Millennial Guys: Socially Networked Loneliness: 4 Ways to Break the Isolation
Facebook friends, online gaming buddies, smartphones, texting, and Apps often give guys a sense of being connected and having friendships. Yet, with 92% of millennials reporting that they are online, why are so many guys still talking about feeling lonely and isolated? I frequently hear from young men about the difficulty that they experience finding and connecting with people in the nonvirtual world. Sure, it's easy to find people online, but to actually meet in person has become difficult for guys. The biggest problem that most guys talk about is how difficult it is to meet potential dates that aren't 500-3000 miles away in another state or on another continent.
We live in a new world of global techno-connections. Although these are exciting times for global networking, there is a dark side to social media. Being "digital natives" and believing that we are networked with our E-buddies often gives us a false sense of belonging. One of the basic psychological problems with online connections is that there is an emotional disconnect. Anyone who has had to carry on a serious conversation via text messaging quickly realizes that emotions are not easily read. I've seen couples bring their text messages into counseling sessions and read them to me because of an argument and a break up that happened over misunderstanding each other's texts. When it comes down to making friends or working out emotional relationships, meeting people face-to-face still trumps online contacts. We may love our Emoji's, but all of the Emoji's available just don't quite satisfy our emotional needs like real facial expressions, visible emotions, the sound of a voice, and a firm handshake or fist pound.
Internet connections are not sufficient enough to meet our emotional needs and so we become isolated. This problem is evident in the world of online colleges. High dropout rates are a huge problem for online students with universities reporting dropout rates as high as 47-93%. One of the main reasons for high dropout rates is the lack of face-to-face interactions that facilitate class involvement, participation, and accountability. Students frequently stated that they "find it difficult to make friends" through online classes. The lesson learned here is that real-time in-person interactions with others are far better for us than relying solely on Internet social networking.
Isolation is a major problem for a lot of young men. When we disengage with our school friends or buddies in the neighborhood and escape into the Internet world, we quickly become isolated which results in a loss of confidence in social relationships. Therefore, guys who struggle with isolation rapidly fall into depression and anxiety, because they are not getting out and interfacing with the world. Male depression and anxiety due to isolation can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse as well.
Is technology giving young men a false sense of connection? Isolation and loneliness have become the darker side of social media.
As a life coach and psychotherapist who works with millennial men, I commonly hear from guys about the amount of isolation and loneliness that they experience. Too many guys just get off track with their life's purpose and fall short of launching into the world of school, careers, and relationships because they have retreated to being online warriors rather than real-world warriors.
Male depression and anxiety are often difficult to detect in men because guys are less likely to think that they are depressed or anxious. They are more likely to think that they are being weak and, therefore, they may feel shame when talking to someone about their struggles with depression and anxiety. Whenever a young man reaches out for life coaching or counseling, the first thing I assure him is that "Isolation is a habit that can be broken and that depression and anxiety can improve." We often discuss comfort zones and identify the tendencies to withdraw from the world when our social confidence turns into social anxiety.
It is important to remember that social confidence comes from experiencing social relationships. Friendship is an art, but, fortunately, we all can learn this art. Isolation hinders our social confidence, so let's consider 4 ways in which we can begin to break the isolation and loneliness and improve our social confidence:
1. Go outdoors daily.
Sometimes it just takes moving your body and mind out into nature. Too many guys get what I call "man cave snydrome" by staying indoors and in their rooms for long hours at a time. Even if you think you have been out to work or went to school and back, this doesn't count as getting out. Getting outdoors means spending quality time biking, hiking, running, walking, or other open sky activities. If you have heard the saying, "Energy begets energy," you will quickly realize that the more you physically move your body, the better your mental health will become. Asking a friend to go out to do these activities is a great way to strengthen your friendships and a positive way to break up the loneliness.
2. Join groups with common interests.
Exploring your interests is a positive way of expanding your mind and meeting new people. I once took scuba diving classes and met some serious divers. It was exciting to explore the oceans and make new friends at the same time. Sure, you may not be into water sports, but when you explore your hobbies, you will quickly find others with similar interests too. It's an excellent way of making new friends and preventing isolation.
3. Offer your services to others or to some positive social cause.
Volunteering is an excellent way of meeting new people and eliminating isolation from your life. Guys who have a purpose in life and that find ways to express their purpose by helping others tend to be and feel more successful.
4. Take timeouts from social media.
Some young men have used timeouts to break free from the habitual side of online addictions that contributed to their isolation and loneliness. Breaking from the time-wasting Internet surfing and using that time toward self-improvement, exercise, and spending quality time with family, friends, and your pets is not only freeing but also helps to reset your compass to get back on track with the more important things in life. Timeouts don't have to be extreme. Start by taking an hour or two and then try half a day and then try a day. It will be difficult at first, but you will find that life will start to feel much better as you engage with real-world experiences.
Of course, no one is suggesting that we give up social media or social networking forever. Social networking is here to stay and is way too exciting for us all to be connected globally. However, it is important to use it wisely and to take care of ourselves by spending time with family and friends and by getting out of the habit of isolating.
For additional information about how to help young adult men,
Daniel P. David, PhD invites you to visit: http://www.atlantamenscounseling.org. Dr. David completed his postgraduate psychotherapy education at the University of Oxford (England) and has successfully helped men of all ages experience positive changes and personal growth in their lives for more than 25 years. Click here for