The loneliness epidemic has grown to be one of the most unexpected problems of our time, as, despite technology connecting us, people are feeling lonelier than ever. This is not an unknown, as I am sure that many of the people reading this – maybe even you – have felt that the evolution of social media and connectivity has left you feeling lonelier than ever. But why?
Studies show that one in five Canadians feels lonely, and it is not a surprise. While it may be easy to mark this off as a fact of all of us being anti-social, that is plainly not true. Humans are at their roots a pack animal. We thrive off of being surrounded by the ones we value most, and the lack thereof for many is the crux of a lot of dangerous issues for people in society.
Studies show that loneliness has concerning side effects, such as increased blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, depression and irritability. Loneliness is not an exclusive feeling, sectioned only for loners or people with no friends. The feeling of being emotionally alone can occur for people with five friends and 150 friends alike.
This brings us to many questions. Why is this happening now? There are a lot of theories, but one of the more prominent ones in our times is the ever-increasing accessibility of technology. My personal theory is that the societal pressure to compete with each other, alongside the constant comparisons made between yourselves and peers, does a lot of the work in breaking down our mental health.
Personally, I find myself to be lonely quite frequently. There isn’t much reason to be, as my line of work revolves around myself and my co-workers consistently interact with people on a daily basis. I ask myself a lot where those feelings of being alone are rooted, and I have found myself to continue wondering.
The College of New Caledonia is blessed to have students coming from countries across the world. I have spoken personally to many people who have found this feeling as a newly prominent emotion, one that they did not have as much of from where they came. I remember having a conversation with a couple of students from Jamaica, and the one thing that they pointed at a detractor during their time here was the seeming lack of a community. I agree with that statement. As someone who has studied at the College of New Caledonia and will continue to do so as an employee of the CNCSU, I have seen and felt this statement on a very personal level.
We are living in a world with a large amount of usage of social media, to the point where it is seemingly challenging finding someone who does not use some form of one. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or even LinkedIn, there is always a sense of validation intertwined between the memes and selfies.
When put into context, this makes a lot of sense. It has been shown that when people like your post, the validation creates a rush of dopamine – the “happiness hormone.” The effect has been shown to have similar effects as when winning money or eating chocolate amongst teenagers. This should not come as a surprise, as people seem to like talking about themselves. Quite a bit, actually. When this known fact is paired with that a large majority of user posts are directly related to themselves, it will have an effect on how you feel.
Online interaction is a unique way of communication, as what users post is controlled. This is important to bring up, as many people can find face-to-face interactions awkward, as what you say is often unplanned and can come out as something different from what you expected. This makes it seem that when you get likes and replies on your posts, you get more validation from that than actual conversations.
Unless you are friends with people who get 200+ likes on their posts within an hour.
While you get a rush of dopamine from being well-liked online, the platform has the side-effect of making the user compare themselves to those around them. This claim is not unfounded, as, in 1954, a psychologist by the name of Leon Festinger made the report that we naturally make comparisons between ourselves and others as a way to make judgements on our social status. This theory goes by the name of the Social Comparison Theory. The purpose of this feeling is theorized to be one’s way to protect ourselves and assess the threats around us.
These observations happen all the time. For example, if you were walking down the street and you see someone jogging while you munch down on a subway sandwich, you may naturally feel that you’re out of shape. Now imagine this happening every time you open up your Facebook feed.
It needs no explanation that if you feel threatened by those around you, that you will distance yourself from those threats. I feel that this is a large reason why the domestic students distance themselves from each other except for a few select people. These feelings of always comparing yourself to others are multiplied by the pressures of school with the stigmas associated with financial status, GPA, course understanding. For many, being in school, in general, feels like a multi-year competition with grants and scholarships sprinkled throughout.
As someone who has been struck with the feeling of loneliness in college, my advice to those reading is to try and disassociate yourself from social media as much as possible. Contrary to popular belief, the number of friends does not seem to cause how lonely you may feel. In my opinion and experience, it is how much you compare yourself to your peers, co-workers and classmates. As cliche as it may sound, be confident with yourself and where you stand in the world. Focus on improving yourself and what your story is rather than being worried about what Jessica from your English 103 class did last Saturday. You’ll feel a lot better.