When I told people that I was writing about the modern loneliness epidemic, the first thing they would say is “It’s the social media, right?”
Well, no. Not really.
Our dependence on social media is actually a band-aid. It’s an attempt to cover the ache of isolation and loneliness, but it’s only a small part of why we feel that way.
The more research I did into the topic, the more I came to understand that the problem is the way we live today – our 10 foot privacy fences, 12 hour work days, divorce, cross country moves, low birthrates, insane schedules, long commutes, etc – the way we live our lives almost seems purposely designed to be the very worst things for our feelings of belonging, safety, and community. The feelings that are so important to our mental health and well-being are in short supply these days.
We weren’t designed to live this way. We’re not meant to live lives of such intense isolation.
We’re actually made to live within the safe community of our families or tribes. Human beings do best when we live near to the people who love and know us best, people who work with and support each other. This isn’t news to anyone. We know this instinctively.
We know that in a perfect world we’d have multiple generations helping us raise our children and take care of our elderly or sick relatives. We know that when our babies take their unsteady toddling steps into the waiting aging hands of their great-grandparents, it’s good for both of them. We know this, and yet we make decisions that carry us further and further away from the ideal of a close and connected family.
If you’re living far from home, go back if you can. If that’s not possible, then you need to create a tribe of people for yourself. Not just people of your own generation and season of life, but a broad swath across the spectrum – you need siblings and grandparents, cousins and parents. You need to find people who will stand in the gap created by the lack of family, or a healthy functioning family, nearby.
Depression and loneliness are skyrocketing as we become more and more isolated, and it’s not really a mystery why. We are, biologically speaking, herd animals. Have you ever watched the Nature Channel and seen the look on a gazelle’s face when it gets separated from its herd? The complete fear of finding themselves alone is one that we know all too well. Too many of us are living the life of that shocked gazelle, and not knowing why we can’t find peace and a sense of belonging.
We’re feeling lonely because we’re alone. The only way to fix that is to find our herd – either the one we came from or the one we create. While social media can help you find your people, eventually you’ve got to turn off the screens and get to know each other in real life.
image credit : By Grant’s_Gazelle.jpg: Stig Nygaard from Copenhagen, Denmark derivative work: Lycaon (Grant’s_Gazelle.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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