Welcome to the Dr. Sylvia case show. It’s where mindfulness meets brain health with a dash of spirituality.
This podcast is all about igniting the fire of possibility, and self-awareness so that true change and healing can happen. I’m your host, Dr. Sylvia Kay, and I’m a Ph.D. level therapist with a zest for well-being and discovering your inner spark. I’ve worked with all kinds of clients from celebrities, to your next-door neighbor, women, men, and teens, who have spent a lot of time feeling anxious, lonely, and stuck.
My mission is to show each listener what’s truly possible. If you’re ready to move past self-limiting beliefs, and live a better life, with more meaning, more connection, and confidence. This podcast is for you.
Hello, and welcome back to the Dr. Sylvia case show. So I want to focus on the topic of loneliness in this episode. It’s something that we really don’t talk about because I think number one, many of us don’t even realize that we’re experiencing loneliness. And number two, it’s something not really comfortable to talk about, right? It’s something that often many of us might feel embarrassed about. Or we might even look at it as a character flaw.
So I want to spend time in this episode, naming loneliness, talking about maybe some unconventional, cares, juristic, or symptoms of loneliness, work on shaming it, and also share some statistics about loneliness in the United States, from research that’s been gathered since around starting around 2016 Up until now in 2021. So let’s first just start off by talking about some loneliness statistics.
And I’m actually using some data from social pronouns.com. And these are statistics that have been gathered, excuse me gathered again since around 2019. And it states here actually from the survey conducted by Cigna on loneliness that 61% of Americans felt lonely in 2019 and 2018. That number was 54% 52% sometimes are always felt alone in 2019. In 2018, that number was 46% 47% sometimes are always felt that their relationships were not meaningful in 2019 21%. report having no close friends 58% of people said that they sometimes or always felt like no one knew them well, in 2019. In 2018, that number was about 54% 49% sometimes are always felt as though they lack companionship in 2019. In 2018, that number was about 43%. And then 53% of people surveyed say it’s difficult to make friends because they are shy.
Now I want to cover some stats on loneliness in the US compared to other countries. In 20 29.3% of Americans report not having any friends or relatives that they can count on. The same number for the UK is 6% Denmark is 4.5% Iceland 2.4% Israel 9.4%, Greece 21.7%, and Mexico 14.9. In 2017 10.1% of Americans reported not having friends or relatives that they can count on. 22% of Americans reported feeling lonely often or always. And the same number for the UK is 23% and Japan 9%. Now that was in 2017.
Now let’s fast forward to loneliness and the Coronavirus during COVID. In The COVID 19 pandemic, 36% of Americans say that they felt more lonely than usual during the pandemic 50% say there has been no significant impact and 9% say they felt less lonely than usual. 34% of millennials always or often feel more lonely because of the Coronavirus situation 27% of their generation Z always or often feel more lonely because of the Coronavirus situation. 22% of our Gen X also feel that they feel lonely because of the Coronavirus situation. And then 20% of our baby boomers always or often feel more lonely because of the Coronavirus situation.
And then I’m going to fast forward to loneliness and health. How does loneliness affect our physical health? Will 26% increase there’s excuse me a 26% increase in the likelihood of mortality among individuals who feel lonely 45% There’s a 45% increased risk of mortality and seniors who are lonely. There’s a 29% increase in the risk of heart disease in individuals with poor social relationships. And there’s a 32% increase in the risk of stroke and individuals with poor social relationships. loneliness and isolation have similar effects on health as being obese, being an alcoholic. And even compared to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Can you believe that?
Loneliness and isolation have the same impact on your physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day has that was conducted in a study in 2010. And that loneliness is more harmful than not exercising. And then a couple of other specifics here that I want to focus on is that our youngest generations in the United States, our G excuse me, our Z generation is the loneliest age group 65% of Gen Z years sometimes or always feel lonely. 69% feel shy 90% of our Gen Z years state that they have no close friends. And 87% Say it’s difficult to make new friends because they are shy. Oh, I could keep going on and on about the stats. I don’t want to drown you in them.
I just wanted to paint a picture of how serious loneliness is in the United States and globally. 33% Of our worldwide population report feeling lonely. So this truly is not an only a national public health concern in the United States, it’s a global concern. And I want to start talking about it more. I want not only to share statistics, but I want to share our personal experiences. Because if we can share our personal stories about loneliness, hopefully, not only can we contribute to naming it, but we can contribute to unshaven it. Loneliness is a universal human experience. But you don’t have to stay lonely in the experience, you can talk about it, you can share your story with another person. And I think that the more that we actually open up and talk about our loneliness, the less lonely will feel.
Tonight recording this episode, I actually had my own dose of loneliness and definitely FOMO fear of missing out or, you know, just a real sense of being left out. Today’s the opening of Art Basel in Miami. And often for the last four to five years, I always made it a point on the opening night to go to context Miami and Art Miami. And today with the responsibilities of being a mother with a young child and also an entrepreneur, running my own business, I wasn’t able to go couldn’t find a babysitter. And really my priorities were to be with my son and to actually make this podcast. So there’s this kind of double-edged sword that is as happy as I am that I finally achieved my dream of becoming a mother.
There’s a sense of loss where I’m not able to do the things where I was where I used to feel freer and was able to be more spontaneous. I’m not able to do the things that I used to love to do around art basel. And of course, I could, you know, do a couple of events this week.
But there was the sense of I’m left out. And in that kind of internal dialogue, there was a sense of loneliness, loneliness inside motherhood, loneliness inside entrepreneur. Excuse me, entrepreneurialism, loneliness, even inside being a therapist, like I have such deep, incredible conversations and therapeutic discussions with my clients and we do deep processing, yet their clients and, you know, when I finish work, I don’t have that many friends that I can connect to and even if I Do I am drained that given most of my energy to my clients, and I have to save a little bit at the end, to take care of my son and to be present in my marriage.
So sometimes even, you know, not only within motherhood but even within marriage and Couplehood, there can be a sense of loneliness, because you give so much of your energy to the duties and you have very little left to give your partner. And you can often start to not only feel overwhelmed and drained by all the responsibilities, but you start to experience cognitive dissonance where you and your partner don’t have the same things that you’re on the same page about anymore. I mean, you do maybe your core values and your family and whatever else that you might share in common. But, you know, those, maybe hobbies or interests are things that you had more time to do before the added responsibilities and duties. You may not have that same kind of time to share in those small activities and those things that perhaps, you know, brought joy and took your mind off the seriousness in life.
I think that often happens in parenthood, and in families and Couplehood, that there’s a certain sense of seriousness that gets put on the relationship as you get spread then in your work, and in your roles as a parent and husband and wife. And I think it’s just important to talk about this too, to give it a name to give it words to describe these internal lonely experiences. Because sometimes it’s so abstract, it’s in our head, we might feel irritable, we might feel off, we might feel cranky. And we might attribute that to our tiredness. But maybe underneath that if we scratch the surface, that irritability is a symptom of loneliness, right?
Your brain is not getting that same cognitive resonance that it was getting. When you had more time to be social. When your lifestyle was different, you were able to socialize with friends. You know, COVID-19 has made a significant impact on the way we socialize. And even though many people have started socializing again and are kind of back in the swing of things. Perhaps there were certain relationships or friendships that were impacted during quarantine or the Coronavirus.
Maybe there were arguments that were had and relationships changed due to strong opinions on being vaccinated or not being vaccinated. Maybe strong political opinions created separations and some of your friendships. Or maybe, again, some of the big lifestyle changes that happened because of Coronavirus. Maybe you were laid off, maybe you’ve had to move homes, maybe rent was too high. And all of the stress also just created such an overwhelming sense of pressure on you that you lost touch or you just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to connect with friends and family.
I’m just trying to name various experiences that loneliness can be packaged as you know, loneliness within stress, loneliness within marriages I mentioned earlier, loneliness within entrepreneurialism, loneliness within success, you know, often people once they start to achieve their success after working hard, or maybe it was a quick success, you know, but regardless, there was definitely effort and time and a lot of imagination put into that success. However, once you’ve achieved it, often people might try or start treating you differently. Or maybe that sense of responsibility and vision and focus that you have towards your success consumes so much of you that you end up isolating yourself even more.
And so yeah, there can be a deep sense of loneliness within success. There could also be loneliness as I mentioned earlier in motherhood and parenthood. There can be loneliness deeply felt in our college students as they transition from home to campus or perhaps going back home because of the sense of overwhelming by the pressure online versus on campus. And often just, you know, the transition and changes that have been happening with COVID have put an immense sense of purpose. pressure and stress are many of our Gen Z years. And within that stress there can be a deep sense of feeling, of loneliness, not feeling understood, not feeling quite supported, and missing out on a big chunk of, my, life and milestones as are a college student now.
Many of them if you are a freshman, or sophomore, most you missed out on your high school graduation, or perhaps your entrance to college was placed on hold.
So huge milestones and transitions were experienced quite differently than generations before, that didn’t have to go through COVID. And maybe there’s that sense of loneliness that your parents or you know, your older family members don’t understand. There’s also a sense of loneliness that so many people experienced in hospitals, in the ICU units, ICU units, especially the families that were taking care of their loved ones, that deep sense of loneliness, being separated from their family, or maybe for that one family member that was allowed into the hospital, feeling so consumed are overwhelmed with all the pressure and the uncertainty of what was going to happen to their family member.
And for those of you that have experienced deep grief and deep loss during this pandemic, can also experience a sense of loneliness, when compared to others who didn’t have family members that died. And if you’re one person that experienced many deaths during this pandemic, you might also feel a deep sense of loneliness, that you’re not able to really process or talk about these deep experiences of loss with others who haven’t. And maybe there’s that feeling of why I and it’s not fair. And when am I going to get a break? Maybe your own family had experienced so many hardships, one after another during the last two years, and there could be this sense of loneliness when compared to other people in your community, that may not have experienced that same level of hardship.
Maybe there’s the experience of loneliness, even within the housing market, maybe you haven’t been able to buy, maybe you’ve been outbid, maybe you can’t afford your rent, maybe you can’t afford even a mortgage. And there’s this deep sense of loneliness that you can’t afford. The house that you want, can’t even afford to be able to take care of your family in the way that you want to or the way that you see others.
Maybe there’s a sense of loneliness that you’re experiencing your health experiencing a deep or sudden transition in your health. And the way you used to live before is quite different from the way you live now. So these are all just various examples of how loneliness can show up. And, again, this episode is really to start the conversation to talk about it, to offer you the statistics that I mentioned at the beginning of the episode. And to also unshaved it. There is really if you think about it, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about in loneliness because we’re all good experienced it at one point in our lives, right and various points of our lives.
And I think if we can start to open up our hearts and extend compassion, to those who are experiencing loneliness, and compassion to ourselves, knowing that it’s not easy to feel lonely, that loneliness does have a significant impact on your health. And if you can start to bring compassion to how hard it is, and bring that level of awareness and acknowledgment to it and name it this is loneliness. And loneliness does have a significant impact on my health. It’s almost as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So if you can extend that compassion, awareness, and acknowledgment towards the phenomenon of loneliness, perhaps then you can feel more motivated to actually not only talk about it but take small action steps to start to address the loneliness. For me, for example, even though I felt left out of the opening apart, basil and that is a very small worry.
But I wanted to acknowledge it. Because if I discounted and said that’s trifle right that that’s nothing to feel bad about. If I deny own self, the experience of what I’m feeling will exacerbate and grow into something later, but by naming it Yeah, I feel left out. Yeah, my life has changed. Yes, there are beautiful pluses and positives around me. But there is still this sense of loneliness. And by naming it, I can at least acknowledge it, and shame it. And then take the small action step. And what I’ve decided to do is that Friday, at two o’clock, I reached out to a friend, I’m going to go to an art exhibit with a friend that I reached out this evening to my friend and said, Hey, are you going to Art Basel on Friday? Can we meet, I would love to go with you. If I hadn’t acknowledged my sense of loneliness, I most likely would have brushed this whole week of art basil under the rug and said, I can go next year, it’s not a big deal. But it is, it is a big deal to me.
I love art. I love artists, I love to see other people utilize their imagination and creativity. I love the spaces that our basil creates. And by taking that small action step and reaching out to a friend, and making that appointment for this Friday, I have something to look forward to. And it helps, it really does help to manage the loneliness. And to give me that sense of self-agency, because often in loneliness, we can feel helpless. And if we ignore it, it can exacerbate into bigger things. So I would like to leave you with three tips per se or three suggestions on how to address loneliness.
First, name it, name it. This is loneliness. I’m experiencing loneliness. If you’re a new mom, most likely you’re experiencing loneliness in the first year. If you’re just recently divorced, you know, loneliness. If you’ve experienced grief and loss, and you’ve had a loved one die, whether it was one year ago or 10 years ago, you will experience loneliness when you miss that person, especially around the holidays. If you’re going through any kind of life transition right now, most likely you’re feeling lonely. Even if you’re experiencing success and a huge milestone, most likely you’re experiencing some sense of loneliness at the top.
Just name it. It’s not a character flaw. It’s a human experience. And as you name it, you’re gonna unshaped it and know that this is a part of our human experience on this planet. The second step is to ground yourself. Let’s take a deep breath. Even as you’re hearing this episode, Let’s inhale and together. An exhale it all out. To more deep breaths, inhale through your nose and exhale. And one more deep inhale through your nose. And exhale, allow. So grounding, grounding your body, helps your nervous system better regulate when you are experiencing loneliness. Because most often when we do experience loneliness, we hold our breath, we get really into our head.
We overanalyze things, we nitpick things, we experience negativity dominance, where 80% of our thoughts are going to be focused on the negative aspects of the situation. And then when we stay in that state of mind, not only do we usually experience shorter, like our breath becomes shorter, more constricted, but then our body starts to tighten up, all of our muscles start to tighten up, and that experience creates a lot of stress on the body. So part two, you know, your tip number two really is all about grounding and breathing. utilize my body skill.
It’s spelled BODY. It stands for breathe, observe, describe, yield, this is one of my favorite grounding skills.
So you take another deep inhale in, exhale it all out. Observe three colors around you. Now take a moment and observe three objects around you. And now observe three sounds. And this helps you yield to not only the negativity dominance that usually happens when we’re in that lonely state of thinking or in that lonely mindset and experiencing loneliness. What it also helps you yield to is that release of cortisol that the brain releases when we’re experiencing stressed states of being so that’s my body skill.
One other grounding skill is the stop skill. S T O P, that stands for stop with literally physically stop.
Take a deep breath.
Observe the breath.
And now observe the thoughts that you’ve been having, in the last couple of minutes or the last couple of days. What are the thoughts around loneliness that you’ve been having if you haven’t even realized that you’ve been lonely?
Just what have been the quality of your thoughts? What have been the themes of your thoughts?
And now for P, let’s pull back, let’s pull back and gain some perspective. Let’s imagine if you’re in a helicopter, looking down at yourself right now? How important is this thing that you’re worried about right now going to be in five years from now? Or this experience of loneliness? How important is this going to be five years from now?
Maybe the thing that you’re worried about, or wishing or hoping that may not happen, may not even happen. So P is for pulling back and gaining that perspective.
As frivolous as it was for me, you know, in my own judgment, thinking, Oh, I’m being left out. I can’t go to Art Basel. But when I pull back, I realized, wait a minute, okay. How important is not going to the opening tonight going to be five years from now not important at all? How important is it going to be five days from now pretty important? So that’s why I took the action step to reach out to a friend and make that commitment. Let’s go to give me that sense of agency. But the grounding skills are really important to help regulate your nervous system and your emotions and body at the moment. And then my third tip, right, or my third suggestion is to create a micro-social interaction.
So if you don’t have a friend, a neighbor, or family member to reach out to, to make a plan to meet them, then go outside of your house and find somewhere to buy a cup of coffee, or go outside and check the mail and say hello to a neighbor, or go outside and simply just see another person’s face and make that micro-interaction. You could wave you can smile, that will create cognitive resonance, limbic resonance, your brain will fire off certain synapses, and your brain will know I’m not alone, there are others. Because our brain is wired for connection.
Our brain is not wired to isolate for long periods of time. When we experience anxiety, stress, worry, depression. During states of loneliness, and isolation, that’s the brain saying, Hey, I’m giving you a signal, something’s off here. The call to action is to connect with others. The brain does need other human beings, the brain needs social interactions to thrive. So those are my three tips. I hope they’re helpful.
Thank you for listening to my podcast. Thank you for listening to this episode on loneliness. I know that it’s not maybe the sexiest conversation to have, but it’s so important to have right now. Loneliness is a growing health concern. It is a public health concern, it is an epidemic.
The numbers are rising worldwide and locally. Now that we’re entering 2022. Very soon, we’re going to be seeing more people experiencing loneliness, as we start to see the real effects of what the pandemic has had on our mental health, but also the impact of loss and grief. I want to leave you with hope. And one of the acronyms for hope. H O P E means hold on pain ends, the pain of your loneliness will end, right it comes and goes, there are action steps that you can take to feel less helpless to have more of a sense of agency.
There are small action steps you can do to regulate your own nervous system. Listening to this podcast and hearing my voice and knowing that we are connected in some way or another and that whatever loneliness that you might be going through now that you went through in the past, take a moment to recognize how much you’ve grown.
And if you’re in it right now, I want to remind you, you can grow through this. You can grow through this, you can grow through this, whatever you’re going through right now, you can grow through this. And if it is loneliness, you can grow through this. So I will say goodbye for now. I hope to see you next week.
We have some great interviews lined up with some specialists in nutrition and exercise and cycling and some other just phenomenal people who are also willing and able and ready to share their stories so that we all can feel just a little less alone. So in the meantime, take care of yourself. And I’ll see you next week. for now.
Thank you so much for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, and you’d like to help support the Dr. Sylvia K podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. Your voice really matters. In the meantime, let’s stay in touch.
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