Lonely in a Crowd: You Are NOT Alone

In their season opener Serena and Tina talk about the US Surgeon General's report on the Epidemic of Loneliness, feeling lonely vs being alone and the prevalence of loneliness in our nation, even before the COVID 19 pandemic. And, as always, the Mental Health Mamas look to the hope in this report. Tips and tools with a side of HOPE. Listen in!

Notes and Mentions

Link to The Epidemic of Loneliness Report https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf

Website: https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/priorities/connection/index.html

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Serena: Hey everyone, I'm Serena,

Tina: and I'm Tina,

Serena: and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No need to explain. We are so glad you're here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who were on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Tina: If you or someone who loves experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, www.noneedtoexplainpodcast.com.

Serena: Tina, it is so good to be joining you on our podcast again.

I've missed you.

Tina: I've missed you, too, and I've also missed doing our thing and putting podcasts out into the world.

Serena: Yeah. Me, too. My summer has been super busy, and it's just hard to stay connected with one another with all the miles in between.

So how is your summer?

Tina: My summer has been great. I've spent some really nice time with friends and family, including a little in-person time with you which was awesome.

Serena: Yeah.

Tina: Yeah. It was a busy summer, and it was filled with lots of family and friends and lots of driving as you know also.

Serena: Yeah.

Tina: Also, and I agree, the sense of connection can be a real challenge when we're not in the same place. You and I, that is, which brings us to our topic for our season opener.

Serena: Yeah. So we really want to talk to all of you out there about the topic of loneliness. I, you know, we talk about connection a lot on the podcast. We're going to shift a little bit and think about, like, what if you're feeling lonely? And we're going to dive into this topic, and hopefully come out on the other side with some concrete tips and tools for you, always with a side of hope.

Tina: Tips and tools with a side of hope. I love that. So, so let's talk about something we've been reading and thinking about, and really

would like to share with our podcast friends out there. It is the U.S. Surgeon General's report published earlier in 2023, and its title is,

our epidemic of loneliness and isolation. ?Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The US Surgeon General?s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community?.

Serena: This is a really important advisory, which is 85 pages long.

We highly recommend that you check it out, and it can be a little daunting. So we're going to break it down a little bit for you.

Tina: Yeah. So 85 pages is a lot, and as a visual learner, I will let you know that there are a lot it's easy to read, because there are a lot of pullouts of important information and lots of infographics, which I love, and I love infographics. So let's start with some basic definitions so that we are all on the same page. First, I think we need to talk about loneliness versus being alone.

Serena: Right. It's an important distinction. So loneliness is a feeling, and it may or may not have anything to do with how many people

are around you. There are people who are content to spend a lot of time alone, and don't feel lonely doing so. Well, at the same time, a person can feel lonely even when surrounded by lots of people. I think it's all about your own personal needs and feelings, right?

Tina: Yeah, I think we need to remember that this is going to be individual, and we have to tune into what our own needs are.

So you, my friend, are an introvert. So where's the line for you on being alone thing?

Serena: So I like my alone time and my space, and I do require a lot of downtime if I've been around a lot of people, but I guess I didn't really grasp my social needs. I didn't understand that piece of it until working a job a number of years ago.

Tina: Yes, let's say more about that. I know about it, but our listeners do not.

Serena: Right, right. I took an office job, and I was really looking forward to having my own space and my desk and like this great big office, and not really having to interact with the public in person.

And I had really minimal contact with my co-workers, which wasn't necessarily a perk. It's just how that job was. I've worked a lot of forward facing jobs in the past, and this job sounded like a dream

come true for an introvert.

Tina: Yeah but?..

Serena: Yeah, but you know I learned really quickly that while I enjoy my space, like I said, I discovered I need human interactions during the day, which is funny that I didn't know that prior to this. You know, like people to bounce ideas off of someone to chat with over lunch, just that sense of connection, and it didn't exist at this job. So, Tina, you're the extrovert here. How do you feel about spending time alone?

Tina: Yes, I am a total extrovert, and I would say my husband has a job that we are very forward facing much of the time, and I love that, and I'm very intentional about my alone time. So, yeah, I'll say more about that for sure, but I'm very intentional about the time I spend by myself.

Serena: Yeah, so I'm remembering that the pandemic was really hard for you, and I can guess that that's because you have a pretty high social need, is that true?

Tina: Yes, it totally is, and the pandemic was very hard for me. My husband is an introvert, and so I don't think he had as great a need as I did, and we lived in a very remote location even, so it wasn't even like I could go outside in a park and see anybody, I had to make very intentional time to go see people or do zooms. Yeah, so I will say that I have such a high social need that my brain immediately goes to connection, so say there's a night that I'm by myself. My husband is traveling, or he has an event, and I don't have to go. The first thing that usually comes to my head is, let me call a friend, let me talk to a friend, let me zoom with a friend, let me go out, and then I have to kind of hold myself back a little bit and say, okay, wait, let's just assess what you need right now, and many times that is a night by myself, again, intentionally spending time with myself. And my dogs. You know!?

Serena: Okay, so we've established that loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. I also want to throw in the word belonging here, this is a topic we've discussed before, and we often quote Brene Brown, who says, ?True belonging doesn?t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.?

Tina: Yeah, we love that quote, and we will, the report talks about belonging as well, so again, no matter what we mention, go back to the report. So it makes me think of an idea that you can feel lonely in a large group of people, not feel a sense of belonging and can really feel that loneliness. So I would say we've just started our college year here, many students are starting school around the country, around the US, I'm not sure what the timing is elsewhere. And I've witnessed groups of people, and then I've witnessed some students who kind of might

be in a group of people, but they seem lonely, they seem, and I would categorize that as not connected to the others in the group, and part of that I bet is that sense of not belonging. And I think it's really common when you start something new. I'm actually teaching a class of first year students, and some of those students come in very connected, some of those students aren't necessarily socially connected with others, and perhaps haven't found their sense of belonging, their thing.

Serena: Such a huge transition for people. Yeah, so let's dive into the advisory a bit. So if I were to sum it up in one quote, it would be this one, ?Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling?it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.?

Tina: That is astounding to me. That is absolutely astounding, 15 cigarettes a day, which we consciously don't do, right?

Serena: Right.

Tina: Right. And yet, social health determinants, I kind of during my, you know, reading of this report, it reminded me a lot of the trauma, right? So you have trauma and it causes these very physical conditions, right, that are not good. So it's really hard to wrap my head around all of that and I'm going to keep doing it because it's so important.

So if that's not shocking enough, around 50%, five zero percent of US adults reported being lonely in recent years and that was not during COVID, that was before COVID.

Serena: Right. Right. And even though half of all adults, or I would guess probably more than half at this point reported loneliness, the advisory also indicated that there are certain segments of the population that are more at risk for experiencing loneliness than others. So it indicates that studies find that the highest incidents of loneliness and isolation occurs among people with poor physical or mental health, disabilities, financial insecurity, those who live alone, single parents, as well as younger and older populations.

Tina: Yeah, and that seems to make sense to me, right? Yeah, so research is showing that loneliness can have dire effects on both physical and mental health, but let's just focus on the mental health for a little bit.

Serena: And I think it's a bit of a chicken or egg situation here, like which came first.

Tina: You do like your chickens and your eggs.

Serena: I do like my chickens and my eggs. So here's a quote from the advisory, ?Depression and anxiety are often characterized by social withdrawal, which increases the risk for both social isolation and loneliness; however, social isolation and loneliness also predict increased risk for developing depression and anxiety and can worsen these conditions over time.?

Tina: Right. So depression and anxiety can lead us to isolate socially, which may lead to increased loneliness. Well, at the same time, social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety. It is really that kind of vicious cycle, right?

Serena: Yeah, it really is.

Tina: And that certainly complicates how we kind of combat this loneliness epidemic.

Serena: Yeah, so that's, you know, some info that doesn't feel particularly hopeful. And again, there's a lot more in the report, but I think it's time to shift gears and talk about what we can do about this epidemic. What do you think, Tina?

Tina: It is time for the hope, please bring it on.

Serena: Okay, so I think we should start by saying that the burden of relieving loneliness doesn't lie solely on the person who is feeling lonely.

Tina: Right. And this goes by everything the Mental Health Mamas stand for, right? It is we are in this together. So there's a lot that can be done at the community, institutional and societal levels. But for the sake of this episode, because one of the things we always say is we have to start with ourselves, right, that we're really going to stick to that how we as individuals can reduce loneliness for ourselves. And for those we come in contact with.

Serena: So this feels a little obvious, but the antidote to loneliness is social connection, right? But how do we measure connections, right?

Tina: So according to the advisory, social connection has three components, structure, function and quality. And again, as a visual learner, this is page 11 of the report. You can look at this excellence in photographic that talks about this.

Serena: So, yeah, so structure is about the number and variety of relationships and how often we have interactions.

And this is really influenced by like who we live with who's in our family and our inner circles.

Tina: Exactly. And then the second is function and it's how well our relationships serve our needs. So important to dig into that.

Serena: And then quality is about how positive or negative the relationship interactions are.

Tina: So just like we were talking about before in terms of social need, these three components are all important, but very alot between people. For example, Serena, I am very comfortable in situations where I literally know no one.

Serena: So true.

Tina: And I regularly, as you say, talk to strangers, right? And I just yesterday struck up a conversation with a woman in the line behind me at Target about how busy the store was and how back to school is upon us. And it turns out we knew the same people, which was, which was I think the importance of a cold calling people, right? Just talking to strangers.

Serena: Yeah, I don't think you have any stranger danger.

Tina: Well, that's not true, but that's another episode.

Serena: Yeah, and I would say that those kind of, you know, those things are connective, but I'm so much less likely to just start up a conversation with somebody random.

Tina: Yes, I know this about you because I watch it happen.

You do tend to be like a morning glory at night, but I am just like, I don't care if it's night. I'm going to bloom.

Serena: All right, so these three components are important to remember as we kind of discuss various solutions in that it just does remind you that there's no prescribed amount of social connection.

There's no magic amount or, you know, kind. So it just, it comes down to the individual and how you feel.

Tina: So again, there are a lot of suggestions in this advisory and we encourage you to go and read it, but we're going to highlight some of our favorites.

Serena: So I am going to start with a suggestion of minimizing distraction during conversation. And the example they give is not to check your phone during interactions with others, which will limit the quality of the interaction. And I'm going to say we're all guilty of this, myself included, our phones and all of our devices. There's such a distraction, but we really are missing out if we're looking at a screen

while interacting with others. And it takes that in person a bit away.

And I would take the suggestion a step further and add that we need to be practicing active listening while interacting with others. So that means we are listening to somebody to understand what they're saying, to hear what they're saying, rather than just sort of waiting for our chance to respond.

Tina: Yeah. Can you say that again? Because that's so important. That last piece.

Serena: Yeah. So we listen to understand when that other person is talking, rather than in our head, like formulating that response, like what we're going to say, we're actually listening to what they say.

Tina: Yes. That's just, you can't say that enough, I'm sorry. So the second suggestion that we're going to highlight is seeking help during times of struggle. And again, I would, we were just in an event last night with athletes, student leaders, and my husband highlighted that.

And it is so true. Asking for help is a source of strength. It is not a weakness. And I think sometimes when we think we need something and we need to ask for it, that it's somehow we're weaker than we need to be. And it is not. It is, we need to think of connection and asking for what we need as a strength. And I don't know. I've been married for 32 years. I can't read my person's mind sometimes I can. But sometimes I can't. And so we need to make sure that what we need is out there and we need to be asking for it.

Serena: Right. Right. And to piggyback on that idea. We open with your health care provider during times of struggle. So it's super important to let those who are caring for you know that you're struggling. And this is hard. I know. But and when I say people who are caring for you, I also mean the people who care about you. Right?

So, you know, friends and family. And if you share a bit of your struggle with someone else in your life, you might be surprised that this is actually a point of connection. So we know that vulnerability helps us connect to one another. And you know, that's how the Mental Health Mamas got together.

Tina: Exactly. Right. Yeah. I mean that we can't say enough about that.

And we've talked about it plenty of times before and I will just reiterate the fact that we did not share a lot of our stuff early on and it was exhausting to not share what was going on in our world. And once I started being just little bits of vulnerable, the connection was immense.

So I can't say enough about that. So the next one is be responsive, supported, and practice gratitude. As we practice these behaviors, others are more likely to reciprocate, strengthening our social bonds, improving relationship, satisfaction, and building social capital. Super important. Right?

Serena: Yeah. So I want to highlight the gratitude.

You have a gratitude practice, right?

Tina: I do. In fact, I just took out of my bag a book that I had given you one of as well, a little journal that says the word gratitude on the on the cover. And I haven't done that in a bit and I would like to get back to that, right? And I would like to get back to that. So just writing two or three things that we are grateful for. And even when I don't do that, I'll circle back to the Power of Awe. Remember that episode?

Serena: Yes. I use that all of the time.

Tina: I know, right? And so I feel like that's a bit of a gratitude practice many times. I'm grateful for my dogs because they're so, I don't know, accepting of everything. And at night and in the morning, I will just kind of grab their faces and do the Power of Awe 15, 20 less than a minute thing. And I feel like I'm being grateful for them. So yeah, yeah,

Serena: I just think I think it's about that intentionality and yeah, taking that moment. It's powerful.

Tina: Very powerful and underrated.

Serena: So let's shift a little bit to what we can do as parents and caregivers.

Tina: Yes, exactly. And this has broken down a little bit of maybe not so much in the report, but on the website that supports this, which will include the link of. So help children and adolescents develop strong, safe and stable relationships with supportive adults, grandparents, teachers, coaches, counselors, mentors. Now, that's what it says.

I will say any person who that child can have a positive relationship with who's supported: Get Them Connected. And I would say this, I'd even go one step further and say, remember that we model that

for our children. So we need to have those people in our world so that our children can see that they can have those positive relationships in their world.

Serena: Right. Yeah, I feel like you're sharing the next one.

Tina: Oh, goodness. Sorry!

Serena: Oh, it's all good. Yeah.

Tina: It's a nice transition to the next one.

Serena: Modeling healthy social connection, right? So those things that we're doing are kids see. So that also includes like constructive conflict resolution, spending time together, staying in regular contact with extended family, friends, neighbors, setting time aside for socializing away from technology or social media and participating in community events. And there's that piece about technology again.

It's, you know, it's part of our lives. It's not going anywhere. But if we want our kids to put down their devices occasionally, we have to do the same, right? And I'm speaking to myself here too, so no judgment.

And I think it goes beyond just minimizing your interaction with others and in other words, getting in the way of those in person interactions.

I feel like social media puts us in this position where we're comparing ourselves with others and that doesn't feel good, bottom line. So I think that all falls into the category of one of our favorite topics, which is all

about self care.

Tina: All right. Woot woot! We're starting the season off, right?

Talk about self care. So talk to your children about social connection regularly to understand if they are struggling with loneliness or isolation, to destigmatize talking about these feelings, and to create

space for children to share their perspectives and needs. So that kind of whole social emotional learning and understanding, super important, hopefully your children are getting some of that in schools as schools adopt these social emotional learning curriculums. We as families and as communities can also support that. And I hope we talk more about that this year.

Serena: Yeah, absolutely. And then, you know, participating in social and community groups and some examples they give are fitness, religious, hobby, professional, community service, all to foster a sense

of belonging, meaning, and purpose. And this one was actually in the individual category as opposed to the parent caregiver, but I really feel like the supplies to our kids too, right? We want to encourage our kids and ourselves to kind of find ways to get outside of ourselves and help other people. We are much less likely to feel lonely if our lives have purpose and meaning. So finding the cause that's important to you and even, you know, bonus if it's you and your child, right? And finding a way to help out in some out in some way.

Tina: Absolutely. And you know, again, I'm just going to circle back to the college student thing many times when I meet new students, I will say to them, so what are your interests? What have you got involved in?

We are a very active campus. So we live in the capital city and there are lots of opportunities for you to get involved and exactly what they might like to get involved in. And it doesn't have to be a big project.

But again, those social, those little social interactions with people who have similar interests create belonging, right?

Serena: Yeah. Absolutely.

Tina: So I would say find your people, find your people. We have, I mean, clearly it's wise to read and I do this podcast together. We are each other's people. And yeah, finding your people just makes you a happier, more connected person, so.

Serena: Yeah. And that brings us back to belonging and we all need a place of belonging and connection where we can be ourselves and feel seen and heard.

Tina: So we do hope that our podcast helps all of you out there feel a little more connected and inspires you to connect with one another.

Please reach out to us to let us know how we can help you in facing this epidemic of loneliness together. We say it all the time, but we really want you to know you are not alone.

Serena: Right. You're not alone. And they just want to validate the idea that many people out there are feeling lonely, right? You heard it here more than half of us are feeling lonely. So don't be afraid to reach out to someone else. Think of it as doing something for someone else rather than yourself and you might just find that point of connection.

Tina: Absolutely. And we're going to have a few episodes about how to make connections and linking with others. And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts. You can leave us a review while you're there. We have a lot of awesome reviews and we'd love more.

Subscribe and please share the podcast with others. You will find more content on our website, no need to explain podcast.com. You will also find us on the socials. We would love to hear from you. We have a voicemail number as well as email, which you, you'll find all that info in

our notes. You can leave us a message on that voicemail number.

Share a bit of your story or just call us to say hi.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks so much for listening.

Serena: Bye.