Loneliness and social isolation have become prevalent issues that are affecting the mental and physical health of Americans, according to a warning from the surgeon general issued on Tuesday. The advisory is the first of its kind to address the problem of loneliness. It points out a 2021 poll that found more than half of Americans are lonely, with young adults twice as likely to feel isolated as those over 65.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, who has written a book on the subject “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” is calling for the country to strengthen its social fabric by prioritizing meaningful relationships. Dr. Murthy advises that everyone can benefit from rebuilding and cultivating connections with others, regardless of whether they consider themselves lonely or not. In light of this, he has offered some practical advice on addressing loneliness.
Dr. Murthy emphasizes the importance of acknowledging loneliness as a normal and prevalent experience. In seeking solutions, he encourages people to build up their support networks by prioritizing relationships and setting aside time for socializing. He advises setting realistic expectations when making connections, accepting that building strong relationships takes time and effort.
Dr. Murthy also recommends that people take steps to develop deeper connections through activities that involve shared interests and values. Social media can be helpful in fostering existing relationships, but Dr. Murthy recommends focusing on in-person interactions whenever possible. In conclusion, he emphasizes that loneliness affects everyone differently, and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of social isolation. However, by taking steps to strengthen our social bonds, we can all benefit from the healing power of human connection.
Maintaining healthy relationships is a vital part of our lives. Whether it is familial or platonic, relationships require nurturing. Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States, recommends taking 15 minutes each day to connect with a friend or family member. Dr. Murthy suggests putting a reminder in your calendar as a helpful tool to make this a priority.
“Those brief in-person interactions can make us feel good for a long time because we are hard-wired to connect,” says Dr. Murthy.
Dr. Murthy advises people to “be real” when conversing with others. You do not have to pretend to be someone you are not, just be the real you. At first, this might be scary, but remember that people are wired to connect. Sharing honestly and inviting others to reciprocate can be “incredibly powerful,” according to Dr. Murthy. Remember, your relationships need nurturing to thrive, so take time to connect with your loved ones.
Put Down Your Devices and Focus on In-Person Communication
Cell phones have the ability to distract us from personal interactions and reduce the quality of our relationships. It is important to give people our full attention, and to listen attentively to what they have to say. According to a recent report, despite the rise of social media, Americans report having fewer friends than they had in the past. This decrease in social connection has been attributed to disconnected communication caused by technology.
In-person communication enables the exchange of more than just words, but also allows for the exchange of nonverbal cues and a deeper experience of connection. It is important to remember to put down cell phones, reduce use of social media, and provide full attention while communicating in person to create more meaningful relationships.
“Over thousands of years we evolved to not only understand the content of what someone was saying but also to respond to the tone of their voice, to read their body language, and to experience their presence,” said Dr. Murthy, emphasizing the importance of face-to-face communication.
Don’t Ignore Calls, Pick Up and Talk
Imagine receiving a call from your college best friend whom you haven’t talked to for a while. However, instead of picking up, you decline the call, intending to call back later when you have enough time to talk.
Next time, Dr. Murthy said, pick up the phone and talk. If you’re in the middle of something, say, “Hey, it’s really good to hear your voice,” and then find another time to talk.
“That 10 seconds feels so much better than going back and forth on text,” he said.
Volunteering for Others Can Help Combat Loneliness
According to research, volunteering can alleviate loneliness and expand our social connections. You could contribute your time to a local organization or offer assistance to your family, colleagues, or acquaintances.
“When we help other people we establish an experience or a connection with them — but we also remind ourselves of the value that we bring to the world,” Dr. Murthy said. “And that’s essential because when people struggle with loneliness over time, it does erode their self-esteem and their sense of self. It can make them believe over time that they’re lonely because they’re not likable or they’re not lovable. And when we serve others, we come to see that that’s not the case.”
If you are experiencing loneliness, do not hesitate to confide in a family member, friend, therapist, or healthcare provider. Additionally, if persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness are disrupting your daily routines and hindering your participation in activities you enjoy, seeking professional help is crucial. Having thoughts of harming yourself is a serious issue that requires immediate attention, so use the 988 crisis hotline for assistance.