The Loneliness Paradox: Unveiling the Epidemic, Cracking the Code, and Embracing ConnectionJun 02, 2023
The Loneliness Epidemic
In an era dominated by social media and virtual interactions, one might assume that loneliness would be on the decline. However, studies indicate the contrary, revealing a loneliness epidemic that cuts across generations. Earlier this month, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report citing loneliness as a serious mental health hazard, even going as far as calling it a new public health epidemic. The report tracks the decline in social connections and shows that half of adults are lonely. The findings also show that loneliness is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and has significant health effects.
In today's fast-paced and digitally connected world, it may seem paradoxical that loneliness has become an increasingly prevalent issue. Yet, countless individuals from all walks of life find themselves grappling with feelings of isolation and longing for meaningful connections. Loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of age, background, or social status.
In my case, anyone includes me! I am a self-proclaimed extreme extrovert who has thrived for decades on "going out," "socializing," "leading people," and "collaborating on teams" who has found herself incredibly lonely. I'm not sure I would have identified loneliness as what I was experiencing if not for my use of the Vibeonix Emotional Intelligence App technology (see my very recent scores in the below). I knew I was less motivated and energized than I've been in the past but wasn't quite sure why...seeing these scores brought the self-awareness I needed to move through this challenge!
For the purpose of helping others feel less lonely, I've decided to share my current challenge publicly. I hope by putting a face to the challenge, it will help to remove any negative stigma around admitting the issue with loneliness. I know discovering the fact that almost 150 million people are experiencing loneliness right now gave me some comfort as it relates to my own personal challenges and life experience.
Understanding the Challenges
Loneliness is not simply about being physically alone; it is an emotional state characterized by a perceived lack of social connection or meaningful relationships. It can be deeply distressing, leading to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and disconnection. The challenges associated with loneliness are numerous and multifaceted. They can range from a diminished sense of belonging and purpose to a compromised mental and physical well-being. The impact of loneliness extends beyond personal struggles, as it also affects communities and society as a whole.
Factors such as societal changes, increasing urbanization, the breakdown of traditional social structures, and the rise of technology-driven communication contribute to this widespread issue. While technology can facilitate connections, it can also foster superficiality and isolation, exacerbating the feelings of loneliness.
People can also be lonely even when they are around others. When our workplace cultures fail to create meaningful inclusion and a sense of belonging, many will feel lonely even when surrounded by others.
My Loneliness Challenges
My loneliness stems from a variety of factors. My life changed dramatically as a result of going through burnout and developing autoimmune health conditions.
During my burnout, I definitely experienced loneliness, even while surrounded by people. My mindset combined with a few negative interactions with others led to feeling as though I no longer belonged or was included.
Then, after leaving my job, I had to grieve the loss of many of my closest relationships as a result of that decision; a choice I had to make to save my life and my health. Despite the best of intentions, we all get busy, and we often lose the relationships that provide the social connection we require as human beings.
Although I've made tremendous progress with neuroscience-based performance practices, most of my life still centers around my children and my business. I've not made time for independent time to spend connecting with and building new friendships and relationships.
Not to mention, building new relationships and friendships as an adult outside the workplace is hard to begin with. Our lives are busy, packed full of demands for our time and we often choose to spend our time elsewhere rather than invest in building social connections. Although there are networking groups and activities available, for many, joining them may be intimidating and difficult. For me, feeling healthy enough to attend these events continues to be a challenge.
The Neuroscience of Connection
Of our different intelligences, loneliness stems from a lack of emotional connection or our relational affect to others. This relational affect is the prime function of our heart intelligence or brain. Our hearts can provide us messages about what we need to cultivate and replenish this felt connection in our lives and our experiences.
As I tuned into my own heart-based intelligence to gain insight into my challenges with loneliness, I received an important message. I was recently deeply betrayed by a close friendship I had developed in the past year. This betrayal triggered my history of being betrayed by some of my closest professional relationships. The fear of experiencing another betrayal has kept me from taking action on building more social connections.
If you are lonely, consider checking in with your own heart intelligence to discover what is keeping you from taking action to increase your social connections. What message do you receive?
Oftentimes, when we are experiencing an emotion like loneliness, we may not even realize or recognize what we are experiencing. It's even less likely we will consciously understand why we are experiencing it unless we take time to access our inner guidance or insights. The only way for me to reduce my loneliness is to overcome my fear of betrayal so I can take action on building more social connection. By working with my NeuroTransformational Partner, I can work to re-wire my neural pathways to overcome this misalignment and challenge.
Cultivating Connection and Well-being
What can we do about loneliness?
Recognizing the challenges and understanding the causes of loneliness is the first step. The next step is to take action to make a change. The good news is that there are practical strategies to combat loneliness and nurture a sense of connection and well-being. Here are some key steps you can take:
- Self-Awareness: Start by acknowledging your own feelings of loneliness and the impact they have on your life. Cultivate self-compassion and embrace vulnerability as you explore your emotions.
- Reach Out: Actively seek out opportunities for connection. Reach out to friends, family, or acquaintances and initiate meaningful conversations or activities. Join social or interest-based groups that align with your passions and values.
- Foster Authentic Connections: Focus on building genuine, quality relationships. Cultivate empathy, active listening, and understanding in your interactions. Seek shared experiences and engage in activities that foster connection.
- Nurture Online and Offline Balance: While technology can contribute to feelings of loneliness, it can also be a powerful tool for connection when used intentionally. Strike a balance between online and offline interactions, using digital platforms to supplement, not replace, face-to-face connections.
- Engage in Community: Get involved in your local community, volunteer for causes that resonate with you, or participate in group activities. Engaging with others who share common interests or values can foster a sense of belonging.
- Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that support your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Engage in mindfulness, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy diet, and seek support from professionals if needed.
I also received guidance that I need to take action on joining a variety of social interest groups I've been "researching" and "considering" (without actually "acting" upon) for months! I've quite literally visited the websites of multiple networking groups numerous times over the past few months. After doing the work required to rewire my neuropathways, I will now be able to take action and identified three key actions I plan to take:
- Most importantly, I need to become an official member of my local St. Louis Society of Human Resources Management Group. I also plan to join my local chamber of commerce and possibly a startup business networking group.
- I am committing to find or create a virtual community of individuals who are passionate about discussing and engaging around evolving neuroscience practices as they apply to workplaces, families, and communities. For the times when I can't make it to a live, in person event, having a virtual community can bring tremendous value!
- My sister's new business, "Your Village STL" is launching soon. It's a new space located near my house! Together, we are planning to create a community of support for families in the area to address social connection as well as many of the common challenges we face as we build our families! Her vision for this community aligns perfectly with the message of the U.S. Surgeon General calling for more local community building!
What will you commit to join? What can you do to cultivate more social connections?
Loneliness can be a formidable challenge, but by understanding its complexities and taking proactive steps, we can navigate its impact and foster connection and well-being. Let us approach this issue with empathy and compassion, both for ourselves and others. By prioritizing authentic connections, embracing vulnerability, and actively participating in our communities, we can create a world where loneliness is replaced by a sense of belonging, support, and genuine human connection. Together, let us bridge the gaps and cultivate a society that thrives on meaningful relationships.
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