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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Combatting Loneliness

Hello everyone! If you've been watching SennSays for any amount of time, you know that I don't just like talking about clinical research (which has been my life for the past 20 years), or marketing, but I'm really into mentorship and personal & professional development. So, today we're going to talk about loneliness and that it's supposed to be an epidemic affecting our health and longevity. There is research showing that it could be as bad for our health and longevity as obesity. I have not read the research to know if that's true, but I don't think it matters. In this case, what I want to do is briefly touch on five ways that you can help decrease loneliness in yourself and others because maybe it doesn't affect you, but you know it affects other people.

Chronic loneliness is just straight up painful and horrible. And we don't want people to feel that way, at least I don't. So that's what this video is for—of course, we're all going to have acute bouts of loneliness. We are humans and we have the full breadth of human experience, highs and lows, all the time. We can’t always be on an even keel, so that's fine. I'm going to think about the ways to combat this as concentric circles from the outside: the people far away from us down to the inside circles. But I'm going to gloss over three of them, okay? Because I've videotaped this a few times and my videos are way too long, so I'm trying to shorten it.

The furthest out is Micro. This is a place where I think you have huge capability to improve your lives in other people's lives more than any of the others. And that is because these seemingly meaningless connections we have with people who we don't actually know, give us doses of oxytocin. They make us happy, they make the other person happy on a biological level, even if momentarily. But it's not so momentary because it has been shown that these little micro-connections with people have even, can even help a severely depressed person feel better. That's amazing! So, when you are walking by someone, (if you feel safe, but a lot of us live in places that are very safe, fortunately) you say hello, make eye contact, and give a genuine smile. This is important. It's the eye contact alone that is doing oxytocin. It's not a downward look or an offhand “hey,” -- that's not doing it for anybody, not you or them. So try to find ways to be not transactional. You're at the grocery store or talking to a retail clerk, making eye contact. Perhaps you have words of affirmation, like, “I love your name,” or “that's a great color on you.” Whatever it is, it doesn't matter and you're not trying to fake it, it must be real. But most importantly, make eye contact. Don't live a transactional life. Other humans or other humans, they're not just there to be passersby in the big scheme of the world. Of course, we always will have passersby-- I've been in cities where you're walking by a hundred people at a time. You're not making eye contact with all of them!

The next one is Collective. This is like a bigger group of people who maybe you have something in common with, like you work with them, but you're not really friends. Then you come to Relational where you are kind of friends, but you really see them at parties mostly, or you connect with them on text every couple of weeks, you're in group chats together. And then you come to your Intimate people, who are usually three to five people, and you're really, really close with them. I think we've heard about these three groups.

The core one though, where I think you can make a difference in your life is Self. This is one of the things I noticed when I was working at one of my externships in clinical psychology in a university psychology center. You had a lot of people who had come to university, it was their first year and they were feeling so detached from the world. They didn't know how to live with other people. They were away from a boyfriend or girlfriend, whatever it was, and they just weren't sure where they fit in. But those students, and with people I know now, engaged in what's called numbing behaviors. This is where it's so hard to be alone, and that the person is scrolling YouTube scrolling, TikTok scrolling, Facebook scrolling, watching TV for hours on end, not just a movie, but like TV all day or night, doing drugs or alcohol, as a matter of course, not recreationally, it's what they do when they're alone. And what this means is it’s a lot like the transactional thing we were talking about.

You're having a transaction with yourself, like you're not even making eye contact with yourself because you're instead engaging in some other behavior. So you're busy, you're preoccupied, but you're not creating a relationship with yourself. And I don't have the advice on how to have you create a relationship with yourself. But if you could just think about now that you have a visual, your spectrum of do I have a relationship with myself? Do I have three to five intimate friends? Do I have a relationship of some sort that's semi-close with like 15 people? Do I have other groups I can be in? Am I making contact with the world as a whole even if I don't know the people?

Somewhere in here [the concentric circles] is a place or many places to combat loneliness. If you have chronic loneliness or if you know someone who has it, what is it that they need? At the very least, I'm going to say, please go out and be in the world where you make eye contact and add a spark of joy to someone's life and your own through not being a transaction, but a moment of connection. Hope you have an amazing day, bye!


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