Finding genuine connection with others can be hard. Everyone wants a supportive community, but life often bombards us with what can feel like imposing obstacles to that community.
It’s easier to self-isolate than ever. In fact, technology often encourages this isolation, using algorithms to push us further into a content bubble; not to mention the busy and ever changing nature of life.
We have to be proactive in breaking down these barriers and getting outside of our comfort zones in order to break self-defeating and self-shaming patterns of thought.
The affects of loneliness should not be taken likely: extreme loneliness can not only dramatically affect your mental health, but your physical health as well.
According to the study Loneliness in America,
“lacking social connection carries the same if not greater health risks as heavy smoking, drinking, and obesity.”
As if that wasn’t enough, another study linked perceived social isolation with other negative health effects including, “depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.”
Woah! I bet you didn’t realize how much loneliness can really hurt you. We sure didn’t. So if the stakes are that high, we need to get to the bottom of why building and maintaining community can be so hard, especially as we age.
Growing up, if you were involved with school, church, any type of extracurricular club or sport, you had a sort of built-in community. Even just attending school put you in an environment with people your age that you were forced to spend time with, allowing more opportunities for connections to be made and common interests to be found.
As we move through adulthood, people move and change and priorities shift. Friendships are more fluid and voluntary than most relationships, so they don’t always survive these big changes.
Life seems to get busier and busier; spouses, kids, jobs, and parents can easily take up the majority of emotional and relational bandwidth. And that’s understandable. BUT we can’t forget how important quality friendships are to our mental health. One study found that the characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else was the strength of their social relationships.
As we age, our reliance on our friends often lessens. This transition can be hard, but it can also open the door to a different kind of relationship–one based on mutual understanding and expectation.
You’re not obligated to your friends like you are to your family. Any obligations you have to your friends are the ones you choose to have.
But one can have many friends and still be lonely; it’s about investing in the right friendships: the ones where you feel understood and seen.
Our phones can be a place where we find escape, but they can also be the place we find isolation, impossible expectations, and filtered realities.
Social media is not real life. We’ll say it again for the people in the back, social media is not real life! But so often we compare our realities to the curated snapshots on our screen.
We’ve all been in a public place or social situation and shoved our noses in our phone to avoid looking and feeling awkward – c’mon, there’s no shame in admitting it.
But when turning to technology becomes our go-to, rather than pushing through awkward feelings and engaging with others, we are missing out on much more meaningful connections than technology could ever provide.
Depending on your personality type, upbringing, etc. making connections might be particularly difficult for you. Feeling a lack of confidence in these areas might cause you to have anxiety surrounding social situations.
If you suffer from anxiety, you’re not alone: “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year” (https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics).
It can be tempting to avoid social situations that make us feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to engage in social situations anyway.
The more you put yourself in uncomfortable social situations, the more you learn. Skills like introducing yourself, carrying on a conversation, and recognizing social cues are all skills that can be learned and improved upon.
And the good news is,
People aren’t paying as much attention to you as you think.
In fact, it’s a proven fact! The “spotlight effect” refers to the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they do . So don’t let social anxieties or self-deprecating thoughts keep you from getting out there and making meaningful connections!
We’ve all felt loneliness in our lives and that feeling is likely to visit us again at some point. One of the best ways to combat loneliness is community; whether it’s changing seasons, reliance on technology, anxiety, or something else keeping you from fostering community, don’t forget how important quality social connections are to your mental and physical health.
Embrace the changes life brings, but make building and investing in friendships a priority in all seasons. At Church on the Move, we believe the greatest spiritual growth comes in community.
Have you found yours?
Maybe we can help. Find a group: https://churchonthemove.com/smallgroups
Read our blog on the difficulties of maintaining friendships: