Why vulnerability may be the answer to our new epidemic: loneliness
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our lives in many ways, and one of the most significant impacts has been on our social connections. With social distancing measures and lockdowns, many of us have experienced a rise in loneliness and isolation. Studies show that loneliness has doubled during the pandemic, yet it is not a new phenomenon. These feelings already existed and were definitely on the rise, but there was less public awareness of them. Ever since the pandemic however, loneliness has become so pervasive across all age groups including teens, that it is increasingly being recognised as a critical public health threat.
Loneliness is inextricably linked to our physical and mental health
Loneliness can have a range of negative effects on our physical and mental health. According to several studies, loneliness can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. When we are lonely, we may experience a heightened sense of stress and anxiety, which can trigger the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. Over time, chronic stress can take a toll on the body, leading to a weakened immune system and increased inflammation. This can increase our risk of a variety of diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Studies have also shown that chronic loneliness can increase the risk of depression, anxiety and suicide. In fact, one study found that loneliness was a stronger predictor of early death than obesity.
The bottom line is: loneliness and physical and mental health issues aren’t just linked, loneliness can actually cause severe health problems.
Overcoming loneliness by being vulnerable and allowing deeper connections
One factor that is often overlooked but is crucial to overcoming loneliness is vulnerability. When we hide our vulnerability, we create a barrier between ourselves and others. Vulnerability allows us to connect with people on a deeper level. When we are vulnerable, we are able to share our experiences and emotions with others, and in doing so, we can build stronger relationships and feel less isolated. This connection can provide a sense of support and belonging, which can be critical for our mental health. While vulnerability can be difficult, uncomfortable or scary, it is essential for maintaining good mental health.
When we are open and honest about how we are feeling, we can better understand and cope with our emotions, rather than suppressing them. This can help to prevent the development of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, which can be exacerbated by repressed emotions.
Loneliness deserves attention and appropriate response measures
The UK, for example, has already recognised the importance of combating loneliness through public education campaigns and political action. It is clear that addressing this wider issue is also important for our healthcare systems which sees mental health issues like anxiety, depression and social isolation steadily on the rise. Ultimately, loneliness is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a comprehensive approach to address, and sharing our vulnerability to create stronger connections with other people is just one factor. So, what can individuals do to live a more connected, fulfilling life?
- Proactively seek out moments of connection and social experiences, e.g. chatting with co-workers, having coffee with a friend or join a family gathering
- Prioritise self-care and do something that is good for your physical and mental health regularly, like exercise, taking a bath, listening to a great podcast or preparing a nourishing meal
- Learn how to be vulnerable again with family, friends and co-workers and ask for support when you need it
Embracing vulnerability is essential for good mental health and wellbeing. It is important to understand that by sharing more with the people around us, we create a safe and supportive environment for them too. And when we allow personal connections to thrive, this is what happens: people thrive, businesses thrive and societies thrive.
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