold, without even realising it.
The second reason for millennial loneliness is the Internet. Ironically, we use the Internet to alleviate our loneliness. Social connection no longer requires a car, phone call or plan – it's all just a click away. And it seems to work, though only in that moment. People feel less social anxiety when they are online than in the real world. The problem with this is that our real life connections with those around us suffer. Much like a drug, we also tend to feel depressed once we return to reality after the high of our social media fix.
So what's the problem with loneliness? It is much more dangerous then being bad for your mental health. Individuals who feel lonely also have significantly higher risk of stress and related disorders. They are also more prone to falling sick. Lonely women literally feel hungrier and tend to develop unhealthy eating habits. Finally, feeling lonely increases the risk of dying sooner by 26% and doubles our risk of dying from heart disease.
How do we prevent loneliness?
The solution to this lies in reassessing our priorities. While it is important to focus on your life and your career, we also need to invest in our relationships and friendships, especially in connection with the people in our life. What this means is, simply, that we need to invest some time and effort to remain connected with our friends and family. While it is tempting to skip meeting someone for a coffee or a drink to catch up, when we are tired, prioritising our friendships can be the key to living a happier and less isolated life.
So, the next time you feel like touching base on WhatsApp, try picking up the phone and fixing up a plan to meet with those close to you, instead. You will be surprised how these small and seemingly innocuous changes can make all the difference to our lives and to everyone around us as well.