Do you tend to feel a bit lonely around the holidays? Do you have a desire to connect more closely with others but often struggle to do so? Or do you still feel lonely sometimes despite having relationships with friends and/or loved ones? If you said yes to any of these, know that you are not alone in feeling this way. According to an advisory issued just this year by the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, loneliness, isolation, and feelings of disconnection have become an epidemic in the United States, and this epidemic carries significant risks for individuals and for the collective well-being of our society.
Disturbingly, the number of people feeling disconnected in our country has been increasing for several decades. In a 2022 study mentioned in the Surgeon General’s advisory, just 39% of U.S. adults reported feel very connected emotionally to others. Further, an analysis of data across 148 studies has shown that while social connection can help us live longer, a lack of social connection is as dangerous for our well-being and our survival as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Loneliness, isolation, and feeling socially and emotionally disconnected from others can lead to premature death, just like obesity and chronic disease.
Young people are also suffering from loneliness and disconnection. In a longitudinal study of more than 6,500 teens described in another advisory issued earlier this year by the U.S. Surgeon General, teens ages 12-15 were twice as likely to experience mental health challenges, like depression and anxiety, if they spent more than 3 hours each day on social media. The advisory warns that “social media can have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.” One of the primary reasons for this, in addition to interrupting a teenager’s sleep, is that social media use often minimizes a teen’s in-person connections with family and friends. The Surgeon General has issued an urgent call to action to create healthy digital environments for young people to strengthen their connection with others and improve their mental health.
Fortunately, there are many things that can help all of us feel more connected to others, and “being mindful” is one of these things. Mindfulness means bringing our attention to the present moment and not becoming distracted with thoughts, worries, plans, our cell phone, and so on. Studies have shown that when we allow ourselves to be fully in the moment, we can deepen our experience of connection in our everyday interactions.
Here are 3 ways you can strengthen your social connection this holiday season, which are included in the U.S. Surgeon General’s national strategy recommendations:
- Engage in High-Quality Connections with Others—Proactively reach out to friends or family each day. As social disconnection is on the rise, they may be feeling just as disconnected as you are! When you do spend time with friends or family, whether by phone, Zoom, or in person, be mindful and present in your conversations and your time together. Minimize potential distractions, like the urge to check your cell phone or social media, by putting away any devices, and try to let go of worrying about your to-do list when spending time with others, so you can give them the gift of your care and attention.
- Practice Gratitude—Studies have shown that having strong feelings of gratitude and appreciation in daily life are associated with lower levels of loneliness. Feeling gratitude frequently tends to offset feelings of loneliness while also increasing our happiness and life satisfaction. A gratitude practice may include reflecting on all the things you are thankful for in your life, all the people you are grateful to, and the events and situations that have enriched your life over the years. Try to make a list daily, perhaps when you first wake up in the morning or when you go to bed. Mindfully notice how your body feels when you feel grateful. Often, people feel a sense of ease, warmth, and connection when reflecting on all that they appreciate.
- Seek Out Ways to Support Others—For decades, research has shown that serving and supporting others—by volunteering, helping someone with a project, or even just listening mindfully to a friend or colleague—can foster a sense of meaning and connection and help improve our well-being. Research volunteer opportunities with your local church, YMCA, hospital, animal shelter, or other community organization. Or, consider regularly checking on colleagues, neighbors, and friends to see how they are doing and if they need anything. Oftentimes, people don’t reach out when they need support the most. A call or visit from you may be just what they need!
Want another idea? Get engaged at the Y! The Y has many opportunities to engage in person with others, build new friendships, become more physically active, and learn about being more mindful in your daily life. Visit the Y of Greater Houston’s website to learn more about our programs, and we hope you find many moments of meaningful connection and gratitude this holiday season.
#Loneliness #SocialConnection #Mindfulness #Mentalhealth #ForABetterUs
About the Author
Wendy Saunders is a Certified Teacher and Facilitator through Emory University in CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) and SEE Learning®, a K-12 educational program designed to build social, emotional, and ethical competencies through attention training, compassion cultivation, and trauma-informed resiliency skills. Wendy is also a facilitator of the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) ®, a program of the Trauma Resource Institute, the Founder of Compassionate Leader, LLC, and has worked with thousands of people in business, non-profit, education, and healthcare organizations across the country and internationally to cultivate mindfulness, compassion, resilience, and leadership skills.