Hello, hi, it’s me writing about the biggest cliche topics this decade: self-care and loneliness. The pandemic popularized a lot of pre-existing concepts, and self-care is definitely near the top. We took a global phenomenon that affected every level of society – especially our most vulnerable members – laid bare how terribly we care for each other, and boiled it down to an individual problem with individual solutions. This combined with social media’s meteoric rise and its correlation with reported loneliness leaves our generations ill equipped to thrive during these frightening times. While I might have nothing new to add to the body of research on these topics, I am interested in how this intersects with the core values of Not Ladylike. And how our community here can address both self care (or rest) and loneliness together.
I found a variety of definitions of loneliness in my searches, but this one resonated with me.
“perceived social isolation, or the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships.”Psychology Today
Humans are social creatures at heart, and loneliness developed as an early warning system to a threat to your social body, which is a significant impediment even though it might not seem intuitive or commonsensical. (source) As so many of the annoying features of our psychology, loneliness at the start is meant to alert us to a problem that is detrimental to our functioning, so we can correct it. But it feels like many of us have forgotten how to correct it, never learned in the first place, or are so divorced from the appropriate tools that it is easy to spiral out of control and begin to impact our functioning long term.
Loneliness also has a huge stigma around it, an association with folks who have limited social skills, a mental illness, with losers. In our current culture of rugged individualism, loneliness is for the weak. But loneliness is a cue, a sign to step into our human nature and fully embody all the emotions and goodness that comes with being a social being. Loneliness is a gift. But it’s gotten out of hand. And we can’t “self-care” our way out of this.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND LONELINESS
I’m not going to tell you how to manage your social media habits, lord knows I need a break myself every now and again. I do know from my own personal experience, and from reading a lot of articles by experts on everything from human behaviour to teenagers to leadership, that social media exacerbates all of our shitty feelings about ourselves. And surprising no one, there is a strong correlation between social media use and loneliness specifically. We know that scrolling is not good for us, comparing our everyday lives to the “highlight reels”, but we can’t seem to stop. And we turn to our feeds when we are feeling crummy, which makes us feel crummier. The cycle continues, and the only people to benefit are the billionaires at the top.
Embarrassingly, it’s taken me a lot of years to fully embrace the fact that a like is not a friendship. And that the absence of a like is not a snub. “What are the thoughts and feelings sparked by the use of social media that lead a person to magnify their “perceived isolation?” (source) Seeing that highlight reel and forgetting that it’s a highlight reel and not real life. Seeing our friends or acquaintances out with other friends, while we sit at home alone. That discrepancy in the perception of what our social relationships actually are to where we want them to be strikes at the very heart of loneliness. And the more we get stuck in the cycle, the greater the discrepancy grows, and the harder it is to break the cycle. When this happens for me I often start unfollowing people that trigger the strongest feelings in me, which is unfair to that relationship. And unsustainable in the long-term, as it doesn’t address the underlying problem of my loneliness.
And what about the loneliness that surfaces away from social media? To be honest, I have a hard time coming up with examples of what that might look like because social media dominates my understanding of (and experience with) loneliness these days. I live next to a house filled with twenty-somethings and I don’t know any of their names. I know of many folks who live apart from their family, in a new city and some in a new country. I’ve experienced firsthand workmates who don’t hang out after work. Those are all social relationships that easily lend themselves to a perceived disconnect.
And y’all, we aren’t doing ourselves any favours even when we aren’t on social media. Our inner critic lies to us about why we don’t go out or why we don’t socialize more. Many folks’ social anxiety ramped up over covid, and while those excuses have outlasted their usefulness, it’s easy to fall back into that habit. These excuses and lies sound really good in our head, and often stroke our ego as well. But they aren’t helpful, despite making us feel better in the short term. And they don’t resolve our loneliness problem.
CARE AND SOLUTIONS IN COMMUNITY
There isn’t one easy cure for loneliness. Clearly we’ve demonstrated that social media plays a role in its existence and persistence, but deleting all of our accounts probably won’t magically resolve those feelings. It is also so hard to pick up on those cues and then act on them, instead of picking at the scab and diving back in for more pain?
Of course self care gets touted as a cure for loneliness, which indeed, if you can practice honest, non-avoidance methods to soothe your mind and body, you are on your way to curing a lot of what ails you. But loneliness is a social problem, and I think it needs a social solution. If loneliness was cured by individualized self care practices, we would have fixed it all by now.
“Sharing good times is one of the keys to connection.” (source) I am always harping on those self care lists – baths and reading a book and taking a walk – and how none of them address self care in community. Collective connectedness is being part of something that is bigger than yourself. Practicing being together, working on a task or a goal with a group of people, or just hanging out, starts to chip away at our disconnected perceptions of our social interactions. The more you practice this stuff, the more you will find the sweet spot! It’s true that folks can be surrounded by other people and still be lonely, which is why we need to work at it. And why we need to be mindful of cues that other people are putting out, and tap into our vulnerability and courageous hearts to help other folks cure their loneliness too.
And this is important work! I found a lot of scary stats while I was gathering info for this post, like “chronic loneliness is bad for our health”, (source). Or how “living with loneliness increases your odds of dying an early death by 45% (source). Does that mean that the opposite is also true? That connection and community are great for our health?
The Not Ladylike Community aims to offer loads of opportunities for social interactions and community gatherings. Maybe I will add “cures loneliness and adds years to your life” into my next marketing campaign!
“Our survival depends on our collective abilities, not on our individual might” (source)
I could write hundreds of pages on how our best chance at surviving and thriving in the next few decades is if we do it together, in community. And I haven’t even scratched the surface on how that might impact our loneliness and self care strategies. We don’t even have to like each other. The connection between resilience, care, rest, loneliness, and strength is too important to ignore.
- What does self care mean to you?
- What does rest look like for you?
- How do you currently take care of yourself and your community?
- Do you know the 9 areas of self care? Physical, psychological, emotional, social, professional, environmental, spiritual, financial, and community
- Do your self care strategies involve all areas?
- If not, what are some strategies you can use to fill in the spaces?
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
Why Millennials are so Lonely (Psychology Today)
Millennials are hit the hardest by the loneliness epidemic, and here’s why (Zendesk)
Telstra Talking Loneliness Report
Millennials and Gen-Z are the loneliest generations (Refinery 29)
How to Deal with Loneliness: 5 ways to stop feeling lonely (Cigna)
The lethality of loneliness John Cacioppo at TEDxDesMoines
Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010)
We don’t just “hang out” anymore. And it’s a problem. (Big Story podcast, episode 767)