Modern day loneliness: we are surrounded but still alone. The advent of the internet and smartphone have made correspondence and socializing easier than it has ever been but despite the ease of socializing, people are now lonelier than ever. A recent study showed that currently 40% of the adult population suffers from loneliness, as opposed to the 20% of adults in 1980. The statistics are even more worrisome when it comes to the student population. A 2017 research study showed that out of the almost 50,000 college students that were surveyed, over 65% reported feeling ‘very lonely’.
The pandemic that came crashing into our lives last year certainly made things even worse. Recent studies have shown that the covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of people, and young people especially reported substantial increases in feeling lonely. The long-standing effects of loneliness are not strictly psychological. Research has shown that people who feel lonely or isolated are at an increased risk for developing coronary artery disease, stroke, depression, high blood pressure, declining thinking skills, an inability to perform daily living tasks, or even an early death. This is why we can not take this matter lightly. Having gone through this mental turmoil myself, I am all too aware of how these feelings of emptiness and loneliness eat away at the very fabric of existence, therefore, I will be sharing with you what helped me cure myself of this malady.
1. Develop meaningful connections
You have to understand that the opposite of loneliness is not ‘popularity’. You could have scores of friends and still feel pretty lonely. True intimacy and emotional security arise from the deep meaningful connections which you forge with your friends and loved ones. Needless to say, it is the quality of your such interactions, not their quantity which will help you battle loneliness. Try connecting with people who matter in such a way that it actually brings joy to your heart. Superficial, shallow interactions will hardly improve your mental health; however, a single meaningful conversation will go a long way. Talk to your old friend about how life has changed for you ever since med school started, to your brother about how you miss playing basketball with him, to your father how adult life is demanding and you want some extracts of hard-earned wisdom, and to your mother about missing the warmth of her hugs and how to stay kind in these trying times. Trust me, try replacing unnecessary small talk with meaningful, heartwarming conversations and you will feel as if the world isn’t such a dark place after all.
2. Keep yourself occupied instead of lazing around
Ever since I was a child, I have been told by parents that ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’ I used to laugh at the idea of a horned devil playing cymbals in my empty head, until I started noticing my own behavior patterns when I had nothing productive to do. It served as breeding ground for my negative and self-pitying thoughts. When a person is struggling with negative feelings, the worst he or she can do is to lay in bed and do nothing. Human psychology is both stronger and weaker than you think it is. Modern day loneliness stems a lot from inactivity and scrolling endlessly on social media. Take matters into your own hands and pick up a healthy hobby. Get that gym or library membership and start working on a better you. These two pastimes are incredibly beneficial. Not only do they improve your mind and body, but they also acquaint you with like-minded individuals who will help you on this journey. Fix a time for indulging yourself in these healthy hobbies so that there is a decent structure to your daily routine.
3. Push yourself out of your comfort zone to interact with people
I know, you have heard this before. I know it is repetitive but it is vital! Sometimes we start discarding oft-repeated themes because their reiteration has become annoying for us, however, we do need to recognize the fact that this dismissive attitude often becomes limiting for our own personal growth. When I was struggling with loneliness and depression, I used to feel as if no one really understood me, and for that reason, I became very antisocial. The self-isolation got so bad that I once spent an entire week without leaving my bedroom. Did it help? Obviously not. Human beings are social beings and the more we isolate ourselves, the more we end up damaging our psyche. The covid pandemic serves as irrefutable evidence for this. The CDC stated that during the peak isolation back in June 2020, around 63% of the adolescents reported struggling with their mental health. As the self-isolation and social-distancing rules have relaxed considerably, please motivate yourself to go out a little. Go for a run in the local park, have coffee in the nearby Starbucks, try striking up a conversation with your colleague about how to study for the upcoming test. These actions might seem trivial, but trust me, they covertly build your confidence and slowly acclimatize you to the surroundings that you were dreading. Once you start doing that, you will notice how there are actually a lot of nice people out there worth befriending!
4. Kindness goes a long way
Of all the tips that I have shared so far, this one is perhaps the most personal and most profound. Whenever we experience psychological turbulence, it drastically changes our perception of the outside world. A person who is depressed will see the world as melancholic and sad, while a person who is lonely will see the world as apathetic and uncaring. Obviously, our worldview is extremely influenced by our personal experience and understanding of it, which, if negative, ends up making us bitter and resentful. What’s important is that, despite the negativity surrounding us, we choose to be kind every day that we wake up. Projecting our sorrows upon others is unfair because it completely dismisses what they might be going through. When we choose to be kind regardless of our own suffering, we not only empower and help others, we also empower and help ourselves. Being a source of joy and kindness to others will help you vanquish loneliness on a daily basis. This way, you will be actively playing your part in making this world a less bleak place and will be restoring faith in humanity for others. Soon you will see that the cycle of kindness and positivity that you initiated will circle back to you and nothing will make you feel more fulfilled. Remember that no good deed ever goes to waste, even if it is as trivial as smiling at a stranger.
This brings the advice I have to offer to an end. This list is by no means exhaustive and it certainly does not replace professional therapy, but it is rather a collection of thoughts and ideas that stuck with me through my personal battles. I sincerely hope that these extracts help you get through the bad patches in your life just like they helped me.