If you're feeling lonely, you're not alone. America's loneliness epidemic is getting worse, with three in five adults (61%) reporting they are lonely, according to Cigna's 2020 Loneliness and the Workplace report.
While loneliness is growing, it also means it's malleable. What goes up, can come down. Decreasing loneliness takes a lot less effort than you might think.
Think of your well-being like the depleting battery of your phone. Our well-being batteries are always depleting, and it takes establishing meaningful connections to replenish the source. Much like connecting your phone charger to a power source to increase the battery life, you must connect with others to increase your well-being and protect against the empty battery that is loneliness. The power source of our well-being is our social connections, and those connections have to be continuously nurtured.
According to psychologists, the best way to lessen loneliness and limit its effects is by using "prosocial behavior." The literature states that prosocial behaviors include actions of comforting, sharing, helping, or cooperating that are backed by a general concern for the feelings, welfare, and rights of other people.
Loneliness is contagious, but so are prosocial actions. Those on the receiving end of prosocial behavior were a whopping 278% as likely to engage in prosocial behaviors themselves. The ripple effect of lessening loneliness with prosocial behaviors is gigantic. If you routinely execute prosocial behaviors, it could ignite similar behaviors throughout your organization and even to the broader world, leading to a healthier you, stronger families, and more united communities.
Just like a healthy body requires exercise regimens, so does a healthy social life. Better well-being, improved mental health, and less loneliness can be the result when we practice social fitness. Social exercises can reverse the negative effects of loneliness at work and at home.
For many of us, work is the place we spend most of our time. What better place, then, to practice our social exercises? Workplace loneliness experts and thought leaders Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen's new book CONNECTABLE: How Leaders Can Move Teams from Isolated to All In provides some great tips on how we can combat loneliness:
1. Express gratitude to someone
Tell someone one thing you appreciate about them. Express your heartfelt and personal gratitude via a phone call, email, text, handwritten note, or during an in-person conversation.
2. Welcome an interruption
Be interruptible today. When someone interrupts you during a task, embrace it and turn your complete attention to them, suggest the authors. Don't let tasks and deadlines override your relationships. Create the necessary margin and self-permission to say no to the urgent and lean into the important. Besides, never drifting off task is for robots. Be wonderfully human.
3. Establish a phone-free zone
Choose one situation today that will be a phone-free zone. Use the time to connect with your thoughts and/or surroundings. Don't let your ability to be still, idle, and present atrophy because of a dependence on technology.
4. Scroll down memory lane
Look back through the photos on your phone to see who you were with one year, week, or month ago today. Send a text to the person in the photo, include the photo and a short message about that memory. #TimeFlies
5. Arrive extra early
Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early to your next meeting, appointment, or social meetup. According to the authors, research proves that time constraints severely limit our willingness to engage with others. If you are constantly rushing from one thing to the next, you constrain the opportunity to connect with someone along the way. Don't let busyness blind you to the needs and presence of others around you. Create more margin to create more connection.
The social fitness of humanity has been one of the greatest (if not the greatest) contributors to the longevity of our species. A human can't outrun a lion, overpower a rhinoceros, or outswim a shark. Humans don't have natural armor, can't fly, and don't have sharp teeth. What makes humanity so dominating is our social skills--our ability to work, learn, and communicate together. We watch each other's back, identify mutual threats, establish cultural norms, support one another, and form alliances.
Loneliness and isolation run counter to the very thing that makes us the most spectacular species on the planet. Loneliness directly conflicts with being human. Social creatures have a social muscle that requires social fitness. And the good news is every person has the power to improve theirs