How to feel less lonely

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Many have become increasingly lonely and isolated, and this lack of social connection is having profound effects on our mental and physical health, the surgeon general warned in an advisory last week.اضافة اعلان

Advisories from the US’ top doctor are typically reserved for public health challenges that require immediate attention. This is the first time one has been used to highlight the issue of loneliness.

Dr Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, has often spoken about the decline in social connection and wrote a book about the subject, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” which was published in 2020.

In the new advisory, he calls on the nation to strengthen its social fabric and to prioritize meaningful relationships.

Whether we consider ourselves lonely or not, many of us can benefit from making the effort to rebuild and cultivate our connections with people.

Here are his suggestions.

Reconnect with peopleTo get started, take 15 minutes each day to contact a friend or a relative. Put a reminder in your calendar, if needed, so that it remains a priority. Your relationships cannot thrive unless they are nurtured.

“Those brief in-person interactions can make us feel good for a long time because we are hard-wired to connect,” Murthy said.

Even if it is only a brief conversation, show how much you value the person you are speaking with by being authentic, Murthy advised. In other words, as he put it, “be real” when you are connecting with someone.

“We don’t have to put on airs,” he said. “We don’t have to be somebody else. We can just truly be us.”

It might be scary at first, Murthy added. Sharing honestly, and inviting others to do likewise, “can be incredibly powerful,” he said.

Minimize distractionsHow often have you caught yourself looking at your phone while someone is speaking with you? What about during meals? Do other people do this when speaking with you? For more satisfying quality time, put the devices down and give your full attention.

“Focus on the conversation,” he said. “Listening is as important as what we say.”

While you are at it, scale back on social media. Virtual connection is not a replacement for in-person time with the important people in your life. Despite the ever-increasing opportunities to connect online, Americans report having fewer friends than they did decades ago.

“Over thousands of years, we evolved to not only understand the content of what someone was saying but also to respond to the tone of their voice, to read their body language and to experience their presence,” Murthy said. “And we lose a lot of that when we are communicating electronically.”

When people call, answerImagine your phone ringing. You see it is a call from your best friend from college whom you have not caught up with in a long time. But instead of accepting the call, you decide not to answer. You tell yourself you will call back later when you have more time to chat.

Next time, Murthy said, pick up the phone and talk. If you are in the middle of something, say, “Hey, it’s really good to hear your voice,” and then find another time to talk.

“That 10 seconds feels so much better than going back and forth on text,” he said.

Serve othersStudies show that volunteering can ease feelings of loneliness and broaden our social networks. Consider donating your time to an organization in your community, or offering to help your family, co-workers or friends.

“When we help other people, we establish an experience or a connection with them — but we also remind ourselves of the value that we bring to the world,” Murthy said. “And that’s essential because when people struggle with loneliness over time, it does erode their self-esteem and their sense of self. It can make them believe over time that they’re lonely because they’re not likable or they’re not lovable. And when we serve others, we come to see that that’s not the case.”

Get helpFinally, tell someone if you are struggling with loneliness. It could be a relative, a friend, a counselor or a health care provider.

If you are feeling persistently sad and hopeless, and it is getting in the way of your ability to function in your day-to-day life or to participate in activities that used to bring you joy, then that is a red flag that you may need to speak with a professional. 

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