This month, the U.S. Surgeon General published recommendations titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. According to the bulletin, about half of all U.S. adults experienced loneliness on a daily basis even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which only made matters worse. Lack of social ties, the bulletin says, can pose a significant health risk and increase the risk of premature death by 26%. Which, in turn, also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression, dementia, and is considered one of the main motivations for self-harm.
But perhaps the most disturbing finding that emerges from the recommendations is the decline and reduction in time spent in social contact, which “is most noticeable for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. For this age group, time spent in person with friends has declined by nearly 70% in nearly two decades,” i.e. between 2003 and 2020.
Loneliness is the feeling when a person cannot maintain positive connections with the people around them. It’s not about the number of people around him or how much time he spends on social media. Feeling itself depends on the quality of the connections, not the quantity. If a person feels disconnected and can’t trust the people they interact with, doesn’t feel supported by them, and they don’t tend to support them either, then they will experience loneliness.
Not everyone is afraid of being alone. Some people don’t feel disconnected or unsupported because there are few or perhaps no people around them. For others, however, physical isolation turns into a feeling of loneliness with all its adverse effects.
The people around us shape our understanding, views, feelings, and worldview from the moment we are born. A person can live in some isolated village, cut off from civilization, but feel a deep connection with his fellow villagers. In such a state he will not feel lonely, because those around him give him warmth, give him all the support he needs; and what he learns through his connections with them is enough for the life he leads.
On the other hand, a person may be surrounded by millions of people. But if none of them give him support and warmth, if he is not given the tools to cope successfully with life, he will feel alone. Moreover, the mass of indifferent people around only increases the feeling of loneliness and insecurity.
A person doesn’t need enemies to feel alone. The apathy of your surroundings is enough to make you feel like a meaningless gray spot. After all, very few people can come to terms with the feeling of worthlessness. This is especially dangerous for young people, who suffer the most from social isolation. We must not ignore the pervasive epidemic of loneliness.
By nature, young people need social connections because these are their formative years, when they are forming their worldview and mastering the art of living in civilized society. Without healthy connections, they will grow up unprotected and unadapted to society. Such people will never be happy.
If we fail to act in the face of a spreading epidemic, the social consequences could be devastating. Fortunately, we are not helpless. The more active we are with our environment, the more likely we are to change it. If we treat a person positively, he will reciprocate our attitude. We don’t need to look to others for support and approval from the environment. We ourselves must initiate such behavior toward others, and then they will reciprocate our positive and supportive behavior.
Most of us are afraid to open our hearts. We have been taught to think that if we open up, we will become vulnerable and people will hurt us. For the most part, however, the opposite is true: if we open our hearts to others, they will open their hearts to us.
Thus, our loneliness is more manageable than we think. If we take the first step toward others, in all likelihood they will take the next step toward us, not against us. We can cure the epidemic of loneliness, but to do so we must first want to cure it. We have to be willing to take risks for the sake of it. And most importantly, we should not expect others to treat us friendly unless we are friendly to them first.