The loneliness epidemic: If we’re more connected than ever, why do we feel so alone?

A husband and wife are sitting on the couch at the end of a long day. They have just started watching a new TV series. During the ads, they scroll through Instagram and Facebook and reply to some messages on WhatsApp. When the episode is over, they go to bed. They’ve hardly spoken to each other, other than to ask what’s for dinner, where the dishwasher tablets are and who’s turn it is to put the kids to bed.

Across town, a single women in her late 30s is spending Friday night alone in her apartment. She was meant to go out with her work colleagues for a drink but pulled out at the last minute. She scrolls through Tinder looking for men that spark her interest. She tags her best friend (who she hasn’t seen for three months) in a funny meme and posts on another friend’s timeline to wish them a happy birthday.

A new mum is up at 2am feeding her five-week-old baby. All her family live overseas and she hasn’t slept for more than two hour stretches since her little one was born. She scrolls through Instagram and sees pics of celebrity mums looking skinny, glamorous and rested. She has gained 20 kilos and hasn’t gotten out of her stained yoga pants in weeks. In between the perfect celebrity mums, are pics of her friends enjoying a night at the pub. Apart from a congratulatory text message, she hasn’t heard from any of them since her baby was born.

Different scenarios. Very different lives. But these people have something in common – they all feel lonely.

Advancements in technology and social media mean we can connect with people through the click of a button. We post on each other’s timelines, tag, message and Snapchat each other every day. The problem is we’ve forgotten what true connection really is. We’re so focussed on getting likes, comments and shares that we disengage with the people right in front of us.

Lifeline recently released the results of their Loneliness survey which found that 60 per cent of Australians often feel lonely. Out of the 3,100 respondents, 82.5% felt that loneliness was on the rise in society. A large number of the survey’s participants lived with a partner or other family member, but still felt isolated.

Is the increase in loneliness all down to social media and technology? No, but our tendency to be ‘plugged in’ instead of present is a major contributor.

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that spending too much time on sites like Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit and Tumblr “may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives.” The study also found that social media “displaced more authentic social experiences” as there was less time for real-world interaction.

It’s easy to dismiss loneliness as a passing emotion but scientists have discovered that loneliness is more detrimental to someone’s health than being obese and almost as bad as smoking. As humans, we are naturally social beings – we thrive when we are truly connecting with others and falter when we are not. We have an innate need to feel valued, loved, appreciated and seen.

Think about it:

When is the last time you rang someone on their birthday rather than posting a message on their timeline?
When is the last time you showed up at a friend’s house and took them out for an impromptu coffee or cocktail?
When is the last time you turned off your phone and listened, really listened to what someone has to say?

Over the years our reliance on technology and social media has compromised our ability to really connect. We need to spend time more time investing in our relationships and reaching out to ensure our friends are ok. We need to talk more and scroll less, call more and post less. And when we catch up face-to-face, we need to leave our phones in our bags and listen without distraction. Maybe then we’ll have a chance of tackling the pervasive loneliness so many of us are feeling.

To quote Simi Froman, “In a world of algorithms, hashtags and followers, know the true importance of human connection.”

If you’re feeling lonely and need to talk to someone, please get in touch. I would love to help you develop strategies to feel more connected with the people in your life.

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