The 19th Surgeon General of the US called attention emotional health and well-being. Recently, he (Dr. Vivek Murthy) wrote a book on loneliness entitled, Together the Power of Human Connection, and these concepts are important because we can all battle loneliness, even when surrounded by people we love.
Loneliness is defined as a discrepancy or gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you have – it is subjective. Whereas isolation is a descriptive term of feeling alone or separated from the numbers of people around you. So, you can have many people around you and still feel quite lonely or you can have just a few people around you and not feel lonely at all.
Therefore, I want to encourage you to think about the quality of connections to the people around you. Who fills you up, and who depletes you? Are the people you are giving your time to worthy of time spent, or are they filling a gap but leaving you feeling less than satisfied and yearning for more later? Throughout the lifespan, human beings grow through and toward connection. We NEED connection to flourish, to stay alive.
There is a deep stigma, a shame, that comes with loneliness – as in if we are lonely, we are not likeable or we are broken in some way. This “brokenness” prevents us from admitting it to ourselves and other people. We need to be in a place where we value and love ourselves. So how do we get there? I will offer some suggestions; yet, if these ideas don’t work for you, you MUST find something that does because loneliness is associated with heart disease, blood pressure, stroke, depression, and anxiety. Studies also suggest lonely people have lower quality sleep, impulsivity, and autoimmune issues, impaired judgement.
BUT when people are deeply connected to others, we are more able to listen, give people the benefit of the doubt, which makes dialogue possible. Connection is the major source of motivation and it transforms the work we do to develop social skills and build on mutuality in relationships. Thus, relationships are the foundation of dialogue. When we ourselves are lonely, we must strive for connection to foster growth.
To combat loneliness and increase connection, you need to live according to YOUR values, to instill and uphold boundaries that are true to what you want, need, and expect from others. Begin with self-care. Ensure you are getting enough rest. Your body needs time to recover and recuperate. Rest may be getting actual sleep or it can mean participating in mindfulness-based activities, yoga, stretching, etc. Give your brain a break. Take short breaks, which can serve as a reminder to slow down. These short breaks will also allow for mental relaxation or rest. The pandemic brought us to a place of constant use of technology, which serves as a great way to connect but it also means we have been glued to screens, leaving our senses overwhelmed. While I am a proponent of creative outlets, I also believe we need to give ourselves permission to take creative breaks too. Sometimes we dive into our projects, well intentioned, but come out feeling less satisfied when we are not as productive as we imagined. Meet yourself where you are at in the moment. No pressure. No judgment. Just be present.