Albert Einstein eloquently captures it “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Humans crave connections. As children, we thrive under the care of our parents and the support of our peers. In our communities and workplace, we become the best version of ourselves through meaningful relationships. Studies even show that strong social connections increase lifespan by 50%, strengthen our immune system and promote faster recovery from illnesses. Communities and families used to be tightly-knit. However, as societies become more developed and we begin to rely more on ourselves than in our communities, loneliness and isolation have become increasingly common.
The Silent Epidemic
Loneliness is a growing epidemic – a silent one at that. Individuals who are going through tough times tend to disregard how they are feeling and look for ways to distract themselves from their emotional state. This leaves more and more people feeling isolated and lacking of adequate social connections. We are in the most technologically connected era, yet cases of depression and loneliness have doubled since 1980. A survey conducted to 2000 Americans showed that 72% of the participants experience loneliness and one-third say they feel lonely at least once a week.
There is a good reason to be alarmed – loneliness has been found to contribute to a growing number of afflictions. Studies show that loneliness and isolation decrease human life span, similar to that of smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It is associated with obesity as loneliness triggers stress and increases cortisol levels in the body. High cortisol levels can cause the body to seek comfort from food which may result to weight gain. Loneliness also increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, dementia, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Realizing the physiological and psychological toll loneliness can impose on us, it is in our best interest to ensure that we are making enough authentic and meaningful connections.
Creating Connections Start Here
With social and dating apps like Facebook, Instagram, Meetup, and Tinder at our disposal, connections have become mere statistics – people have become just another virtual friend added to your growing list. Before the advent of social media and smartphones, people went out of their way to create and establish relationships. This is because authentic and meaningful connections require effort and take time to develop. We need to retrace our steps and go back to these long-forgotten avenues.
- Join a club or volunteer organization. Helping others is the best antidote to loneliness. The sense of purpose one gets from helping another soul will help uplift your spirit.
- Attend local events such as parades or art shows. Creative and artistic pursuits offer a great way of expressing oneself. If you are not the artistic type, appreciating artworks by local artists is another way to meet people.
- Spend more time outdoors. Visit the local bars or restaurant or walk your dog. You may bump into an old friend that you haven’t seen for a while.
- Introduce yourself to neighbors. Moving to a new community can be nerve-wracking. Help a neighbor adjust to their new community by reaching out to them.
- Try out new hobbies. Pursue hobbies that you find interesting and meet people whom you share the same interests.
- Stop relying on social media to communicate with people. Walk down the memory lane by arranging meetings or reunions with old friends.
- Talk to coworkers. Increase interaction with colleagues. Use email only to document what has been discussed in person.
- Spend less time on technology. Adults already spend at least 8 hours in front of a computer at work. Not to mention the time spent on television and smartphones. Spending more time with friends and loved ones can help curb injuries caused by prolonged exposure to technology such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and vision problems.
Make the Most Out of Your Connections
Creating connections is just the first step. The next step is to deepen these connections and sustain them. We have to keep in mind that healthy relationships enrich all parties involved – they should bring out the best in us. Here are some ways we can make the most out of our connections.
- Have open communication. Be open and share your thoughts and feelings to the other party.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Do not put up walls and allow people to appreciate the best and the not-so-good parts of you.
- Accept and reflect on the criticism that your friends give you. We should be gracious in accepting feedback from our friends. This means that they care enough to let us know if we are straying off the path.
- Always find time for your friend/significant other. Time is the best gift that we can give our loved ones. This strengthens our bond and helps us to get to know them better.
- Discover and take on new experiences with individuals you have relations with. New experiences and adventures shared with loved ones enrich our treasure chest of memories.
- Celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Achievements and successes are best shared with friends and loved ones and give us reasons to pop open that bottle of wine.
Loneliness and isolation are harming us more than we acknowledge and recognize. A lot of our society’s challenges stem from our preference for an “individualistic” approach to life. We have become so used to being on our own that we have allowed our connections and relationships to drift apart. Let us remind ourselves that we do not exist in a vacuum; we need the help of others to overcome life’s challenges. As Anna Draper said to Donald Draper in Season 2-Episode 12 of Mad Men – “The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone”.