Did you know nearly half of Americans age 18 and older feel lonely?
It was heartbreaking to hear this, yet I learned so much about it during my Relentless Courage interview with Jack Eason, author of the recent book, The Loneliness Solution: Finding Meaningful Connection in a Disconnected World.
The father of two Gen Z kids (Generation Z were born from 1998-2012), Jack told me he was inspired to write this book after published research identified their generation as the loneliest, with millennials not far behind them. But the study also found that loneliness does not discriminate—it truly impacts every generation. And this research was from even before the pandemic forced so many of us apart!
There are likely numerous factors contributing to this problem. For instance, many people live far from loved ones and don’t have much access to in-person contact. There’s also the increased tendency for many to focus on work or careers, either out of ambition or necessity, rather than social engagement—except on social media. And this is a double-edged sword.
The Impact of Social Media
As Jack pointed out during the interview, on one hand social media lets us have a sense of connection to others through photos, personal updates, shared interests, and so forth. And of course, this has been very helpful for many of us during the pandemic. But on the other hand, and particularly for the younger generations, social media can have a profound impact on how they see themselves. Many are reliant on the number of followers and “likes” they get to give them a sense of worthiness and self-esteem.
Plus, we’ve all seen groups of young people sitting together buried in their smartphones, each lost in their own world connected by physical proximity but not by real social and emotional engagement. Many haven’t learned how to be social the “old fashion way.”
The Health Consequences of Loneliness
There’s a big difference between loneliness and choosing solitude. Loneliness is painful and can cause people to feel as if they’re invisible and don’t matter. It can lead to serious health concerns, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and even premature death. The health impact of loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
The Good News: There is an Antidote for Loneliness
And it’s one word: Community.
Finding a sense of community, whether with family, friends, or social opportunities in your local area can ease loneliness by giving you a greater sense of meaningfulness, purpose and belonging. As the old adage suggests, no one is an island. We need each other, and others need us too!
3 Simple Ways to Ease Loneliness and Build—or Strengthen—Your Own Sense of Community Right Now
Eat Dinner Together
If you live with your family, make it a priority to eat at least one meal together every day. No smartphones allowed! There might be some initial objections and feel a bit awkward at first, but that’s okay—Jack and his family went through this phase too! By doing this, you’ll be modeling appropriate social interactions for your kids and teaching them how to be more comfortable connecting in person with others.
Tap Into Your Spirituality
At Amen Clinics, part of the evaluation we do with each patient includes an assessment of the 4 Circles of their life: Biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. We understand how the spiritual aspect of our lives gives us important meaning that helps us know who we are. Whether you’re devoutly religious or experience your spirituality out in nature, connecting to something much bigger than yourself helps to create a sense of belonging.
I know many of you aren’t able to attend worship services in person right now. Fortunately, many services are being held online, so this is a good (temporary) way to be together in spirit with those who share your faith.
Become A Volunteer
Despite COVID-19, there are still many opportunities to volunteer. Aside from the fact that volunteering makes us feel good knowing we are giving our time to make a positive difference for others, it’s a great way to connect with caring people who share your interests.
As Jack said during our talk, “we’re better together.” I couldn’t agree more!
I encourage you to listen to my Relentless Courage Interview with Jack Eason and learn more about his work regarding the importance of community to help end the pervasive problem of loneliness that affects so many of us.
Check out more of my Relentless Courage interviews on my YouTube channel and order my new memoir, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child: How Persistence, Grit, and Faith Created a Reluctant Healer.