Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 21st surgeon general of the United States, called attention to emotional health and well-being with his book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. These concepts are important because we can all battle loneliness, even when surrounded by people we love.
Loneliness is defined as a discrepancy or gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you have. It is subjective, whereas isolation is a descriptive term of feeling alone or separated from the numbers of people around you. So, you can have many people around you and still feel quite lonely or have just a few people around you and not feel lonely at all.
Therefore, I want to encourage you to think about the quality of connections to the people around you. Who fills you up, and who depletes you? Are the people you are giving your time to worthy of it, or are they filling a gap but leaving you feeling less than satisfied and yearning for more later? Throughout the life span, human beings grow through and toward connection. We need connection to flourish, to stay alive.
There is a deep stigma and shame that comes with loneliness—as in, if we are lonely, we are not likeable or are broken in some way. This “brokenness” prevents us from admitting it to ourselves and other people. We need to be in a place where we value and love ourselves. So how do we get there? Here I will offer some suggestions; however, if these ideas don’t work for you, you must find something that helps because loneliness is associated with heart disease, blood pressure, stroke, depression, and anxiety. Studies also indicate lonely people may have lower-quality sleep, impulsivity, autoimmune issues, and impaired judgement.
But when we are deeply connected with others, we are more able to listen and give people the benefit of the doubt, which makes dialogue possible. Connection is a major source of motivation, and it transforms the work we do to develop social skills and build on mutuality in relationships. Thus, relationships are the foundation of dialogue. When we ourselves are lonely, we must strive for connection to foster growth.
To combat loneliness and increase connection, you need to live according to your values, to instill and uphold boundaries that are true to what you want, need, and expect from others.
Begin with self-care. Ensure you are getting enough rest. Your body needs time to recover and recuperate. Rest may be getting actual sleep or participating in mindfulness-based activities like yoga or stretching.
Give your brain a rest. Take short breaks, which can serve as reminders to slow down andalso allow for mental relaxation or rest. The pandemic brought us to a place of constant technology use. It’s a great way to connect but has us glued to screens, leaving our senses overwhelmed. While I am a proponent of creative outlets, I also believe we need to give ourselves permission to take creative breaks, too.
Sometimes we dive into our projects well intentioned but come out feeling less satisfied when we are not as productive as we imagined. Meet yourself where you are in the moment. No pressure, no judgment. Just be present.