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Did you know that loneliness can be as mortally dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day?
Loneliness is a pervasive problem affecting people of all ages and backgrounds globally. Perhaps you're feeling lonely right now. It's easy to mistake loneliness for depression, but they're different.
Loneliness is social isolation; that is, being away from people, losing human interaction that is core to our well-being. However, loneliness can lead to depression, and vice-versa.
But today, we're focusing on loneliness and why you need to fight it immediately.
The impact of loneliness — or social isolation — on mortality has been found to be the same as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. That's pretty shocking, given how most people have normalized, even romanticized, being alone.
Loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease, dementia, stroke, and premature death. And it's expensive, with social isolation among older adults accounting for billions in excess Medicare spending annually.
But perhaps the worst thing about loneliness is that people who are lonely feel "ashamed to use the word to describe how they're feeling. They would use words like 'invisible'," according to US surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is currently raising awareness around the loneliness epidemic in the US.
People have so romanticized loneliness, even going as far as saying keeping to yourself can make you stronger. But humans were never designed to live in isolation. As social beings, we function better when we feel a sense of connection to others and our environment.
Think about it, no one truly wants to be alone, to be unheard, invisible.
Loneliness has been an issue for decades, and the Covid-19 pandemic only served to exacerbate the crisis that has been looming. As people experienced less face-to-face interaction, depression and mental health issues skyrocketed, spiraling from the loss of human interaction.
Do you know why the loneliness crisis is only worsening and getting harder to deal with? Because technology keeps on advancing, with more people, especially teens and young adults, relying on their smart devices to stay in touch.
But really, that's superficial and doesn't entirely substitute face-to-face human interaction.
Face-to-face interaction has declined by 50% in the last two decades.
So what can we do?
According to Surgeon General Murthy, "fixing our built environment" could be a solution to the loneliness epidemic. This can be done by creating policies that would facilitate or otherwise necessitate more human interactions. For example, integrating housing and retail spaces, and other social opportunities in our communities that encourage people to engage with one another more often. This can go a long way in reducing feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
On a more personal level, you can fight loneliness by creating times when you have to be with people and away from technology. Prioritize having dinner with family and friends and talking cheerfully while at it rather than using your phone.
Work keeps us busy now more than ever, and so many people can work without ever stepping out of their homes. If you're like that, try dedicating times and spaces where you step away and be with people who matter to you. It doesn't have to be a large circle. This social connection is key to fighting loneliness.
And as Murthy rightly pointed out, just hearing a friend's voice rather than sending a text can be enough to combat the feeling of social isolation.
So, make the effort today to step out of your loneliness and connect with someone. It can do you a world of good.