The true paradox of the technological age is its ability to make us feel a sense of connectedness, even kinship, with people all over the world, while simultaneously isolating us in profound ways. This is far from a new concept. By now, most of us have read about the ways in which technology use–and social media in particular–is causally linked to depression, a widespread health crisis. That’s not surprising: when other people present a carefully curated version of their lives, it’s easy to develop feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. You might even feel a bit lonely as you scroll and swipe.
But what if these feelings of isolation are a far more insidious threat than we might think? According to new research, loneliness may now pose a greater health threat than obesity, and this trend is only expected to increase in the future. Much of this research focuses on middle-aged U.S. adults, a population in which fewer people are marrying and having children. According to one study, 42.6 million adults over the age of 45 are suffering from chronic loneliness. Compared to people with strong social connections, lonely people had a 50 percent increased risk of premature death.
These startling statistics might seem irrelevant if you’re still in your 20s or 30s, but there’s reason to take these findings seriously even if you’re a millennial. Consider that the marriage rate among women in their 30s is close to zero, and this is accompanied by a sharp drop in births among women in their 20s. There are all kinds of explanations for these declines, many of which are generational, but taken together, they suggest that we’ll face the same mortality risks as our parents.
That is, unless we make concrete efforts avoid excessive social isolation now. The first and most obvious step we can take is to prioritize time with friends and family. Whether that means meeting a friend over coffee or catching up with your mom on the phone, you should seek some meaningful connection each week if you can. Even if you live with your partner, it’s still important to look for companionship outside the home. It’s arguably just as problematic to isolate with a romantic partner since although you’re still able to foster a connection with him or her, it does not extend outside the relationship and results in unhealthy social withdrawal.
There are other characteristics of the modern age that consequently result in disconnection. Think about the new work-from-home trend; as more and more people take on remote employment, feelings of loneliness are almost inevitable. As much as I loathe water cooler chit-chat, I know that those conversations are sometimes necessary in order to feel human. Heck, I might even have a nice discussion with a colleague once in a while. The point is, if your line of work isn’t conducive to socialization, you should make a point to seek friendships outside of the office.
As much as social media and online forums can provide opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals, they will never replace the distinct and important benefits of real-life bonds. More than ever, it’s important to find “our people,” and continue to cultivate these relationships for as long as we are able. Your health with thank you.
Does the modern age leave you feeling lonely? How do you ward off this isolating health crisis?
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