John: Do you experience bouts of loneliness? If so, you are not alone. In fact, a 2018 nationwide survey published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, from health insurer Cigna found that nearly half the country is in the same boat. The online survey of 20,000 adults consisted of self-reported responses to a series of 20 statements or questions. Analysts used the well-known UCLA Loneliness Scale to calculate respondents’ loneliness scores, which range from 20 to 80. Those scoring 43 and above were considered lonely. The average loneliness score in America is 44, suggesting that “most Americans are considered lonely,” according to the report. Younger adults born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s had loneliness scores of about 48 compared with about 39 for respondents ages 72 and older. According to the survey, 54 percent of respondents said they sometimes or always feel that no one knows them very well. Even more (56 percent) reported sometimes or always feeling like the people they’re surrounded with “are not necessarily with them.”
Two-fifths reported a lack of meaningful relationships and companionship; saying they are “isolated from others.” “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in the Harvard Business Review. Several studies have found a link between loneliness and a higher risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Others have even found evidence of premature mortality.
“Our survey found that actually the younger generation was lonelier than the older generations,” Dr. Douglas Nemecek, the chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, told NPR.
This is saying something, especially now, when we are quarantined in our houses and we are longing for interaction. So, I want to reframe it and have you notice how many people you think about on any given day. No seriously. I am sitting here right now and thinking back to my time in Cleveland, at the Clinic, it was Effie, Susan, Jenn, Denise and Erin. Family it is Ryan and Kel. In college it is my college football teammates, games, practices. They are not long instances, they are fleeting, gone in a split second. Maybe I don’t think of the whole scenario but a good portion.
How many of these do YOU have every day? You hear Love Bites by Def Leppard and it reminds you of the first girl you danced with (Missy Krofka). I smell homemade spaghetti sauce and I am back in my aunt’s kitchen. I bet if you pay attention it is probably close to 30, maybe more, but none of us have counted these things until now. But if it is true, how many times do YOU show up in someone’s head every day?
Sandy, if this is the case, are we really alone?
Sandy: Hi John. Definitely a timely subject. I think its fun to pay attention to how many people you know, or have known. However, just because you knew someone in college doesn’t mean they are here now to alleviate your loneliness. Remembering and appreciating them for what they meant to you is fun, but usually not pertinent to your current life.
The dictionary defines loneliness as “the state of being alone and being sad about it.” Just being by yourself isn’t loneliness if you enjoy the solitude. It’s the sadness that defines you as lonely.
These days, with so many people being shut in their homes, it’s important to do as you said and think about the people who are in your life now. Then, if you miss them, reach out in some way. There are so many ways to connect these days, but I think some kind of phone call (Skype, Facetime, Facebook Messenger etc.) where you can hear their voice and possibly see their face and hear their emotions would be best.
I agree that even before we were told to stay home because of the pandemic, large numbers of people were experiencing loneliness. They might have gone to work and interacted with people all day, but never really connected on a deep and personal level. What you said about a lack of meaningful relationships is key.
As we’ve discussed before, in the past 20 years we’ve lost the ability to connect with people on a real, deep, personal level. Technology has taken over and people think they have a relationship if they text or email with someone. However, they end up feeling lonely and aren’t sure why. The problem is. that kind of relationship is superficial, and as you said, people don’t get to really “see” each other.
Older generations learned from an early age how to have an actual conversation with another person. They looked each other in the eyes, shared thoughts and feelings, and knew how to read facial expressions and tones of voice, instead of needing an emoji to convey an emotion. The younger generations haven’t had to learn to have face-to-face relationships, so it’s harder for them to connect with others on a deep personal level. Hence, they feel lonely because nobody actually “sees” and knows them. They also don’t “see” and know most of the people in their lives on a deep level.
I think this lock down situation is a great opportunity for us to learn how to be open and vulnerable with the people we are close to (and are probably the only people we can spend time with right now). Practice communication skills and learn how to really connect, so that when this pandemic is over you can go out into the world and strengthen your important relationships.
Please comment so others can benefit from your wisdom and experience.
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