The need to connect with others is an innate, evolutionary drive. So when the world was sent into a series of lockdown, a whole new epidemic set in: loneliness.
As outlined by Psychology Today, loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desire for social connection and the actual experience of it.
But loneliness isn't always easy to pinpoint, and can impact us in different ways at different stages of life. There are the breakup lonelies, the new person at work lonelies, even the working from home lonelies that still hit hard despite being in a house full of rambunctious siblings or roommates.
Of all the myths around mental health and social isolation, one of the hardest to wrap our heads around is that loneliness isn’t about not having anyone in your life, or the physical circumstance of, say, being alone on a Friday night. Single people who live alone may experience no yearning for others, just as people surrounded by friends and loved ones may still feel the pang of loneliness.
We often associate loneliness with being socially alienated, which is why we erroneously underestimate the pervasiveness of loneliness amongst millennials and Gen Zs, given our hyperconnectedness.
Connecting with people can take many forms, but knowing what kind of connection you’re longing for can help to address the issue. According to psychologist Nancy Sokarno, who works closely with these age groups in her work, there are a few ways to identify and work towards closing our connection gap.
Cut down on the digital consumption
This one seems obvious but the trap of comparison is so easy to fall into online. We unconsciously (and consciously) get bogged down in comparing our behind-the-scenes lived experiences to snippets of other people’s highlight reels.
Make your connections meaningful
According to Sokarno, the best kind of connections involve a combination of four types of intimacy — emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. Finding people that fullfil each of these needs is incredibly important and impactful. Find people that share the same values and interests, you’d be amazed by how a meaningful conversation can uplift your self of being.
Be True to You
Finding connection doesn’t mean as an introvert you need to get out there or alternatively, if you are more outgoing, it doesn’t mean you aren’t likely to experience loneliness. Like Shrek said, we’re layered, man.
Reach out to a friend
Check in with those you love — really tell others how you feel about them and what they mean to you. Even if they’re not big on talking on the phone, still give them a call or a text, because that simple gesture can show that you care. The simple act of smiling or beginning a conversation with a neighbour can be unexpectedly uplifting.
Talk to the pros
Anyone from a GP to a psychologist can support you if you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed and are struggling to cope. Many organizations now provide free over-the-phone counselling services with trained experts, all from the comfort of your own home.
Everyone feels like this sometimes
Ultimately, for many of us, we will feel loneliness at some point in our lives, so it is important to accept that it does happen to everyone no matter what social media may have us believe. So many of you have faced immense hardships and foiled plans in the past couple of years.
There is no shame in experiencing a connection gap right now. There are some things you can’t do alone, that you just need another person to help with, to advise and reassure you on. We aren’t supposed to do everything by ourselves. You got this.