Did you know that a study of 10,000 adults showed that more than 3 out of 5 adults in the United States are lonely? That’s huge! We are the most connected we’ve ever been yet lonelier than ever before.
Some of my first experiences with extreme loneliness started when I was in college. I was dealing with binge eating and emotional overeating. I felt so insecure in my body that I started to compare myself to others around me. And I just started to isolate myself more and more, and I felt increasingly more lonely and developed more social anxiety.
I want to talk about this epidemic, really, of loneliness and some strategies to combat it because for me, it felt so embarrassing and I don’t feel like a lot of people talk about loneliness. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves, our relationships, and our lives to what we see on social media. We have so much opportunity to connect, and yet we are increasingly more lonely so I think it’s something that needs to be discussed more openly. Here are a few things I think have contributed to this loneliness epidemic, if you will:
1. Body Image Insecurity and Social Anxiety
I think a lot of it actually ties back into food and body image issues. When we’re feeling insecure in our relationship with food and the way that we look, we tend to isolate and push people away. We don’t want to let people in. And it’s really sad but that’s the reality of what body image insecurity does. It creates this divide and we start comparing ourselves, and we don’t know how to connect. Because we don’t feel like we know how to connect, we develop social anxiety, and that further separates us. Then we just go into these self-sabotaging behaviors, which often for those struggling with food, it turns into emotional overeating to cope with the discomfort and the loneliness. This creates these mental loops and spirals and keeps us in the cycle.
2. Hustle Culture
My first real experience with pretty crippling loneliness came after I graduated college. At the end of college, I was engaged and I found out that he was cheating on me. The pain of that experience created so much more insecurity within me and because I wasn’t in college anymore, there just wasn’t as much opportunity for connection.
I moved to Miami and was working a marketing job where I just dove head first into my work. I was driven by a state of constant survival mode, and all I cared about was succeeding. Hustle culture sucked me in and it just became the pattern of my life.
I didn’t know how to have fun.
I did have this one friend in Miami but I didn’t know how to nurture and create and carve out time because I was in survival mode. And so when I wasn’t with her, again, that loneliness would creep back in. I felt insecure, ashamed, and embarrassed about being lonely. But I thought that if I just continued to focus on creating success, accomplishing and achieving things, that was the key to the happiness and fulfillment that I was seeking.
But what I was finding out was as I accomplished things or as I reached these milestones, there was really no one there to enjoy them with me or to celebrate. I thought what’s the point of all that you’re doing if there’s nobody there to celebrate along the way? That was a really empty feeling.
My life’s purpose is not to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. But rather, maybe the purpose of life is to be present. To see each moment for what it has to give you and what you can give back to the moment. But when we’re so distracted, overwhelmed, and stretched thin, we’re operating in these anxious patterns and we’re unable to connect.
3. Stigma around loneliness
I think the conversation around mental health has progressed a ton and we’re more comfortable talking about certain mental health challenges today than we used to be 10, 20, 50 years ago. But I still feel like there’s some type of social stigma, some type of embarrassment around talking about loneliness. My hope in having this discussion is that you realize it has very little to do with who you are and how valuable, interesting, or exciting you are to be around. It has more to do with what’s going on in our culture.
4. Putting romantic relationships on a pedestal
It’s such a gift to remember that there is so much beauty in relationships that aren’t intimate as well. I think we elevate intimate relationships to this level that, if there’s disappointment in our dating life or in our marriage or in our intimate relationship, then it feels so discouraging. And obviously having a healthy intimate life is a beautiful gift. But the reality is we need to celebrate and be excited about the non romantic relationships and see how beautiful and how life giving and how nurturing those can be as well. Over the years I’ve been really intentional about being a good friend and initiating, carving out time for people, and making space in my life to be able to have friends. Since then, my friendships have given me so much fulfillment, satisfaction, excitement, and so many beautiful memories.
And it’s true that you can be in an intimate relationship or in a marriage and you can experience loneliness. We’re not immune to loneliness just because we’re dating or we’re in a marriage. The reality is when you don’t feel like your needs are being met in a certain way, that can feel lonely. But the more we practice communication, the more we have difficult or uncomfortable conversation, our world begins to expand.
We feel less lonely.
We’re able to connect more.
We’re able to get our needs met.
We’re able to understand others on a deeper level.
What I’ve learned is that while we can survive in modern times without being connected to a lot of people, we cannot thrive as human beings. We are wired for connection. We are tribal people. That’s our nature and that’s where we’ve come from. While we no longer need the tribe to protect us and to support us to survive, we cannot thrive and reach the highest levels of fulfillment, joy, happiness, peace, and health alone.
So take the time to reflect on what has contributed to your own experience with loneliness. Is it the social comparison where you’re constantly comparing yourself or your body? And as a result, withdrawing from social situations and opportunities to connect? Is it that you’ve gone through a life transition where you’ve gotten a divorce, or moved to a different city, or you’ve changed jobs? Is it being so stretched thin and sucked into hustle culture that you simply don’t have time for relationships? Is it an unwillingness to initiate and to reach out because, maybe, there’s feelings of insecurity? Is it technology addiction and using social media to disconnect, where we spend too much time comparing ourselves to those online?
But just reflect so that you can identify one area where you can start to take little steps towards building connection.
So I hope that you know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re worthy of connection. You’re worthy of feeling so seen, so supported, and so so loved. I’m sending you my love right now, I hope that you feel it. I’m sending you my love and my belief. You are worthy of having amazing friends, an amazing intimate life, and amazing connections.