When you’re working hard to achieve your goals and move up in your career, maintaining social connections can become challenging. Factor in the rise of hustle culture, and the societal pressure to succeed at a young age, and there’s no wonder people in their 30s are feeling lonelier — and more stressed — than ever.
New research shows that this generation’s loneliness crisis is expanding, and people in their 30s are especially vulnerable to the stress that comes with social isolation. In fact, many believethat the generation’s dominant focus on career is leading to a decrease in adult friendships, and an increase in disconnection and social anxiety.
“Fighting loneliness is an inside job,” Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, tells Thrive. “It’s about the balance you need in your life.” According to Robinson, loneliness is individualized, and it’s crucial to use self-awareness as a catalyst for change. After all, prioritizing your goals at work is important, but if you feel lonely once you leave the office, that can be an added source of stress. Here are a few small shifts that can help you battle those feelings of loneliness:
Prioritize face-to-face interactions
Cultivating new friendships and maintaining old ones can become difficult as other things take priority over your time — so Robinson suggests unplugging after work and putting more effort into your off-screen interactions. One of the reasons for loneliness is how we use technology, he says. “Research shows that as a result of being wedded to devices, people have fewer friends.” Instead of texting a friend to catch up, or connecting on social media, Robinson recommends making small efforts to prioritize face-to-face social interactions, even if it means going out of your comfort zone to meet new people. “Put down your devices,” he urges. “Join a hiking club, a writing group, or any type of social gathering.”
Make the most of the time you spend alone
It may sound counterintuitive, but Robinson suggests that one of the most effective ways to fight loneliness is to spend more time with yourself, and to embrace that inner connection — instead of seeing yourself as disconnected from others. “Engage in activities that help you get to know yourself,” he urges. “Ask yourself if you have balance in certain areas — whether that’s exercise, self-care, nutrition, or sleep.” By making the most of the time you spend on your own, you can reduce the stress that comes with being alone, and feel better about not alwaysbeing social, Robinson adds. “The best medicine for loneliness is becoming your own best friend.”
Redefine what loneliness means
You’re likely used to thinking that feeling isolated is something that should be avoided and fixed, but Robinson explains that there’s often value in acknowledging your lonely feelings, and then reframing what they mean in your life. By honing in on the feeling and identifying the discomfort you feel, you can better understand what changes you need to make in your life — whether that’s calling an old friend to catch up, or inviting a co-worker to take a lunch break with you. However you decide to make a change, Robinson says it’s important to remember feelings are temporary, and they don’t define who you are. “[Your loneliness] is not you,” he adds. “It’s just a part of you.”