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Loneliness: The Silent Crisis

We’re more connected than ever - and more lonely too, writes our Wellbeing columnist Mahesh Hayward. In fact so many people are lonely that doctors are worried loneliness will be the next big public health epidemic - on a par with obesity - and as bad for your health as smoking. 

Are you connected? Sure, you are - you’re reading this online so you must be using one of many devices to see the content on this web page right now. In fact, you’re not alone, not even remotely alone as it goes, this really is the Age of the Screen….

So, if you and I are communicating right now and you hear me talking to you in your head as you read, why is it your voice you hear and not mine? As you sit wherever you are, with your head bowed like a monk in silent meditation or an elderly person asleep during another episode of Countdown do you really feel you are communicating? Do you feel this is the method in which you can best use all your senses, and most importantly are you feeling like you are part of humanity or just sat in your own tiny bubble? Are you alone in a world of communication? Are we all lonely?

Earth or home has around 196.9 million square miles of land on the surface, which means the 7.125 billion people have plenty of room to share and can spread themselves out nicely. But oh no, we like to be together in tribes and live close to each other for safety and companionship.

A new study using footage from NASA shows half the world’s population lives in urban areas which is just 1% of the land available to us. (source: mail online science) So if we like being so close - so close I can actually hear my neighbour taking a pee in the morning - why do so many of us feel disconnected from those around us?  It isn’t from a lack of finding someone to converse with, my goodness we’re everywhere.

I believe the reason we are so unable to sit face-to-face with someone is the little screen you have in your hand, handbag or pocket right now, yes that little thing that holds every piece of information you need is the reason you may feel alone in the world of communication.

There are, (according to GSMA; the Association of Mobile Operators) 5 billion mobile phone users on the planet right now, and Hootsuite tell us that there were 3.77 billion global internet users in 2017.

So, if I can call my brother in New Zealand right now via Skype or I can “Like” my brother-in- law’s picture in Dubai today why am I not really connecting with everyone.

According to The Charities report, if you are feeling disconnected and lonely you are not alone because the quality of the UK’s social relationships is not good: one in eight people in Britain have no close friends to turn to and 45% of adults have felt lonely some of the time along with 18% feeling lonely often or all of the time.

Let’s Be Honest With Ourselves

I spend a lot of my time being with people, I mean really being with them. When I’m working my day job cutting men’s hair I have no choice but to listen, so that’s what I do! I really take notice of how they talk, how they sit and what faces they pull whilst telling me about their screaming kids, and the crappy jobs the wife has given them to do at the weekend. I can really be in the moment with my customer, listen and understand them, even give a sympathetic “I know mate, that’s ruff” response in the right and timely manner.

The reason I can do that is…. I don’t have a device in my hand, or a laptop open in front of me, there is no screen between us. We are talking to each other and sharing time and space with one another: this is real communication.

I didn’t have to scroll through loads of crappy photos of my customer’s holiday because he described them to me. I didn’t need to click a heart or Like button I just told him I liked what he was describing, and when he left he felt good to have chatted and shared and I had another location I want to go to when I retire.

Let’s really be honest with ourselves... when was the last time you spent any time without your mobile?  Was it while you slept? If so that doesn’t count, and some of you did have your mobile with you even when in an unconscious state. I mean what the f~#k? Why are we not turning these tools off, and why do we have 1,200 friends on FB that we haven’t seen for three years, 20% of whom you don’t even know.

Being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely, and being lonely also doesn’t mean you’re alone. These two words seem to imply a similar thing but they couldn’t be further apart. I can sit in the middle of London Waterloo train station and feel lonely, but I’m most definitely not alone.

I can also sit here writing this article by myself but not feel lonely because I believe that you have to like yourself to not be lonely. To like yourself means you become likeable which in turn means you are less likely to be alone, since you have become great company. So, how do we become happy with who we are and what do we need to do to be more interactive with one another?

 

  1. Try sitting by yourself for a few moments each day with no distractions i.e. TV, radio, phone, laptop. Just enjoy your surroundings; maybe walk to the shop and look in the gardens and say hello to a stranger.

 

  1. Use public transport without looking at your screen; smile at the other humans around you. You never know... you might even see someone you already know.

 

  1. Give yourself a curfew, a time when all devices and screens go off…. Even the big one in the lounge. Say 9pm for example; talk to your housemate, mum, brother, partner or cat. If you truly are by yourself try painting or drawing.

 

  1. Write a letter to a family member you haven’t seen for years; use a pen and paper, Remember those things? They came just after the chalk board.

 

  1. And if you are lucky enough to have another person in your life, tell them you care…. Tell them you love them and look them in the face whilst you’re doing it.

 

If we look up and around at all the potential people we could be spending time with - instead of the ones we see online - we could all be happier. We are a race in constant need of company. So, invite company to you… ask your next-door-neighbour in for coffee, join a group, be the person that listens to a colleague when they need help.

None of us need be lonely in this world. It’s ok to be alone; in fact it’s good for you in short bursts. But with billions of us living on this spinning little ball there is a mate out there for all of us, we just need to look up and not down.

So, let’s be there for each other, watch life unfold in front of you as it happens and not on Instagram or FB. Connect with yourself and find out who you really are, and then find out who everyone else is. Don’t be a stranger to your own needs and the needs of those around you.

Be well my friends and smile as you walk with your head held high, and maybe give a stranger a smile today.

Mahesh Hayward is our new Lush Life columnist. He will be exploring issues of Modern Living and Well-being in his weekly column

 

Doctors say loneliness can shorten your lifespan to the same extent as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and experts blame technology for the rise in the number of people who feel lonely.

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