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3 Steps For Fighting The Loneliness Epidemic

PLUS: How Businesses & Families Are Being Impacted

By Dr. Karyn

Hello DK Leadership Community! 

 

This past month we filmed a full 1-hour TV special (on the international syndicated talk-show “Cityline”) about the epidemic of loneliness in America. I work in this field and yet even I was surprised and deeply saddened by the stats: 


Psychology Today says that loneliness has doubled, regardless of geography, race, gender or ethnicity in America over the last 50 years!  

  • 25% Say they rarely feel understood
  • 20% Say their relationships are sometimes not meaningful
  • 20% Say they rarely / never feel close to people
  • 82% Say they do not have people in their life with whom they can really communicate

So… Why is this happening? 

The research points to many potential influences:

  • Society Has Changed

Today people are living alone and isolated. Many of us have moved away from home for school or work, and we no longer live in villages of people who know us.

  • Lack Of Tools

Even if we have plenty of people around us, many of us lack the skills to really connect with others. Sure, we can make small-talk with strangers or even coworkers, but how many of us know how to have meaningful conversations with others? Even 60% of self-reported lonely people are married – so just because we have people around us, it doesn’t shield us from feeling lonely.

  • Social Media

Many blame social media – but the research on this is mixed.  Studies have shown that if people are using social media as a substitute for real relationships, it can lead to feeling more lonely. But the amount of time we spend online is also a factor. Psychology Today says that people logged on to social media for only 30 min. / day were less lonely than those who were logged on for more than 2 hours. This might indicate that if we use social media as an extension of our real relationships to communicate with those we care about, rather than as a replacement for real-world connections, it can actually be a helpful tool.

How does this impact businesses? Work is the “New Family”!

What’s fascinating to me about all this is how our “loneliness epidemic” is impacting businesses. One of the highest values for younger generations in the workplace (including Gen Y, Z) is looking for an organization with a ‘Family Culture’.  They want their managers to be less of a ‘boss’ and more of a mentor (or an aunt/uncle!), someone who can really get to know them and pour into their life. In years past – businesses kept clear boundaries between work and home, but no more! We are seeing progressive businesses design their office spaces to feel more like homes, with open living room areas, and large desks where team members can work side by side. There is even a strong trend for organizational teams to have potlucks and lunch together – just like a big extended family! Smart organizations are recognizing that if they can help to meet this need for connection, they will be rewarded by higher retention and the engagement of their workforce.

How to empower your kids? Help them find their tribe!

Share with your kids that we don’t need 50 friends, we just need a few really great friends that understand us and have our back – and with whom we can be authentic!  I call this “Finding Your Tribe”. Help your kids to identify other kids who they know share similar interests and similar values. Introverts and extraverts alike – we all need a place of belonging where we feel supported and safe! 

Want to help yourself or someone you know to feel less lonely?

I’ve got 3 great steps for you to try…

1.  Develop The Skill Of “Meaningful Small Talk”          (Emotional Intimacy Level = Low)
I used to really dislike the idea of small-talk. It felt fake to me, draining and shallow. And then I realized that learning this skill is actually important, because it’s often the first step in making a connection. So what should you talk about? Focus on pop culture, current events, news, things that everyone can relate to on some level. (Example: “Did you watch the Raptors win the NBA Finals?”) YES- I’m a proud Canadian/Raptors Fan!

2.  Find Your People           (Emotional Intimacy Level = Medium)
Ask yourself who are “your people”? Foodies, entrepreneurs, artists, athletes? Be intentional to find networks to expand your options. This might involve joining a sports league or an arts class – you might need to go where other people with the same interests would also like to go.  And think about your small-talk partners – who was it easy to talk to? Chances are, you had something in common. Ask them to meet for coffee or dinner to connect. You may experience false starts – no problem! Keep trying! 

3.  Identify Your Tribe & Connect Regularly          (Emotional Intimacy Level = High)
Identify 3-4 people who you’d like to be part of your “tribe” – people that you can share your highs and lows with. Plan to meet regularly (ex. monthly) so you can really track with each other about what is happening in your lives. Be intentional to become interested in their lives, and how you can also be a great friend for them!

There is so much more that I could say about this topic, and so many other ways within each of these emotional intimacy levels that you can take action to help yourself if you are feeling lonely. But I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Do you have ideas or experience about how businesses or families can help decrease the epidemic of loneliness? Email me at karyn@dkleadership.org.

Sincerely,
Your Leadership & Relationship Coach
Dr. Karyn