How to Feel Less Lonely – Top 5 Tips According to the US Surgeon General
June 15, 2023
Last month, the New York Times published an article written by America’s top physician, Dr. Vivek Murthy, on how to feel less lonely. Dr. Murthy is not only an American physician. He’s a vice admiral in the United States Public Health Commissioned Corps, serving as the 19th and 21st surgeon general of the US under Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden.
Now, don’t get confused being ‘lonely’ for being a ‘loner’. Loneliness never became more apparent than during the pandemic of 2020, where those who lived alone were not able to socialise with others from different households. During this time, it was recorded that a staggering 5% of people in the UK, that’s 2.6 million adults, said they felt lonely. Link.
Jump forward to 2023 and loneliness continues to be evident in many lives across the world. The only difference is that now we’re not in the middle of a pandemic and confined to our homes. Surprisingly though, a recent 2022 report showed that Gen Z, 16-24 year olds, were said to feel frequently lonely, the largest demographic to do so. link Has the art of making conversation has been lost?
Here, Dr. Murthy offers advice on how to build meaningful social connections in an increasingly lonely world.
- Reconnect with people
Dr. Murthy says that it’s important to take 15 minutes each day to contact a friend or relative. Make it a priority, and if that means putting a calendar reminder in your phone or making a note, then do so. Relationships cannot thrive unless they’re nurtured.
“Those brief in-person interactions can make us feel good for a long time because we are hard-wired to connect,” Dr. Murthy explains.
Brief, engaged conversations are much better compared to longer, more shallow conversations. Show the person you’re speaking with how much you value them. Be authentic. Be real. We don’t have to pretend to be anyone else, other than the person we are.
- Minimise distractions
With so much technology now available, it’s hard not to be distracted every two minutes. How often do you look at your phone when someone is speaking to you, perhaps scrolling through the latest social media updates? It’s time to put the phone down.
Focus on the conversation and more satisfying quality time. Listen to what is being said. Virtual connection is not the same as, and nor is a replacement for in-person time with the important people in your life. Dr. Muthry highlights that despite the endless opportunities there are to connect online, people actually have fewer friends than they did a decade ago.
“Over thousands of years ago we evolved to not only understand the content of what someone was saying but also to respond to their tone of voice, to read their body language and to experience their presence”, Dr. Murthy said. “And we lose a lot of that when we are communicating electronically”.
- When people call, pick up the phone!
Imagine your phone is ringing. You see that it’s a call from a friend who you haven’t spoken with in a long time, and yet you decide not to answer the call. You tell yourself that you’ll speak to them when you have more time to chat.
Dr. Murthy says, make the time. Pick up the phone and talk. If you’re in the middle of something say ‘hey it’s really good to hear your voice’ – a great conversation opener. You’ll feel so much better than going back and forth on text.
- Serve others
Volunteering and immersing yourself with broader social networks has been shown to help ease feelings of loneliness. Whether that be, helping out at the local charity shop or offering to help friends, family or co-workers in whatever projects they’re working on.
“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”, comments Dr. Murthy. “And that’s essential, because when people struggle with loneliness over time, it does erode their self-esteem and sense of self. It can make them believe over time that they’re not likeable or loveable. And when we serve others, we come to see that’s not the case”.
- Get help
Finally, tell someone if you’re struggling with loneliness, whether that person is a relative, friend, councillor or health care provider. If you’re persistently sad, can see no light, and it’s getting in the way of your everyday life then that’s a red flag. Speak to a professional so you can get the help you deserve.
For the full article visit The NY Times.
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