Are we lonelier than ever?
You may have heard or read that Britain recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness. As published in The New York Times, "More than nine million in the country often or always feel lonely, according to a 2017 report published by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness." As per Forbes, "The current UK Minister for Sport and Civil Society Tracey Crouch will serve as the inaugural Minister of Loneliness. Crouch's office will now help spearhead a number of initiatives including developing an overall strategy on how to address loneliness in England and a dedicated fund to germinate innovative solutions and provide seed funding for communities to combat loneliness."
With so many ways to connect with people in these modern times, one would think loneliness would be lessened, but the more we "connect," the more we disconnect. Face-to-face communication has been replaced with text bubbles and social media "likes." Binge-watching television shows is the go-to night in as opposed to meeting up with pals at the pub. While we stay "in touch" with acquaintances from as far back as grade school, thanks to Facebook and the like, viewing photos of your childhood neighbor's wedding and their child's first birthday party doesn't come close to being there in person to experience the moments.
According to Independent, "Changes in modern society are considered to be the cause. We live in nuclear family units, often living large distances away from our extended family and friends, and our growing reliance on social technology rather than face-to-face interaction is thought to be making us feel more isolated. Our relationships are becoming more superficial and less rewarding."
Along with the isolation comes other consequences. Forbes notes, "Feeling isolated may increase your risk of sleep disturbances, substance abuse, depression, and suicide. Feeling lonely may increase your stress hormones and blood pressure and decrease your ability to cope with different obstacles and challenges. Moreover, maintaining a healthier lifestyle can be more challenging when you don't have social support." You can't go for a walk with your favorite Instagram follower if she lives 3,000 miles away.
While giving up technology, social media, etc. sounds like it could be a breath of fresh air for those of us who feel nearly addicted to our devices, the notion is not quite realistic or even necessary. Modern life and all its amazing inventions are part of what makes living now remarkable. But we can't let the perks become pitfalls leading us down a dark road all alone, no matter how many "friends" we have on our social networks. There are ways to combat loneliness while still enjoying technological advancements that will only get more and more intelligent and useful… and more entwined with daily life.
ABC Health & Wellbeing has advice from the UK mental health charity, MIND on how to fight loneliness and find a better life balance in this time of increased isolation.
- "If you are out of practice at meeting people take small steps. Make the most of all chances for social contact, whether it's speaking to the local shopkeeper or responding to a fellow bus passenger who strikes up a conversation.
- Join a class or find an interest group. Getting to know new people can be part of the learning process in a new class. Whether you enjoy country walks or going to the cinema there's bound to be an interest group in your area where you can meet like-minded people.
- It may be necessary to seek professional help. Small group counselling sessions or one-on-one sessions with a counsellor may be useful."
And unplugging for a while can give you time to reflect and reconnect the real way. Know you are not the only one who may feel alone and isolated. Be the one to make the first move towards the "old fashioned" way of keeping in touch – by phone, or better yet, face-to-face. Like Jen Lassen of Her Campus notes, "It's up to us how frequently we use (social media), and how much we let it dominate our lives. The world offers us so much more than a screen ever will. Ultimately, it's our decision whether or not we view the world through a screen, or with our very own two eyes."
A Minister of Loneliness is an eye-opener into the problem. Let's hope she won't have to serve for long.