The Loneliness Paradox: Disconnection in a Connected World

​In our society, most of us view ourselves as modern beings, with our primal instincts tucked away and under control. We live in our houses or apartments, with the “up-to-date conveniences” that ultimately deprive our basic needs for connection. The more advanced technologically we get, the less human interaction is required. But humans by nature are communal animals. We need each other to thrive. Without our clan we suffer.

​We are witnessing the rise of a loneliness epidemic. The less time we spend with people on a regular basis the more anxious we become. But which came first, the chicken or the egg? Are we seeing loneliness becoming pervasive because we have an increase in anxiety, or is our heightened sense of anxiety causing us to isolate, therefore leaving us lonely? The answer is both.

​Technology is not the only culprit. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our psyches. We were told for over a year that if we left our “bubble” we could die. Or by going out and being with others we might infect a loved one and be responsible for their death. The one-two punch of technology and Covid has brought record heights in both anxiety and loneliness. We have become increasingly cautious of in person connections, thereby adding social anxiety to exacerbate the problem.

Anxiety and Loneliness

​Let’s begin with the pandemic and its correlation to anxiety and loneliness. Going back to the principle that we belong in a clan, gives light to the idea that the myriad people in our lives fulfill different needs. It is impossible to get all of your needs met by one person. We develop special relationships to meet the needs of our various parts of self. There are those who are good listeners, those who praise our accomplishments, others who make us laugh, or share common interests, or enjoy the same sports team and so  on. We need different people to see the unique and diverse sides of self that make us who we are as individuals. The many creates the one. Left to our own devices, we limit our sources of external validation leaving us to feel unseen and ergo less than.

​The wake of the pandemic washed away many age-old friendships that slipped off of our radar. It created a trend of working from home, depriving us of the camaraderie of our co-workers. We go out to restaurants less often, having become accustomed to the “contactless delivery” left out our front doorsteps. People are even doing therapy on-line. Communication is verbal only in a small part. We connect through energy, body language and touch. We need it all to feel whole. On top of which many students were forced to learn from home depriving them of the interaction required for mental and social development, leaving them deposited back in their schools emotionally younger than the grade they are attending.

Humans are Social Creatures

​Human connection is vital to our mental health. Social skills are built over time, not unlike a muscle that gets stronger with use. The less we see each other the less socially adept we come, thereby harvesting a fear of connection, that encourages isolation which leads loneliness. For example, when we hug each other the hormone oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love drug” gets released into our nervous system. It is bedfellows with our dopamine and serotonin receptors, which promote inner peace, self-esteem, and better sleep to name a few. Conversely, anxiety, which produces adrenaline and cortisol in our brains, triggers a fight/flight mechanism causing us to run and isolate.

​An acronym I find appropriate for fear is “false evidence appearing real.” Anxiety tells us that the world around us is not safe. As it grows it makes our worlds smaller. The pandemic urged us to avoid travel. Technology tells us the world is at our fingertips. So, we go out less. We begin remaining closer to our hometown. As anxiety grows it begins to take on the symptoms of agoraphobia, giving weight to the idea that we should stay within a small radius of the house. Limiting the stores we go to, seeing less people, until we are shut into our houses. While the world is “at our fingertips” the touch and feel of people is gone. Loneliness is our day to day experience.

Nature and Connection Are Vital!

​No matter how advanced we get, we will never replace the need for each other. Sadly, our need to become more efficient and safer is having the reverse effect. Nature and connection are vital to our bodies, our mind and our spirit. We need to be outside, and we need to be with each other.  As a therapist, I often ask people where their favorite place is, the answer is usually “on a beach”, not locked inside their house. In my book The Missing Peace: Rewire Your Brain, Reduce Anxiety and Recreate Your Life, many chapters address the need for human companionship and acceptance as the elixir for anxiety and the pathway to well-being.

It’s hard to feel accepted and loved by others if you are alone. 

​Granted we all need our alone time. We can’t be with each other all the time. Moderation is the key to life. I often wish the color gray had a better connotation because life happens in the gray. Black and white thinking never serves us. Anxiety is a liar that predicts doom. It takes us to extreme and dark what ifs. It causes us to isolate. The root word of loneliness is lone. The solution for loneliness is connection and community. Therefore, we must acknowledge the causality between loneliness and anxiety. 

​It is my hope that the pendulum will swing again, but this time it stops in the middle. We will continue to appreciate the advantages that science affords us, but that we never forget the science of nature and our inherent need for connection.

This guest post was authored by Laura Rhodes-Levin

Laura Rhodes-Levin, LMFT, author of The Missing Peace: Rewire Your Brain, Reduce Anxiety, and Recreate Your Life(Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) is a licensed therapist who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling and is known for her unique approach in the understanding of anxiety and anxiety disorders. She is also the Founder of The Missing Peace Center for Anxiety, a facility that offers a variety of modalities, including Psychotherapy, Neurofeedback, Play Therapy, Olfactory Anxiety Reduction, Group Therapy, Movement, and more to help ease the nervous system and restore the brain, body, and mind to a place of calmness and relaxation.


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Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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