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Loneliness is a Choice

Why is the rate of loneliness increasing, especially among younger people? A recent study by Cigna found that nearly 50 percent of people surveyed reported feeling alone or left out always or sometimes. Based on the results of a separate study using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, most Americans are considered lonely, which often leads to health consequences. Loneliness has even been found to increase the risk of premature mortality. Surprisingly, the survey done by Cigna found that the younger generation was lonelier than the older generation. While we might assume that technology and specifically social media would help us be more connected, that is far from the truth. A study in 2017 done by psychologist Jean Twenge suggests that more screen time and social media may cause a rise in depression and suicide among adolescents. Another researcher, Holt-Lunstad, studying loneliness found that the passive use of social media had negative effects, but reaching out and attempting to connect with people had positive effects. Ultimately, increasing our in-person social interactions will result in lower levels of loneliness. And working too much or too little is also associated with loneliness.

So what can we do to make a difference in our overall connections and reduce loneliness? In some cases, the proper work-life balance is lacking which can contribute to loneliness and isolation. It behooves businesses who employ large numbers of people to create and encourage all sorts of leagues or clubs that foster connection. Running groups, book clubs, board game groups or any opportunity for people to develop and nurture friendships are positive. Larger companies often offer fitness facilities and various programs to remain physically healthy and nurture positive lifestyle choices. Sometimes organizations create opportunities for employees to volunteer their time to serve with others for a good cause. When people work together in an effort to make a difference in others' lives, this shared activity fosters connection.

How can we be more connected on a daily basis? We can start by intentionally turning off our electronics and actually talking to each other face-to-face. When we share more emotion and information about ourselves, we strengthen and deepen our connections. Too many of us interact logistically and focus on tasks, but avoid personal and intimate conversations. We share information based on task completion without having any desire for a deeper connection. When we ask questions and stay around long enough to hear the answer we create greater connections. Sometimes we have to be more intentional and schedule daily, weekly, or monthly connections with friends and family. If we don't schedule it, it won't happen. Life is about making choices, setting priorities, and deciding how to use our time. When we value relationships and seek deeper connections with family and friends, we can reduce feelings of loneliness and become more physically and mentally healthy.

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