With Greater Connectivity, Why Are We So Lonely?

Minister for Loneliness?

In January, 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a minister for loneliness. This came on the heels of an startling revelation that loneliness in the UK has become an epidemic or as put by Prime Minister May, “the sad reality of modern life.”

A Stark Reality

Loneliness can be assessed as a sense of emotional disconnection, emptiness, or a space of darkness where life has lost meaning, shape or definition. What is more sobering about loneliness is that it has been compared to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day!

In what can only be described as surprising, people who report feeling lonely numbers in the millions. Since our world has become more connected with technology, it would only seem obvious that we would be closer in relationships. But in truth technological connectivity has created a warped and deceptive outlook that we are more relationally connected.

As a matter of fact younger people who are more tech savvy are increasingly lonelier as relationships are being developed and maintained through screen time alone. Addiction to our devices has in a way stunted our social skills. Personally, I am taking measures to improve my social skills by reducing how much I text people.

How I am recovering from excessive texting

Recently, I embarked on reduced texting. While fast and convenient, I have discovered that texting has masked my true emotions when communicating. Through texting, I can communicate with three people simultaneously while reading a book but the downside is that I become mentally fragmented and therefore disconnected from developing deep relationships. I acquire substantial information but there is still emptiness in terms of relational growth as texting creates emotionally absenteeism. To change this, I have restructured the order by which I communicate:

  1. Face to face encounters: Where possible, I am making a more intentional effort to meet with friends and grow relationally through facial contact. Last week, I met with a friend for lunch and the outcome from the engagement was mutually refreshing and relationally rewarding.  
  2. Phone calls: When face to face is not possible, I use vocal contact. I have made more use of my phone dialer in the last two weeks than in the previous two months. Vocal exchange establishes a consistent line of communication that makes face to face encounters less awkward.
  3. Texting: This used to be the primary way I communicated. It has become the last resort after exhausting all attempts for the former two. I have also discovered it is the lowest form of communication because it slowly eats away at compassion and empathy.

In a space of two weeks, I have gained a memorable learning experience that the above communication model has increased my compassion and attunement. It is a parallel to a simple but effective strategy that was employed a few years ago in Zimbabwe to deal with depression which has roots in loneliness.

Benches: Simple yet effective

In Africa, mental illnesses are seen as a curse rather than a curable disease. This makes it difficult to help people who suffer from loneliness and depression because of the social stigma associated with it. But in Zimbabwe, it has been discovered that using trusted people in the community sitting on benches has helped many who have suffered from loneliness and depression find safe places where they can open up and be heard. This has led to a higher recovery rate by patients who use the Friendship Bench as opposed to those who are on medication.

This uncovers three ways to overcome stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression:

Open up

For fear of ridicule and embarrassment it is tempting to internalize our true feeling and emotions. But doing this continuously creates a ticking time bomb within us that will eventually come out in hazardous ways. Keeping in stride with the scripture, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God”, my first place to open up is through prayer. Prayer has been proven to change our mental outlook and increase mental strength. Prayer helps keep us sober and not drown under the weight of the events that happen around us. Prayer trains the mind to be quiet in a world that is replete with noise.

Second, I surround myself with people that I can be real with. People who are safe places for me to share what I am experiencing without being judged. No matter how ugly, I know that I am loved unconditionally. I compare opening up this way to turning on a flashlight to illuminate areas in my life that if left in the dark will slowly kill the relational fibers of my being. By revealing what we are feeling we create a path for mental healing.

Strengthen What’s Meaningful

What matters to you? The worst thing in life is to come to the end of it and realize that you were successful in what didn’t matter. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk acknowledged that his work is taking a deep personal toll. In his efforts to change the way we drive and live, Musk has admitted it has come at the expense of not seeing his children and close friends.

Knowing what matters to you should become the non-negotiables of life that keep you level headed and centered. Priorities should never be sacrificed on the altar of opportunities no matter how appealing the opportunity is. Channel the best of your time and energy to the meaningful not the trivial.  

Check Your A.I.R. Intake

One day while running, a garbage truck whistled passed me. Seconds later, I had to slow my pace as the air was filled with a pungent and choking smell. Inhaling this contaminated air affected my ability to run. My intake was infecting my performance. Your intake is reflected in your output. Consistently check your:

Attention: what you give your attention to the most, ultimately results in the direction you take.

Introspection: this critical thinking skill involves thinking about what you are thinking about. It is weighing your thoughts and feelings to create room for personal reflection and mental corrections.

Reaction: how you process and respond to different circumstances determines the effect they have on your quality of life.  

Final thought: When it comes to your relationships, which of the three (face to face, phone calls, and texting) have you made as the primary means of communication? I recommend that we become more intentional about taking our interactions offline if we are to create deeper relational connectedness. Put away your device for a little while and have a conversation with those present with you. The payoff will be of greater worth than the trade-off.

Keep On Keeping On!

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