A Pandemic of Loneliness

It is only through consistent and conscious measures that the increasingly fragile and fractured nature of urban relationships can be resolved

by Kamna Chhibber and Dr Samir Parikh Published Feb 4, 2022 19:54:05 IST
A Pandemic of Loneliness photo: shutterstock

Humans are social animals. We seek relationships, strive to be a part of large groups, and remain relevant across all arenas of life. Most of us assume a steady trajectory of relationships throughout our lives—from being single, to dating, then marriage, possibly parenthood. We assume our lives will be surrounded by other people, both in personal and professional capacities. The media we consume lead us to develop notions about the nature and dynamics of friendships and familial interactions.But, when we look around, there is often a very different reality surrounding us.

Have Urban Relationships Changed?

Even in the best of times, the foundation of urban relationships rests on fragile ground. Over the years, human relationships have seen a shift. From fostering dependence on each other,there has been a rising need to seek independence. A movement has en-sued where, in pursuit of bigger goals,better lives and loftier achievements,our social spaces have narrowed.A kind of superficiality has trickled through its cracks and displaced stronger, deeper bonds with each other.

While many take the time to meet and speak to each other or check in with near and dear ones, rarely are they deeply invested in each other’s lives.Despite being surrounded by millions,there is disconnectedness even from those who reside in one’s vicinity. Daysmeld into one another as people go through the cycles of work and day-to-day routines with little or no time left for much else. We’re caught in a never-ending race, knowing, and caring little about our fellow participants.

The Genesis of the Change

The big question then is ‘What is leading to this change in the landscape of urban relationships?’ We are always in a state of transition and the systems we are part of have been undergoing significant change. If we analyze this from a social and cultural stand-point you’ll recognize that the sense of community, interconnectedness and dependency, which were an integral part of our societal fabric, have increasingly become diluted. There is a continual shift towards independence, solitary living and a strength-ening of boundaries between oneself and others.

In drawing these boundaries there is a drift towards self-reliance and an increasing dependency on technology,gadgets and social media which impacts interpersonal relatedness.

Concurrently there is a push to do more, stay busy and constantly be productive in order to progress at work.While having a network is seen as valuable, taking time to really engage with people, nurture and build connections into significant relationships is not necessarily a priority, or one for which much time is available. These attributes are seen as relevant and important to growth, but without an understanding of the direction and nature of that growth.

The result of this has been a rising preoccupation with the self at the cost of our relational needs, which are also important to provide meaning and purpose to life. During the pandemic, there have been immense transitions which have further altered the landscape of relationships in even more significant ways.

The Impact of the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdowns compelled people to take a long hard look at the state of their relationships. While meeting the immediate need to quarantine and isolate, there has been a growing realization that while one may have innumerable followers and friends on social media, those in the real world are far more limited. In vying for likes and sharing posts about a wonderful life, somewhere the ability to physically talk about difficult things had diminished. Sharing feelings and problems in real conversations and confrontations is hard and there is an all-round uneasiness about revealing what is truly being experienced—a growing anxiety and uncertainty about the new world created by the pandemic. Moods and sleep patterns have been impacted. The inability to resort to previously relied upon methods of coping such as going out has denied us the safety and comfort of the pack and made it challenging to connect at a deeper level.

The only way to break the cycle of escapism and insulation is by detaching from tech-based diversions, focussing on real-world relationships,prioritizing and reconnecting with the self and the people who surround us. This requires us to relook, reconsider and adapt.Here’s how:

Connect with your own self Self-awareness is a key to understanding your needs and desires.Developing a conscious and mindful approach is an essential element towards ensuring there is no disconnectedness from people who surround you and the life you build for yourself.

Draw boundaries Learning to say ‘no’ and carving out time for other people and activities can lead to are forging of human connections.Doing this does not mean you are being unfair or irresponsible. It is a necessary reallocation of energies to provide emotional succour to oneself and others.

Do the things you love Invest in yourself by engaging with your interests and passions. While you work towards being available for people around you, taking care of what you need is also essential.

Make time Do not allow time to become a missing commodity.Learn to prioritize and invest time in the people you love and care about. Career goals are often not enough to provide complete fulfilment. Building meaningful relationships is vital.

Be present. Learn to disengage from your work, chores and gadgets and take a mental break.Practise being present in the here and now by reminding yourself to redirect to your attention to where you are and what you are doing as a conscious activity.

Switch Off to Switch On

As virtual spaces and gadgets are turning into an extension of our physical selves, it’s important that in the journey of investing in your life and relationships, you learn to disengage from technology. Follow these simple strategies:

1. Set time limits for gadget use.

2. Put aside your gadgets when eating food, reading or watching something so that you focus on the activity you are engaging in.

3. Consider creating zones in your home where gadgets are not permitted.

4. Learn to switch off at least an hour prior to going to sleep so that your mind can relax.

 5. Take the help of family or friends if you struggle to implement strategies to limit your gadget use.


A Final Word

Changing any habit takes time and persistence. As you move towards building connectedness with the self and with people around you, be patient. Give yourself time to bring about incremental change. Your patience will be crucial to your success.


Kamna Chhibber heads the Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare.Dr Samir Parikh is a consultant psychiatrist with Fortis Healthcare and is the Director of the Fortis NationalMental Health Program. Their book Alone in a Crowd: Overcoming Loneliness of Urban Living, was published by Rupa Publications

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