No one likes feeling alone, right? It sucks!
So why is it in a time when we have so many ways to connect with each other, no matter where we are in the world, that more of us feel lonelier than ever?
Access to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime through technology is amazing, yet if we step back and examine this in more detail, how has it affected the quality of our connections?
Are they meaningful or have we just learnt to develop lots of superficial connections that are causing pain and frustration?
I’ve written about the lost art of connection between humans, the rise in mental health issues and the part that technology and social media play in this in great detail before.
The themes of depression, anxiety and the desire for meaningful connections and relationships arose in my mind again after watching this fantastic video from creator Matt D’Avella called the “Loneliness Epidemic”.
The interviewee Johann Hari, who is also the author of a book I’m about to begin a journey with called “Lost Connections”, gave a very compelling case on some of the deeper issues surrounding the global rise in anxiety and depression in our society.
One of the things that struck me in this video was Johann’s stat on the common figure people would answer with when asked “How many close friends could you call in a crisis for help”.
The common answer was zero…… most people did not have anyone they trusted to call in a crisis and that really struck a chord with me and got me thinking – why is this?
We have never been more connected as a society, but in many cases, this statistic seems to demonstrate that we are more disconnected than ever.
Yet surely, we should expect a rise in the connections we can build with so much access to everyone at any time?
But maybe it’s not about the ability to create new connections and relationships, as that seems to be available to strike up at any time with a swipe on a screen. Maybe it’s about the quality of these connections.
As Johann shares in this video, we are social creatures, we like to talk, connect and feel part of something or part of a tribe. We are very much a tribal species, now of course tribes can be healthy or toxic, but they are a very necessary part of our society and the way we work.
Technology and social media are both amazing innovations, which have brought us great opportunities to connect, share and learn.
I’m not a fan of technology and social media being blamed for all of our current social problems because I feel that is just not true. As with many things, it’s about how we use these tools in our own lives, this will determine our experiences.
Connecting, talking and sharing are great in the digital world, but I believe we need more than that.
Of course, it’s great to chat with a friend over Whatsapp whenever you want, it’s convenient. But imagine if you will, how different that conversation could be if you were sitting in front of your friend, looking at them, taking in their mannerisms and feeling the emotions they are sharing.
To me, the latter feels like a more meaningful and deeper connection, one in which our human need to connect is somewhat fulfilled and we have a quality experience with a friend, rather than staring at their pre-calculated message on a screen.
A black hole
The other side of this, is the trap that a lot of us fall into with social media, in what I like to call the ‘acquaintance circle” or in other words, the hundreds, maybe even thousands of people that are part of your social network, who you’re hooked on liking your latest comment or picture.
These are people that you crave connection, attention and validation from yet you have little or no real connection with them in reality.
You’ve probably never met nor will ever meet these people (I appreciate this is not always the case as I know of a number of people who have created connections with people in the digital world and developed these into great friendships in real life), yet we are so hung up on the fact if they hit that like button on our content or not.
I find that a number of us invest too much energy into these not so meaningful connections and we prize these, with the dopamine releases they give us, above our relationships with the people in our real lives.
Maybe we can start to understand how creating/investing in these types of low-quality connections can be harmful to our own wellbeing and do not satisfy our natural desires for meaningful connection.
What are you getting at?
The point I’m trying to get to, one which I feel ties into the topic of loneliness and our mental wellbeing, is that we need meaningful connections with each other.
This is not just through social media where we hit the like button on a picture or drop a comment like “You’re so fab!” (honestly I’ve never done that my whole life but you get my point).
It’s about having real conversations face to face and talking through stuff, no matter what it is. Feeling the emotion at that moment, looking into someone else’s eyes and being present in that conversation with another human.
We need and long for connection, real connection. No matter what some of us may say to ourselves, we all want to be part of something, part of a tribe and we all want to be wanted too.
This is why looking at the quality of the connections we create and the relationships we build from these is so important, for not only our mental wellbeing, but to combat loneliness too.
It’s not the cure
I’m not a doctor or health professional and don’t play one on the internet, these are just my views and opinions so take what you wish from them.
What I will say, is that just tackling connection and relationships alone is not a cure for anxiety and depression, far from it. These problems are far more complex than this oversimplification that I’m talking through here.
Yet, what investing in building meaningful connections and real relationships can do, is form part of a toolkit of resources that could help manage the monkey mind to enable a more fulfilling life for us all.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t blame technology or social media for the increased loneliness experienced by our society today. My belief is that it is how we choose to use these tools in our lives that truly determines the experiences we get from them.
Your phone isn’t making you have shit connections with others. Our brains and the way we engage with the world are doing that for us. Technology is just a tool we use to facilitate this.
So what can we do…..
I feel really it all comes down to being aware of the connections we need, taking stock of what we have right now and asking ourselves, are my relationships meaningful, of value and healthy for me? Or am I investing in superficial connections which are causing me potential harm?
This is something I challenge myself with often.
I have social media but I partake very little in the day to day activity of it, my audience is tiny because they are mostly made up of people that I’ve actually had around me in life at some point, but this works for me.
The same goes for my long-standing connections in the real world, my circle is small but full of meaningful connections that I feel are of value for all involved and allow me to be happy and healthy.
That’s all we can ask for right? To be happy and healthy.
What works for me may not work for you and that’s fine. Yet what we can all do is step back and reflect on if we are in tune with our human need to connect with others. We can ask ourselves, have we built the connections and/or relationships that provide what we really need?
We all want to belong, feel part of something and want people to give a shit about us and for us to care about others too.
Maybe there just is something in helping ourselves with our own anxiety and depression by looking at the connections we have with others and investing in meaningful relationships.
Of course, it’s easy for me to just call out the problem, state people are lonely and leave it at that. Yet this doesn’t feel very helpful or of value, so here are some of my suggestions on what we could do to build real connection with each other.
Talk to other humans
Yes, this seems overly simple, but many of us don’t seem to do this.
We are so preoccupied with the stimulus of the devices in our hands, that we forget to look up and notice the people around us, strike up a smile and say “Hello”.
So take a chance, try to be more open and instead of consuming yourself in Netflix, have a conversation with the person next to you.
Get out in nature
You’ve no doubt heard this in the multiple wellbeing articles that fly across the digital space, getting outdoors into nature is great for you.
What I want to add to this message, is that we should go and explore real nature, not just a small park in our city but real nature.
One of the best decisions I made in the past few years, was to take a 7-day cabin break in a beautiful forest in the middle of nowhere. I had no WiFi and limited use of technology for 7 days. It was just me, my partner and the beautiful surroundings of the forest.
What getting out into the great outdoors did for me more than anything provided perspective, calm and reassurance.
I found reassurance in the fact that I did not need a phone to find connection. I wasn’t going to go mad with boredom and 4 hour walks in the woods with others were not just great physically, but also helpful in resetting my anxious mind and being able to build real connections with others through deep conversations with no distractions in the most natural of environments.
The Japanese have long been prescribing trips to forests as part of their healthcare programme to citizens for some time and research is starting to show just how positive these forest bathing experiences can be for mind and body.
These are a couple of things you could explore to see if they help you too.
Remember, we are social creatures and forming authentic connections is essential for our mental wellbeing and quite possibly creating continued moments of happiness.
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