When was the last time you felt lonely? What about left out?
A national study published this year showed that 39% of high school seniors said they often feel lonely in 2017, an increase from 26% in 2012. 38% of high school seniors also reported often feeling left out in 2017 compared to 30% in 2012. According to a national study from the health insurer Cigna in 2018, young adults between the ages of 19 to 23 are the loneliest.
The same study from this year shows how our activities have changed too. From the 1970s to 2017, the percent of 12th graders who met with their friends almost every day dropped from 52% to 28%. To be exact, they got together 68 fewer times per year (that’s 1 or 2 fewer times per week). They also went on dates 32 fewer times a year than in the 1990s. High school seniors spend less time on paid work and the same amount of time (or less) on homework and extracurricular activities than they did in the 1980s and 1990s, so having more work may not be a huge factor for young Americans’ increasing social isolation.
What’s wrong with feeling lonely? Feeling lonely is different from being alone – it is an intense, uncomfortable emotion that makes you feel isolated and as if no one understands you or what you are going through. While not a mental illness, it could be related to anxiety and depression. It also has the same impact on death rates as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
How do we explain this trend in loneliness? Some say technology use has a hand in this in two ways. First, as social media takes the lead in younger generations, it gives a sense of closeness and connectedness, which can replace face-to-face contact and ironically makes us increasingly alone. Second, social media can represent all the things we could be doing but are not, thus feeding our FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out.”
However, social media alone has not been found to be a predictor of loneliness, especially if one makes the effort to follow up with in-person contact. Rather, it’s argued that when technology is used to the extent that it replaces relationships is when it becomes problematic.
It’s a worrisome sign when some Americans prefer their smartphone and gaming more than socializing with friends. Through these virtual relationships, young people may start to hold unrealistic expectations of achievement and accomplishment, as other social media users post only the very best and happiest part of their lives which becomes interpreted as their norm. This replaces taking the time to relax and be who they are. A conscious effort needs to be made to save us from loneliness. Psychologists and other experts in the field have a few easy tips to ease the loneliness in our day-to-day life:
- Eat healthfully
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Maximize your human contact in a day
- Join groups based on shared interest (a religious organization, book club, therapy, classes, pets, volunteering, fitness centers, meet-ups, and others)
- Monitor alcohol and drug use
Do you feel lonely or left out, or know anyone who does? What are some tips that you can share to ease these feelings? Share your thoughts and experiences below!