top of page
  • Writer's pictureErin

The loneliness epidemic & self-care as a remedy

It's no secret anymore to most of us that humans are feeling more isolated than ever, even after the recovery from a medical crisis that forced most of the world to stay indoors and away from others. General feelings of loneliness have persisted long beyond government bans and curfews and closed schools. Is this dreadful state of mind simply an aftermath effect of the pandemic?


Hardly. In 2023, 2 out of 5 surveyed participants stated that their relationships with most or all other people were not meaningful relationships. 61% of reporting young adults cited feelings of "serious loneliness" in their everyday lives, even when in-person schooling and jobs had resumed. Most tragic of all, there has been a 35% increase in suicides for Americans in the last twenty years.


Clearly, this is not a result of COVID. Many will argue that in addition to these past few isolating years, phone usage, the addictive nature of social media platforms, and lack of engagement in young children outside of their homes or immediate families are also to blame for what we now call "The Loneliness Epidemic." There is value in all of these assumptions. The modern workforce all but requires us to stare at screens into the dark hours of the night. Late-stage capitalism ensures that we complete our tasks before making time for friends and family, or we risk consequence. By the time our school day or work week ends, we are simply too exhausted to engage and interact with others. For many, the thought of doing so is enough to render severe anxiety.


And while it is undoubtedly concerning how distant we've become from one another, especially considering humans are a species who will simply not survive without collective effort and support from one another, this epidemic has had me questioning what causes lonely people to stay lonely. What actually sparks the feeling of loneliness, neglect or abandonment in the first place? Most importantly - and why I'm ultimately writing about it today: how can a person enveloped in loneliness fortify and strengthen their own resolve in order to continue on, and, perhaps, eventually find themselves among meaningful community once again?


I have a theory. The answer lies in a buzzword we seem to have lost the true meaning of.


A shot of a girl from her thighs down, sitting on a rock in the woods with a journal in hand.

What self-care is not


The term "self-care" is pretty polarizing these days. To some, it generates a mental image of twelve-step skincare routines, long, luxurious herbal baths, candles and crystals gathered, and maybe a glass of wine if we're feeling it. It may seem like the pinnacle of superficial indulgence. And the truth is, it certainly can be if we buy into the idea that self-care must look a certain way - namely, the way it appears in beautifully curated internet content by influencers paid to use certain products.


Self-care in this definition, as with many ideas that were once innocent and helpful, has largely become the latest capitalist trend. You are not actually caring for yourself correctly, unless you buy and use the most expensive skincare brands, the highest quality organic bed linens, the prettiest green juices, and the most aesthetic supplements. Though the "clean girl" trend appears to have died out for the most part, plenty of my teenage students are still striving to meet that standard in 2024, and I see no signs of it stopping anytime soon. The expectation to fit an "everything shower" into your routine at least once a week is certainly going to diminish the overall wellbeing of an already stressed, burnt out, and procrastinating teenager long before it has them feeling as if they've holistically cared for themselves.


What self-care was meant to be


Let's take this back to the most basic linguistic definition possible: Self-care is the act of nourishing and providing for oneself. It's not to say that that nourishment can't come in the form of a nice bubble bath from time to time if we feel good doing it, but in order to release the jaws of consumer capitalism on the term, its necessary to ask the simplest questions using that basic definition. What does nourishing myself look like, without having to spend much (or any) money? How do I provide for myself in the smallest ways every day? How do I take care of myself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?


According to the International Self Care Foundation, "Self-care is not a new activity. People have necessarily managed their own health since the beginning of mankind. Throughout human history, the dominant paradigm of healthcare was individual self‐care in the family and local community. Treatment involved self-medication with locally‐produced preparations of generally uncertain efficacy. People themselves were responsible for their own health, and that of their families, as self-sufficiency was obligatory and almost universal." Of course, this was never a foolproof system. Average life expectancies for countries with reliable healthcare systems have shot up nearly 25 years since 1900, proving that medical care is of great benefit. Still, in countries where that medical care is not free nor accessible to every citizen (further strengthening current feelings of isolation, abandonment and neglect), there must be a middle ground in order to find relief.


It doesn't solve everything - it can't, and it was never meant to. But true self-care is a promise to ourselves that we will not abandon the body we were born in, nor the mind we inhabit. To the best of our ability, we will be our own best friend, our own provider. It is the motivation to understand what it means to love the self as we do others. Self-care is critical in times of uncertainty, collapse, and fear. And it is so much deeper and more sacred than getting a manicure.


Using Self-Care to Strengthen Resilience


To still care for the self in the midst of isolation is one of the grander expressions of determination I can imagine. To at least have the desire is close. I believe that with the recent trends, our understanding of what this practice can look like have simply become overcomplicated. Let's pare back.


Some of the major key components of authentic self-care that have all too often been overlooked in the recent past are, as already mentioned, quite simple and require no product shopping list. Prioritizing our mental health, especially when we're feeling lonely, is the ultimate goal. Within that, practicing mindfulness and presence, perhaps through journaling or meditation, can foster a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation for the hardest days. If that is not enough, seeking meaningful connections in person with an old friend, parent, or even a colleague who will listen are all forms of self-care, even if they involve interactions with another person. Incorporating some of these practices into daily routines, as well as those more physical - like staying up on hygiene and making a sanctuary out of your bedroom to encourage better sleep - will enhance overall resilience strengthen coping mechanisms. Listen in, identify what your current needs are, and act accordingly.


Reframing our understanding of what self-care is and what it looks like can impact our overall well-being so greatly; in consistently unlearning what the algorithms have fed us in the past few years can grant us a sense of empowerment we may have never felt before. Taking it from a connotation that ensures you will never feel like you actually have everything you need, to one that assures that you do - and if you must seek help externally, you absolutely have the freedom and ability to do so - brings all the necessary power back to us. We are then better equipped not only for that exact job, but to also care for others in our communities, and make informed decisions about our lives.


It seems that in turn, proper self-care may even enable us to rise from the rut of isolation.


 

If I haven't already made it abundantly clear, self-care is ultimately a tool for personal growth and resilience - it was never meant to be a routine so overwhelming and so expensive that only the wealthiest, most privileged people in society would be able to attain it. If this is a belief you've been holding onto, I encourage you to embrace the simplicity of true self-care practices that nurture holistic well-being, even if they don't match what you see on TikTok - even if they can't be filmed or even written about at all. That process will begin with asking yourself what truly makes you feel good.


Start there, and leave the rest behind. In time, your ability to love and care for yourself will only strengthen your innate ability to love and care for others. This, and the rejection of connection through products and influence, I believe, is what will geuinely bring us back to one another.

Comments


  • Youtube
  • Facebook
  • Threads
  • Instagram
bottom of page