Dealing with Social Isolation Today
Social Isolation Facts:
- We have 30% fewer friends than we did 20 years ago.
- Online relationships are less developed than face-to-face relationships — spending less time together, having less in common and sharing fewer intimate issues with each other. (Mesch, 2006; Chan, 2004; Baron, 2008)
- We are 40% less likely to help friends than we were in 1970.
Why are we more socially isolated today (than 10 years ago)?
- Too Tired:
Most people say they don’t have the energy to spend the time developing and maintaining relationships. They report feeling like they are too busy and their brains are too overloaded at the end of the day from work or family to make the effort.Brain researchers, such as Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows, talks about how it is the new technologies that are fueling a feeling that things are never done. There are always fun ways to engage our brains with FaceBook, Twitter and Google that we are not ‘unplugging’ long enough to feel rested.
- Methods of communication have changed:
We are spending much more time communicating with text — emails, texting, FB and IM — shying away from the types of technology that require more direct and immediate forms of communication such as face-to-face meetings and the telephone. It is precisely these direct methods, however, that offer greater connection and intimacy.
- Types of Connection have changed:
While the Internet is allowing us to meet more people from a varieties of places and backgrounds, researchers are finding that these relationships are fleeting and less intimate compared with face-to-face meetings.
- We are Bored More Easily:
Brain experts have documented how our brains have adapted to expect a higher level of stimulation than even 15 years ago. Offline relationships are just not as ‘stimulating’ to us as the deluge of online connections is when we flip back and forth from one email, to IM, to FB to Twitter.
What to do if you find yourself more Socially Isolated:
There is hope. And you don’t have to give us your FaceBook or stop reading the news.
Here are a few solutions to social isolation today to consider as you go about your day.
- Be Aware:
Know that you are not alone. This change in how we communicate is a worldwide phenomenon that has come with globalization and technology. Almost everyone is shunning face-to-face and phone connections and turning to the internet to get their social fix. You are not the only one who is getting fewer phone calls and party invites.
- Identify your Unique Social Patterns:
This is when therapy makes sense. It is crucial to know when you are falling into an old pattern that may be undermining your ability to connect with other. It is difficult to see your own patterns without help. Counselling is an effective way to help you to identify what you are doing ‘wrong’, your unhealthy patterns and ways to focus on your strengths.
- Be aware of taking the easy way out:
Frankly, it is easier to chat online than it is to make the effort to see a friend in person. It is easier to write a quick text to a person you are disagreeing with than explain what is bothering you over the phone or in person. And it is easier to block a friend on FB when you get irritated by them than addressing the issue in person.The truth of the matter is that the joy and closeness that comes out of real connections requires effort. Real relationships can be far more stimulating and fulfilling than the easy way out. Make the effort.Where to start? I call it the 30 second rule. Most social discomfort will last 30 seconds or less. Counselling can help you to see that the social anxiety is short-lived and helps you to get the skills to overcome these seconds of discomfort, uncovering feelings of closeness and acceptance with a partner.
- Address the “Overwhelmed” Factor:
Our brains love stimulation. We are wired to seek out safe and new stimulation at every turn. That quality has helped us survive. The Internet offers an endless supply of interesting and safe stimulation for our brains to feed on. The negative side of this human tendency is ‘over stimulation’. We love it, but it tires us out. The secret is to know when to stop overstimulating yourself and sit for a moment, take a walk and avoid stimulation. Contemplation is key to creativity and energy. If we stop over-stimulating our brains with useless facts, such as whether Lindsay Lohan was arrested again or not, we may have more energy to engage with our friends.