Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Loneliness: Is Your Phone Your Best Friend?

Loneliness: Is Your Phone Your Best Friend?

What should … people do with their lives today?  Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.

~Kurt Vonnegut

As a species, we crave human contact. It’s innate, possibly genetic. And in today’s technological world, we get to be connected all the time through our various devices. This is not new. Think old-fashioned telephones and answering machines. Before that, letters you wrote on paper, put in an envelope, mailed, and waited for an answer. Before that? Notes hand-delivered. People would drop in on each other, unannounced. Maybe some still do.

But now, we can connect with friends and strangers anytime we want. Just pick up your device, and text, call, email, or tune into your social media feeds. So why do so many people feel so lonely so much of the time? That initial moment excitement when you first tune in often dissolves as soon as you are disconnected. You feel a little deflated.

So you go back on and get another fix. A temporary one. The hunger for connection leads people to spend MORE time on their phones, not less. And oddly enough, sometimes seeing those pictures of happy people in their happy relationships (you never know what goes on behind closed doors…), their fabulous vacations makes you feel even worse. Why can’t I have that, you wonder.

Loneliness isn’t a fact, an object, or imposed upon you. It’s not a reality, it’s how you feel – a state of mind, a perception of who you are. But it doesn’t have to define you, it’s not shameful, and you’re not alone, even if it feels that way. We all get lonely sometimes. It can affect anyone – young, old, single, in a relationship, separated from a relationship.

It can drain you, distract you, contribute to health problems and sometimes feel similar to actual physical pain. It can also affect your self-esteem (do you obsessively check your “likes on your posts?”) and your performance at work, even if you’re surrounded by people much of the time. Worst of all, it can decrease the capacity for empathy, and lead to a real mental health problem: depression. Chronic loneliness can even lead to decreased longevity.

Granted, not everyone wants to feel connected all the time. Some people are happy in solitude, don’t need or want to be in a romantic relationship, and most people need some alone-time to feel at peace. And that’s ok. What’s not ok is the increasing levels of loneliness and unhappiness studies are noting each year. Epidemic proportions. (You don’t even want to know the statistics about what this is turning into… you do? Keep reading.)

What’s contributing to this? There’s no single common cause, but there’s no question that technology and people’s addiction to it has a lot to do with it. People used to find human connection at the grocery store, in the elevator, on the bus. Not much anymore. Look around you and you’ll find most people buried in their phones. They use technology to escape connection, and to obtain things they used to have to go out into the world for. Food (how often do you have it delivered?), clothing, dry cleaning, you name it.

So how do we fix it? I’m going to list some things for you to try, and no eye-rolling, please… You’ll need to step outside your comfort zone for some of them, but push yourself. The reward is worth it.

• Join clubs, more specifically, clubs where you’re truly interested in and enjoy what they do.

• Sign up for a class.

• Make a point of scheduling something with another person – preferably something where you             have to interact, as opposed to someplace where you sit in the dark and don’t talk.

• Invite yourself out on a date – to dinner and a movie, or a trip to the zoo. You might feel             awkward at first, but I promise you two things: first, no, people aren’t looking at you and             judging you. Some might even be envious. And second, you’ll get used to it the more you do it.

• If you can’t get out, sit down and write about how you feel. Start a journal, or write a letter to             someone without necessarily mailing it.

• Suggest to a potential new friend that you meet for coffee. Don’t discount that person because             everyone else you tried that with turned out to be a dud. In other words, don’t judge new             friendships based on what happened in the past.

• Volunteer – anywhere, for anything. If you want to feel more worthy, do worthy things.             Volunteering is worthy.

• Try Meetup.

• If you’re a pet person but for whatever reason can’t have one where you live, or the full-time            responsibility is too great, find a place where you can cat sit, dog walk, on an on-call basis. (You            might even pick up some needed extra cash.)

• Go pick up your dry cleaning, your takeout, your copy paper. And say hi to the cashier.

• Share your feelings – your true friends and family will be compassionate.

• And most important, Disconnect. Not turn off halfway and put it away where it’s easily retrieved.            Disconnect as in power down. Retrieve your analog watch from the back of the drawer and            swap it out for that tech watch. Try it for 24 hours and see how you feel. I know it’s hard. At first            you might feel somewhat bereft, but the more you can do it, the more it will give you the time            and space to actually really connect, with real people, in real time.

• Say hello to someone. Smile. Start a conversation. Humor works really well.

If none of this works, maybe you should talk to someone. If you’re lonely and your phone isn’t helping, try a professional. Therapy can work.

And here are some but by no means all recent statistics. There are plenty more, but these are the ones that caught my eye in researching this topic.

Global Risks Report: Online connections can be empathic but the degree of empathy is six times weaker than for real-world interactions.

Some cold hard facts:

Pew Research: One third of American adults never turn off their smart phones. And that was in 2016.

Cigna Health Insurance: 46% of respondents reported sometimes or always feeling alone.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: People spending two hours a day online have twice the chance of experiencing social anxiety, and 50 or more online visits a week have three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who went online less than nine times a week.

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