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4 Ways to Protect Yourself
from the Loneliness Epidemic

by Calm

February 7, 2024

Loneliness is now one of the biggest health risks of our time. We explore the impact of loneliness, and steps to minimize its effects on your mental health.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, declared an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the country. Americans have become increasingly isolated, with over half reporting feeling lonely. And unfortunately, young adults ages 15-24 are twice as likely as older adults and seniors to feel lonely. And that’s not just in the US. 

Why is loneliness a big deal?

We’re wired for social connection and close proximity to other humans. In fact, this togetherness is said to be as essential to us as food and water! 

Loneliness is our body sending us a signal that our need for connection isn’t getting met.

Just like hunger guides you to get food, and thirst to water, loneliness is guiding you to pick up the phone and call a friend, make a plan to spend time with loved ones, or get more involved in your community. So, to some degree, the feelings of loneliness are productive, guiding you towards the connection you need. But, when the feelings persist for a prolonged period of time, it starts to lead to the negative effects mentioned above. 

 

Loneliness looks and feels different for everyone. Some people may become quiet and withdrawn when they are lonely, while others may become irritable, or even angry. Some may not be able to sleep and others sleep all the time. Some people may feel “nothing” while others deal with headaches and cold or flu-like symptoms as a result of their loneliness.  

More than just a bad feeling, research has shown that loneliness and isolation wreak havoc on the body and mind. It can lead to: 

In fact, loneliness poses a health risk as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! This is no joke.

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4 ways to

minimize loneliness

While loneliness can look different in every person, the solution is the same: stronger social connection. We need to make the effort to cultivate, strengthen, or rebuild the relationships in our life, whether you consider yourself lonely or not.

Here are 4 steps to make sure you are getting your social needs met:

1. Make time for people

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No matter how busy you are, it’s critical to set aside some time each day to connect with the people in your life. Whether it’s family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or shared community members, be intentional about reaching out. Remember that this social time is critical to your mental and physical health, so schedule it into your day like you do sleep and meals!

If you are short on time you can make, or answer, a call to say a quick hello and find another time to talk at length. Even a brief check-in makes a difference, so take advantage of any opportunities to connect!

💙 Let Jay Shetty help you learn how to Prioritize What Matters when it come to time management. 

2. Actually listen

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We’ve all been guilty of being on our phones or thinking about our to-do list for tomorrow while our friends/loved ones are speaking to us. Life is so busy (and distracting) that we may often find ourselves multitasking, even while we’re with our favorite people!

 

There’s no need to beat yourself up, but it is important to remember that these habits are not going to support you in meeting your social connection needs. So, next time you find your mind wandering off while with a friend or loved one, practice mindfully listening while they are speaking to you. Let yourself be fully present, taking in what they are saying, and responding from the heart.

💙 Practice the art of mindful Listening to bring to your next conversation.

3. Prioritize IRL hangs

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While the potential to connect with endless people around the world is amazing, these virtual connections are ultimately not as satisfying or meaningful as in-person ones. Even with all of these virtual opportunities, Americans report having fewer actual friends than in the past.

So, as often as you can, meet old or new friends IRL. If you’re in a friendship rut you might: 

  • Start a book club

  • Join a meet-up

  • Pick up a new hobby

  • Volunteer for a cause that matters to you

 

It can be uncomfortable, but putting yourself into different social situations gives you the chance to build new connections around shared interests and ultimately ward off loneliness.

💙 Learn about the importance of Human Connection and why it’s important for our mental health.

4. Get the support you need

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We all get lonely sometimes. Be kind to yourself and seek out the help and connection you need. You could call a friend or family member and get one of those (in-person) hangs on the books. Our free Combating Loneliness meditation, by the Surgeon General Dr. Murthy can also be a great support.

If feelings of sadness, loneliness, and/or hopelessness are getting in the way of your day-to-day life, please reach out to a counselor or health care professional. If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, you can call the 988 crisis line by phone or text.

💙 Explore more mindfulness tools with the Surgeon General in his series of meditations.

To read the original article, visit Calm's website. Calm is a partner of the Chegg Perks program.

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