It didn’t end with the pandemic. It has actually grown worse.
Alone but never lonely isn’t always the case, as loneliness is becoming an epidemic of growing proportions. Humans are a social species and while we can live much of our lives from the comfort of our homes, we need to experience connection with one another to be healthy.
Post-pandemic research reveals the prevalence of severe loneliness among Canadians is high—38.1% among women, 31.3% among men and an average of 37.7% for both genders. And, it’s not just the elderly who experience loneliness, it stretches across all age groups.
Loneliness is a painful feeling caused when social interaction is less than what someone desires. While being alone doesn’t necessarily equate with feeling lonely, living with others doesn’t prevent us from feeling lonely. We can try to keep busy to distract ourselves from feeling loneliness, yet these distractions only offer temporary relief and just because someone’s busy, that doesn’t mean they’re not lonely.
According to Dr. Richard J. Davidson, neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the silent epidemic of loneliness is one of the four challenges facing humanity today, along with distractibility, negative self-talk and loss of meaning and purpose.
Loneliness is much more than a painful, subjective feeling and is associated with many mental and physical risks. It negatively affects our health and happiness, and is a strong predictor of premature death.
Loneliness isn’t just an emotion or innocuous feeling. It also affects our physical health, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure and inflammation, as well as contributing to depression and social anxiety, even increasing the risk of dementia.
The increased use of social media and screens are not enough, as we can feel even more disconnected through use of these platforms as others post only the picture-perfect version of their lives.
We need each other, and we need to feel connected. Research reveals our need for connection. Being engaged with others in things that lift our spirits and inspire awe fortifies our internal hormonal chemistry, as we benefit from the energy of the collective as we co-regulate with other human beings. Research by psychology professor, Dr. Dacher Keltner of the University of California Berkley has increased my understanding of why being in physical proximity and engaged with other people is so transformative.
That flies in the face of the isolationist world that’s evolved over the past few years, an isolationist view that has created what Keltner calls both a crisis of emotional well-being & meaning and a crisis of loneliness. He and his Greater Good Science Center are researching human qualities we’ve previously understood as virtues, or viewed as spiritual, and now view them as intelligences and elements of human wholeness.
“This science is an invitation to practice what’s life-giving and nourishing, and actively create good for this world of pain and promise we inhabit,” says Keltner.
What science is revealing about the power of community, the power of joining a collective, is the power of engaging in what Keltner calls “collective effervescence.”
In joining a collective in uplifting activities, we benefit both ourselves and others. Science reveals there’s a collective effervescence created when we join and gather, bubbles of goodness and harmony that change us as individuals, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Our bodies and our internal hormonal chemistry start linking up and it becomes a shared mental and physiological state. Our brains show evidence of unison of activation. Our physiological responses to joining with others can be quantified and measured.
When we become fully present to gather, move together, sing together and participate in rituals and ceremony, we harness and add to the power of collective effervescence. It becomes so much more than an intellectual exercise. It affects us on a cellular and chemical level.
This helps me understand why I’m drawn to go out and just be with others and connect, even casually. Connecting with real life, reaching out and stretching ourselves to leave the comfort of our homes is vital.
Talking to strangers in what we might consider trivial conversation, such as with a grocery clerk or barista, as we go about our day helps keep loneliness at bay. Simply sharing the beauty of nature with another also helps.
So, make it a point to reach out and connect. Recognizing our presence matters. Joining in meaningful community changes us, whether it be a spiritual community, a group of friends, or volunteering in a meaningful way.
While there’s not a single answer to this loneliness epidemic, there are things we can do to help ourselves and others.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.