There has been a recent flood of research statistics that affirm loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. One recent study by global health service company Cigna clearly spells it out — we are a society that is growing apart.
Cigna’s key findings indicate that nearly half of adult Americans feel alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent), two in five people feel that their relationships lack meaning (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (47 percent). Their research also highlights the fact that Generation Z (ages 18-22) “is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.”
Why is this happening? What we do know is that a lack of human connection is increasingly affecting all generations — and it can hit particularly hard during the holidays. The festive season can be just that, festive and full of enjoyment. However, it can also be accompanied by intense emotions, including an overload of social commitments with high expectations.
The holidays can certainly trigger episodes of loneliness if you’ve recently lost a loved one, struggle with family tension or have other life challenges. But what’s truly important to remember about the holidays — and all year long — is that the meaningful connections and relationships we maintain throughout our lives are crucial for us to remain healthy, and thrive. What is clear is that people who lack human connection, ultimately feel a lack of vitality. There are some solid practices to cultivate connection as well as other methods to help quell loneliness. Here are a few to consider:
CULTIVATE GRATITUDE: Meditation researcher Dr. Joe Dispenza is famous for incorporating the emotion of gratitude into all of his meditation practices. As he puts it, “Gratitude is the ultimate state of receivership.” When you are mindful of your blessings and are grateful for them, you are also building emotional resilience, which enables you to handle life’s highs and lows with more stability.
Gratitude can also help you shift to a positive mindset. Take a few moments each day to think about something or someone you are thankful for and keep a journal to record these thoughts. The benefits of gratitude have been studied in great detail, including better sleep, stress reduction and a boost in mood. Ultimately, an “attitude of gratitude” helps rewire your brain for enhanced health and happiness, and can strengthen relationships.
VOLUNTEER AND GIVE BACK: Studies validate the benefits of giving, not only for the ones on the receiving end but also for the ones who support those in need. Benefits of giving back include feelings of happiness and wellbeing, as well as inspiring a greater sense of purpose in life. There are countless volunteer opportunities available — particularly during the holiday months. Volunteering is also a great way to boost self-esteem and may help you discover talents you never knew existed within you.
HELP BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER: If your apartment building or condo organizes a holiday party for residents — offer your help. Or join a committee at work to help plan a holiday celebration. Maybe you have elderly neighbours that would benefit from a small social gathering. The idea is to come up with creative new ways to connect with people. It might feel like a lot of trouble to execute at first but when you break it down into smaller actions it becomes easy.
Enlist the help of others to accomplish your goal. If that seems too overwhelming, make it your mission during the holidays to say hello more often or try asking how someone’s day is going — in your neighbourhood or at work. Not only will you be making someone else’s day, you will feel good about your efforts as well.
MAKE SELF-CARE A PRIORITY: Self-care is never a selfish act. Taking care of all four “dimensions” of wellness can help you get a handle on feelings of isolation. The core areas of focus are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Adopting activities such as regular exercise, healthy food awareness, relaxation time, and energy management are all great places to start.
The avoidance of addictive habits, spiritual practices (such as meditation or prayer), enjoying a good laugh, taking time away from work, and perhaps most important of all — enjoying friendships and social support from people who care about you — are all part of nurturing your body, mind and spirit.
CUT BACK ON SOCIAL MEDIA: While our reliance on technology has had a significant impact on the way we work and spend our leisure time, it may not be solely responsible for the increase of loneliness and isolation. (The Cigna study reported that there was no correlation with regular social media use and loneliness.)
However, there are studies that support the opinion that too much time spent on social media sites can negatively affect your mental health. So strive for balance and remind yourself that social media is just the “highlight reel,” and not necessarily based on what is really going on in people’s lives.
HAVE A WARM BATH: This advice may sound simplistic but science backs up the statement that a “nice warm bath” will help you feel better. Researchers have examined the link between physical temperature and emotional state including decreased feelings of loneliness.
According to one study, the association between warmth and security is scientifically established yet many are not aware of the link between feeling physically cold, and feeling lonely. So if the “holiday blues” strike, try a cup of tea and a long warm soak in the tub.
TALK ABOUT IT: If things get too tough, don’t suffer in silence. Always seek the support of family or friends you trust — or find a therapist or other mental health professional to help. Some resources are listed, below. Remember, we humans are hard-wired for connection — it’s part of our DNA. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to forge new relationships, and strive to maintain the constructive ones that bring you joy.