“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”
~ Robin Williams (From the film: World’s Greatest Dad)
Did you know that there are risk factors for feeling lonely? Or that there are 4 different types of loneliness? Have you ever heard of misconnection loneliness? And did you know that loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day?
If you’ve ever felt lonely, or if you’re feeling lonely now, you’re not alone, and I’m glad you’re here because regardless if you have as many friends as William Scott (he holds the record for the most Facebook Friends) or if your only friend is a cat named Howard, this podcast is a MUST listen.
In this 3-part series we’re going to cover loneliness, urbanization, social media, the CANCELED phenomena, I’ll smatter in some brian-busting statistics, and as always you’re going to walk away with exclusive SOLUTIONS from ACT METHOD to combat loneliness, even amidst a world-wide pandemic.
Research articles and poles out of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Japan have all come to a similar, and quite worrisome conclusion: Loneliness is at an all time high, and it’s getting worse.
There is a loneliness epidemic, and if you’re in the millennial generation, you’re in the loneliest generation on the planet.
And…. globe wide loneliness levels are getting worse.
An article published in the New York Times in 2016 stated that since the 1980s, the “the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent” (Khullar D, 2016).
According to a 2018 national survey by Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone (Cigna, 2020). And an additional study conducted by the Japanese government found that the number of people who are withdrawn from social contact has doubled in the past decade. (Hutt, R, 2019).
Of those surveyed, we have identified the loneliest generation in the world.
A survey of 55,000 people from around the world, conducted by the BBC in 2018, found that loneliness is the highest among 16-24 year olds. (Hutt, R, 2019). In a study published by YouGov, 30% of millennials said they always or often feel lonely, only 20% of Generation X, and 15% of baby boomers report feeling lonely. (Ballard, J, 2019). Known as the “social media generation,” the millennials are by and large the loneliest generation on the planet. (Ballard, J, 2019).
25% of millennials report that they have no acquaintances, and a staggering 22% of millenials say that they have no friends (Ballard, J, 2019).
So…the burning question is this: Why are we so lonely?
In trying to determine why loneliness is skyrocketing, three key theories have emerged:
Changes in our community infrastructure, urban planning, and cultural evolution:
Communities are Less Connected and More Isolated:
There are many interesting proposals on why we are all so lonely and one of the foremost proposals is that cultural values have shifted from the traditional family focus, to an economic mindset. Over the past decade we have seen rapid decline in marriage rates and family sizes– the number of children per household has reduced over the last decade and less than half of the population is married.
Explanations for this change point to what is referred to as “the affordability crisis.”
According to a 2019 article published by Hilary Hoffower in BUSINESS INSIDER, “The affordability crisis millennials are dealing with is impacting their mental health in a time when they lack social support” (Hoffower, H., 2019) Upon viewing the economy from a cost-of-living paradigm, we find that that 1/3rd of American households are classified as “financially fragile,” (Lowrey, A, 2020).
This results in people working more hours at more jobs in order to stay afloat. Leaving very little time for getting married, having babies, going to church, sitting on the front porch drinking lemonade, and volunteering at their local bake sale– while the last of these sounds like I am speaking in jest, according to the University of Maryland’s Do-Good Institute, volunteer rates have declined, and fewer people attend religious and other types of spiritual institutes (Novotney, A., 2019).
So let’s talk about urban planning.
Urban planning plays a role in promoting or combating loneliness (Shafique, T, 2018). In addition to growing cities, increased cost of living, housing shortages, and stagnated wages; life is busier, more frantic, and more isolated.
The juxtaposition between the relaxed community-centric world I grew up in, and the big-city paradigm was particularly apparent to me when I moved from the Midwest to Arizona for Medical school.
Picture Iowa in the 80s and 90’s. Children ran around outside until the streetlights came on indicating it was time to go home. Everyone knew everyone else’s business and if a community member was ailing, you can bet that a neighbor would be over in a jiffy with a pan of goulash or bowl of chicken noodle soup. May-Day was celebrated by leaving little treats on doorsteps, front doors were rarely locked, and adults sat on their porch swings and watched the changing of the seasons.
2 decades later, when driving through Arizona, I found myself surrounded by neighborhoods built with concrete and stucco, with each individual house surrounded by six-foot concrete and stucco walls. People pop in their bluetooth earbuds, get in their cars, text while driving, go to drive throughs or to work, and then back into their cars and home to the well-protected forts to turn on the television and do it all again the next day.
Part of this is simply due to the change of culture, and part of it is due to a dramatically different urban plan. Specific attributes of urban planning deterring people from interacting socially includes:
Social media and the internet and their impact on culture, society, and the nature of relationships.
31% of Americans say that they find it difficult to make friends. Do you relate to this?
I am a 30 something, childfree-by-choice, married woman, and when my husband and I moved to Michigan, I was looked at by many women my age as some sort of zoo creature.
And let me tell you, meeting people was no walk in the park.
If women weren’t busy with their own families and young children, they were already well established in friendships that extend back decades.
They simply didn’t have room or the bandwidth for more girlfriends.
I’ve heard similar stories from my clients, and friends in other cities. As we get older, making friends becomes more difficult. And so this is where social media can be beautiful and wonderful. After medical school, my classmates left the Arizona desert and spread out across the country– and some even to other countries. And thanks to the world-wide-web I’m able to see updates on their ups, their downs, and see their lives through their camera screens.
But as we all know, the internet has a dark side.
In her groundbreaking experimental study of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, Melissa Hunt, Psychologist and her team discovered that the more time spent on these social media platforms, the more depressed users are (Hunt, M.G. et al 2018).
In addition to this, studies have found that the more friends a person has on social media, the more lonely, depressed, and anxious they will be (Amatenstein, S, 2020).
Additionally, many people’s entire social lives are online and the fewer in-person friends and the more online-only friends a person has, the lonelier they will feel (Manchester, 2018), and offline social contacts has been shown to effectively reduce the intensity of loneliness (Yao, MZ, Zhong, Z. 2013).
A differentiating factor of the Millennial generation is that they grew up with social media at their fingertips.
Online relationships present an entirely unique social construct for the human psyche, particularly the developing brain of an adolescent. Before the internet was developed in the 1980’s, social interaction was more face-to-face. Which has an entirely different feel.
I was at an all inclusive resort and my husband and I were out to dinner. Looking around the restaurant, I sipped my wine and observed the patrons around me. Of particular interest was a young couple who I later learned were on their honeymoon. What stuck out to me, however, was that they were not speaking to each other, but rather, their heads were angled downwards and their thumbs were scrolling through their phones.
When did we un-learn how to have dinner, unencumbered by the constant stream of curated stimulation going into our brains from a plastic device?
Suddenly, we are no longer dependent on the direct feedback of our companions. In fact, if someone is annoying us, we simply swipe left, click “unfollow,” or block that person. Out of sight, out of mind. No need to stretch out of my comfort zone and look into this person’s eyes and struggle to understand their side of the story.
Instead, with a satisfying flurry of taps and swipes, POOF! They’re gone. CANCELED.
In-person conflict resolution skills have plummeted in the social media generations.
I heard a ghaling story recently, and I want to share that with you after this quick break.
We all need relationships and sometimes finding the right people is the hardest part. I get that, and I want you to know you’re not alone. I’ve gone through seasons in my life where I felt really isolated, and creating an intentional community was a life-saver.
While IN PERSON relationships boost oxytocin, reduce cortisol, and increase your life expectancy. But, an INTENTIONAL community, even online, can be profoundly helpful. Especially during difficult times when we simply CAN NOT go out and be social in person.
Did you know we have a FREE and PRIVATE community group? I created it with the heart of giving us all a place where we can be authentic, meet amazing warriors from around the world, and have a place to share life and support others.
One of the things that sets this group apart is that as a member, you will have complimentary access to dedicated content founded in my training as a clinical counselor and naturopathic doctor.
Here’s the link to find the group, Anxiety Freedom 1 Week Challenge. The Anxiety Freedom 1 Week Challenge is a welcome gift I created which has 14 tips for anxiety freedom, including daily videos and a beautiful booklet.
I can’t wait to meet you and learn how I can support you better.
I heard a ghaling story recently, about a teenage boy who broke up with his girlfriend over text. Broken hearted, and with a penchant for revenge, she took a screenshot of his message to her, and with her own flavor of flair, she posted her side of the transaction all over social media alongside the screen shots. What resulted was an unmitigated uproar and he got “CANCELED.”
The CANCEL CULTURE is a recent phenomena that stems from the idea that a person can be simply canceled, or blocked, boycotted, and deleted.
This idea has been cited as a strategy to silence the exchange of ideas, thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and even our first amendment right– freedom of speech.
So… we have a generation of socially isolated adolescent brains, forming social-media-mobs and straight-up canceling people whose perspectives are deemed offensive.
This adds a layer to the dynamic of the difficult social-structure we have found ourselves in.
We have a generation of extremely lonely young adults who are seeing the curated highlight-reel from their thousands of online “friends,” and who must carefully curate their opinions, posts, and responses so as not to have their words filtered, disseminated, and shared across the globe.
When I was in high school, a kid in my class bullied me pretty severely. One particularly upsetting tactic was that he created a profile on a certain website, using my name, my image, and he wrote awful content on my behalf so that any person who found and read my profile would believe that I had created that content and had said those horrible things.
Thankfully, this was in the late 90’s, and when I contacted the site, it was removed quickly. But how would that go down now?
Once something is on the internet, it is captured, and in an instant, in the hands of thousands.
The effects of being CANCELED are devastating and the implications dire.
Loneliness is Harmful to Your Health: The Dire Implications of Loneliness
According to an article published in TIME, “All together, about 36,000 millennials died “deaths of despair” in 2017, with fatal drug overdoses being the biggest driver” (Ducharme, J. 2019).
Loneliness is so dangerous for our health, that in 2018 the British government appointed a minister for loneliness and researchers in the United States are working to develop a drug to counteract the effects of loneliness on the brain and body (Hutt, Rosamond, 2019).
According to a study published by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, the effects of loneliness are equivalent to the health risks from smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol use disorder (Holt-Lunstad, J, 2015).
Loneliness is associated with greater incidences of: depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life (Hawkley, L.C., and Capitanio, J.P., 2015)
Loneliness is inflammatory. According to studies, people who feel lonely have less immunity and more inflammation than people who do not feel lonely (Novotney, Amy, 2019).
The risk of dementia increases by 40% when the individual experiences loneliness (Angelina, R.S., 2020).
The risk of stroke or the development of coronary heart disease increases by 30% in individuals who feel lonely (Valtorta, NK, et al, 2016).
Regardless of race or socioeconomic status, experiencing social isolation increases the risk of premature death (Alcaraz, K. I. et al, 2019).
We talked about the loneliness epidemic. We learned that the millennial generation is the loneliest generation in the world, with over 22% reporting that they always feel lonely. We explored three dominant theories on why the number of people suffering from loneliness has doubled in the past decade. And we explored the paradox of how having more friends on social media, puts you at a significantly greater risk of feeling lonely, and depressed.
When we return you’re going to meet the loneliest person to have ever lived, we’re going to talk about the 4 types of loneliness, the 5 types of misconnection, and the 3 most powerful steps to combat loneliness.