Loneliness in the digital age: Why more connections don’t mean less isolation

24 May 2024
Julie Fernandes Written by Julie Fernandes
Julie Fernandes

Julie Fernandes

Julie Fernandes is a content writer specializing in blog posts, and works extensively with both...

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Anurakti Mathur Reviewed by Anurakti Mathur
Anurakti Mathur

Anurakti Mathur

Anurakti is a Counseling Psychologist and a coach. She completed...

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Whether it be staying in touch with your friends across the globe or meeting a new friend online, the digital age has revolutionized our lives. Almost everyone has a social media account for either business or pleasure.

Statistics suggest that 9 in 10 internet users use social media every month. It might make some people wonder if technology is bringing us closer to each other or trapping us behind the screen, leaving us feeling lonelier. 

Loneliness is a complex feeling that doesn’t merely arise from heartbreak and isolation. Lack of genuine relationships and being among crowds can also trigger loneliness. Studies suggest that it can be associated with social isolation, poor social skills, introversion, and depression.

This makes the strategy for coping with loneliness unique for each individual. For instance, a teenager who has a breakup would deal with loneliness differently from someone who has lost a loved one.    

The complexity of loneliness 

Oftentimes, we can feel lonely despite being surrounded by people or being in long-lasting marriages. Despite wanting to interact with others, the emotion can engulf people and make them feel rejected, abandoned, or involuntarily separated. 

Loneliness across generations and regions

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 20.5% of adults aged 45 years and over in India reported moderate and 13.3% severe loneliness.

Loneliness in the digital age: Why more connections don't mean less isolation

HelpAge India, an NGO, says that loneliness is one of the biggest issues concerning the elderly. An annual survey conducted by the NGO found that 86% of the elderly respondents from Mumbai live with their families.

However, 75% of them complained of feeling isolated and neglected. What’s concerning is that loneliness is, more often than not, picked up only once the person starts to show signs of depression. 

Increasing loneliness is also giving rise to several health conditions.

Poor social relationships have been associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Additionally, loneliness has also been associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. 

The situation is much worse in the Western World. 52% of Americans report feeling lonely. The US general surgeon Vivek Murthy declared in his latest public health epidemic that loneliness poses health risks as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes every day.

“Loneliness” he argues “is affecting not only our health but also how our children experience school, how we perform in the workplace, and the sense of division and polarization in our society.” In India, unfortunately, this topic is attached to stigma which has made people with loneliness face difficulty in coming forward. 

According to a 2019 survey, 25% of adults aged between 18 and 27 reported having no close friends, while 22% reported having no friends at all. It has sparked a broader societal introspection into the depth of virtual relationships.

People are gradually realizing the need to prioritize quality over quantity.  For someone who feels lonely for the first time in their life the immediate solution to this problem would be to increase socialization.

However, seeking companionship during such a phase takes a lot of work. When it comes to analyzing social interactions, lonely people have a negative bias. They are more likely to seek signs of rejection and avoid it to protect themselves

Proactive approaches to prevent and overcome loneliness

Addressing the growing statistics of loneliness requires a proactive approach. One promising way is found in the work of researchers like Cacioppo who believes that the key to countering loneliness is encouraging more engagement. 

“It’s time for managers to turn their focus from traditional structural interventions designed to reduce social isolation [….] which studies have shown are less effective. They should instead develop social exercise regimens that reverse the negative effects of loneliness in the workplace,” he says.

Loneliness in the digital age: Why more connections don't mean less isolation

Some other exercises include practicing digital unplugging, doing small favors, working together, reaching out for help when in need, and socializing more with others.  

Loneliness is one of the serious challenges that people, irrespective of gender or age, face in today’s society. Although the digital world plays a huge role in contributing to this emotion, actively involving yourself in engaging activities can help you deal with and prevent it.

Being social is like a muscle that can only be strengthened with continuous practice. The more we exercise, the healthier we become.  

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