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Ask Izzy: Five ways to connect when you are feeling lonely

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mikoto.raw Photographer / Pexels
mikoto.raw Photographer / Pexels

In an era defined by digital connectivity, the antidote to loneliness lies in rediscovering the essence of genuine connection

Ask Izzy is an advice column about relationships, mental health, and sexuality. Written by Isabel Mata — a Seattle-based lifestyle writer, podcast host, and mental health advocate — Ask Izzy offers tangible expert advice so all readers can have stronger relationships, better sex, and healthier mindsets. Submit your question today by filling out this survey

As someone who struggles with depression, there are days when I wake up and feel clouded by a thick fog. My chest feels heavy, my pace slows down, and everything feels dark. On those days, it's really easy for me to succumb to the voice in my head telling me I am so very alone, that no one else on this earth could possibly understand how I am feeling. Even though I have a beautiful life, a husband that adores me, and cats that can't seem to leave me alone for five minutes, I still can't shake the loneliness that plagues me on those dark days.

But the truth is, I am far from the only person experiencing this feeling, which can be defined as a lack of meaningful or close relationships or sense of belonging. According to an 80-page report pulled together by the US Surgeon General in May of 2023, the rate of loneliness among young adults has increased every year between 1976 and 2019, and we are currently at an all-time high.

This stark reality is a testament to increasing disconnection amid our hyperconnected world. More than ever before, we're tethered to devices, endlessly scrolling through curated feeds in an attempt to feel something, anything — and yet loneliness persists like a shadow.

This leads me to ask the question: why are we so lonely? Ironically, it's the very technology designed to connect us that often leaves us feeling isolated. In our pursuit of constant connection, we've sacrificed depth for convenience. Social media, texts, and emails offer instant communication but lack the richness of face-to-face interaction. We've traded genuine connection for the illusion of it, leaving us craving something more authentic.

Luckily, in this digital labyrinth there exists a simple solution: intentional connection. In a recent TikTok, Simon Sinek, renowned author of Start with Why and The Infinite Game, emphasized that it only takes a few minutes to truly connect with someone. "When someone is struggling or in need, all they need is eight minutes from a friend to hold space for them, to make them feel better." In that space, the focus isn't on giving advice, tasks, or agendas; it's solely about being present, listening, and seeing one another for who they truly are.

But how do we implement this in our daily lives? Is it really as simple as asking a friend or family member for eight minutes of their time? While that's one way to connect, here are a few more easy ways to bridge the gap of disconnection and combat loneliness:

Unplug and engage: Turn off the phone and engage in real-world activities. Attend a local event, join a club, or simply strike up a conversation with a stranger at your favorite café. By immersing yourself in the present moment, you open the door to genuine connections.

Practice active listening: When engaging in conversations, make a conscious effort to truly listen. Instead of waiting for your turn to speak, focus on understanding the other person's perspective. Ask open-ended questions and show empathy. Authentic connections blossom when both parties feel heard and understood.

Share vulnerability: Social media is an echo chamber hidden behind a façade of perfection. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and share your struggles, fears, and aspirations with trusted friends or family members. Vulnerability cultivates deeper connections by fostering empathy and understanding.

Embrace random acts of kindness: Extend kindness to others without expecting anything in return. Small gestures, such as offering a genuine compliment or lending a helping hand, can brighten someone's day and forge meaningful connections. Acts of kindness create ripple effects of positivity, fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Prioritize quality time: In a world inundated with distractions, carve out dedicated time for meaningful interactions. Schedule regular outings with loved ones, whether it's a weekly dinner date or a weekend hike. Quality time strengthens bonds and nurtures authentic connections, reminding us of the importance of human relationships in combating loneliness.

In an era defined by digital connectivity, the antidote to loneliness lies in rediscovering the essence of genuine connection. By embracing intentional interactions, practicing empathy, and prioritizing meaningful relationships, we can bridge the gap that separates us and cultivate a world rich in authentic human connection.