In the digital age we can connect with each other more readily and regularly than ever before, but this increased ability for connectivity does not necessarily lead to feeling more connected.
A national 2017 survey by R U OK? indicates Australians spend an average of 46 hours of their weekly downtime looking at TVs and digital devices, but just six hours engaging with family and friends.
In a study comparing the impact of both online and face-to-face friendships on perceived health, researchers noted that one reason internet usage may be associated with high levels of loneliness is because it decreases the amount of time available for face-to-face interactions.
Understanding social isolation
So what is loneliness? According to the Australian Council of Educational Leaders, it occurs when ‘our relationships are felt to be inadequate. It can occur even if we are surrounded by people, as well as when we are socially isolated’.
Research has found that loneliness may trigger the body’s stress response and have a related impact on the immune system. This might explain why chronic feelings of loneliness have been linked to issues such as sleep problems and a range of poor health outcomes. Studies suggest people who enjoy strong relationships may have a 50 per cent increased likelihood of living a longer life, compared to those with weaker relationships.
Types of connections
The connections in your life may include close friends, family and professional networks.
Friendships can help boost your happiness, lower stress, improve your self-confidence and reduce the risk of depression. Strong friendships may also help reduce your risk of other health issues, such as high blood pressure.
Relationships within professional networks generally aren’t as close as friendships, however, these types of connections can help you feel like you’re part of a larger community and expand your horizons.
And how you connect is as important as why you connect. According to studies, face-to-face friendships were found to generally have a positive effect on individuals’ perceived health levels, while online contacts offered a more limited boost to wellbeing.
How to deepen your connections
As well as devoting time to face-to-face interactions, keeping your connections healthy comes down to good listening.
It’s also helpful to avoid interrupting or rushing conversations. Showing you’ve listened by repeating back what you’ve heard in your own words can help them feel they have been listened to.
In the workplace, asking about colleagues’ interests outside of work, as well as calling or talking to them in person, rather than depending on email, can help to foster valuable connections.