5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic, with Karissa Sovdi and Fotis Georgiadis

We are over-stimulated: Many people think they are lonely, because they are actually bored. We are not good at quiet time! While boredom and loneliness aren’t the same thing, our expectations of constant entertainment, stimulation, and occupation may be demanding too much of our social relationships. Under that kind of pressure, many people give up […]

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We are over-stimulated: Many people think they are lonely, because they are actually bored. We are not good at quiet time! While boredom and loneliness aren’t the same thing, our expectations of constant entertainment, stimulation, and occupation may be demanding too much of our social relationships. Under that kind of pressure, many people give up on friendship altogether, because it seems like too much work. We need to make it less work by expecting less and just being together more.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Karissa Sovdi. Karissa Sovdi is a writer, registered clinical counsellor, and 30-something Christian single. She holds a Masters in Counselling from City University of Seattle, has worked in service, non-profit, education, and government, and currently serves leaders, teams, and learners in her role with Organization Development and Learning Services at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Karissa spends her days “playing with words” as an author, speaker and sometimes comedian. She now hopes to use those words to shift the way people view, treat, and experience singleness through her upcoming book

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

It’s cliché but I knew I always wanted to help people. I grew up in this amazing family of 2 loving parents and 4 incredible siblings, all of whom are now crisis responders or helping professionals. As more of a creative and scholastic type myself, I have found my own way of helping people through using words.

The singleness angle has evolved over time, but it stems from my own lived experience. I spent way too much of my life waiting, praying and preparing for a marriage that hasn’t come along only to realize that I was making myself miserable by putting my life on hold. As I’ve explored the topic of singleness, I have found people, stories, and research that have opened my eyes to our romance-obsessed culture which is stigmatizing singleness, putting way too much pressure on romantic relationships and way too little emphasis on everything else about adulthood that matters. So I’m working to change that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

A lot of what is interesting about my work falls under pretty strict rules for confidentiality, but I will say I’ve found it very interesting how trusting people actually are. I think we can so easily see the world as a cynical place, but any time I’ve shared a truly human moment with someone, even in pain, I get to see the best parts of humanity: trust, vulnerability, courage, and love.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? With my first counselling client I tended towards being really theory heavy. My intention was just to be transparent about my process and open about my background, but it turned into this really stilted, and long-winded introduction that only caused blank stares and confusion. I figured out pretty quickly that this came off as making the session sound like it was all about me.

Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that? Transparency isn’t always about talking, it’s about being open to questions. When people are ready and looking for actual help and have reached out, they don’t need to be pitched — they need to be listened to. As long as they know they can ask anything, you don’t have to pre-answer everything.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve just finished writing a book on Christian singleness that I’m working on getting published. It’s all about seeing singleness as a life to be lived, rather than as a problem to be solved. Many singles out there want more than another iteration of advice about how to find or become “the one,” yet they don’t want to swear off romance altogether. The book helps people think through the issues of grief, purpose, loneliness, fulfillment, celebration and self-worth outside of a romantic context, and will hopefully lead to more contentment and peace for readers regardless of their relationship statuses.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

Obviously, loneliness comes up a lot in counselling and counselling training, so there is that professional aspect to my knowledge, but I honestly think it’s more my lived experience that gives me insight into loneliness. While being single and being lonely aren’t the same thing (and while loneliness obviously exists for those in couple relationships) there can be a lot of overlap, so I’ve learned a lot about loneliness through writing the book, and being a 30+ single myself. I was also bullied a lot as a kid, and didn’t have many friends growing up, so there is a long history to my encounters with loneliness, and my practice with strategies for facing and overcoming it.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

Loneliness can be harmful because:

1) We may not be able to mitigate the negative impacts of stress. We all know what a threat stress can be to our health, but our ability to reduce our own stress is limited. Even the most evolved self-soother will eventually need eye contact, a hug, or just the presence of another limbic being to help them reduce stress and anxiety. If you don’t have that, or if you feel like you don’t have that, your life is more likely to be negatively impacted by the effects of stress.

2) We become narrowminded and, therefore, easily manipulated. The more isolated we are, the more likely we are to form our perspective and opinions in a social vacuum. When we can’t reality test our theories in the three-dimensional world, we start losing touch with reality, or embracing a false sense of reality. This is why we can make dumb and even dangerous relational decisions out of desperation. It’s also why we’re more susceptible than ever to things like fake news. When we don’t have “the real thing,” we buy into the counterfeit that is out there.

3) We develop unhealthy habits. Being isolated also means less accountability for habits and behaviours that aren’t conducive to physical health. It’s way easier to eat poorly, exercise less, consume copious amounts of trashy media, or neglect our hygiene or grooming when there is no one around to inspire us to do better. That may be fine for a weekend or a vacation, but if you slip into those types of habits long-term, it can be detrimental to your health. And, since comfort-habits can be coping mechanisms for loneliness, it can also become a vicious cycle.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

I think we are losing the ability to empathize and to hold nuanced perspectives. You don’t need to look any further than the state of politics these days to see the negative impact of too many people home alone with their ideas, hiding behind a keyboard. Without connection and empathy we forget that there are human beings behind the avatars and social media profiles. We start interacting as if everything and everyone is one dimensional, and we believe and express things we would never dream of doing in person, because we’ve detached our interactions from humanity. In short, loneliness is making us meaner!

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

There are lots of contributing factors to loneliness but I think there are a few themes that bubble to the surface.

1) We are over-automated: To your point about the digitization of culture, I think we are so used to automated life that we forget we need people (or, we trick ourselves into thinking our number of social media followers is the same as human interaction). Sure you can do your shopping, banking, and many other errands from your phone, computer, or, at the very least, a self-check-out, but this may deceive you into thinking that you don’t need other people. The goal of life isn’t full independence, but interdependence. Full independence is a myth, unless you’re a hermit. Humans still farm, source, invent, manufacture, package, facilitate, and deliver so many of the things and services we need for daily life. We need to remember this the next time we feel we have a personal deficit, that it’s ok to have someone else fill the gap. We all have different gifts that were intended to complement each other in a communal setting. When we forget that, it’s easy to isolate ourselves.

2) We are over-stimulated: Many people think they are lonely, because they are actually bored. We are not good at quiet time! While boredom and loneliness aren’t the same thing, our expectations of constant entertainment, stimulation, and occupation may be demanding too much of our social relationships. Under that kind of pressure, many people give up on friendship altogether, because it seems like too much work. We need to make it less work by expecting less and just being together more.

3) We are over-twitter-pated: Our society has an obsession with romance. There are thousands of resources to help people prepare for, find, and foster romantic love, and numerous models of the “ideal love story” portrayed through various forms of media. We have so long focused on romantic relationships as a primary source of love, commitment, and personal fulfillment, that we have lost touch with how to do almost any other kind of human interaction. If we stopped believing that finding “the one” would provide all of the answers, we could make room for relationships with others, connection with family, and even better relationships with ourselves. Our expectations of relational fulfillment are skewed: we are putting so. Much. Pressure. on one or two primary relationships that whole communities used to fill, and then suffering from disappointment when those relationships can’t measure up. We need to stop drinking the love potion.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

1. Practice the Art of Friendship. We learn very little about how to be sociable and friendly these days. When you can research someone online and have all of their basic information before you meet, your ability to make small chat or be courageous or vulnerable in conversation diminishes. We have to practice meeting people, talking to people, getting to know and being rejected by people and starting again, and dare I say maybe doing some of those things without the help of the internet. In many ways making and keeping friends hasn’t evolved much since childhood, which means it still requires risk, practice, and a bit of awkwardness. Sometimes it really is as simple as picking a kid on the playground and asking them to be your friend. The practice also means being more receptive to bids for relationship: saying yes to coffee, or at minimum, not getting offended when someone forgets your name and you have to reintroduce yourself. Play through the awkwardness and it will get easier!

2. Normalize loneliness as part of the human experience. The less we fear it the more we can accept, endure, and even learn from seasons of loneliness. The lie of loneliness is that you are alone in being alone. Statistics show differently. Irony of ironies, if we could be open about how loneliness is impacting us, we’d probably find something in common with almost everyone around us. Don’t freak out! You’re not broken because you’re lonely: you’re just human. Maybe start talking about it and see what happens.

3. Make daily choices to reduce isolation such as choosing human interaction over technology, serving in the community, and getting help working through fears of rejection and failure. You can start small: try smiling and greeting a passerby the next time you’re running errands, or phoning a business rather than using their online service, or choosing the cashier over the self-checkout. Don’t be embarrassed to book a massage, or physio or spa appointment to ensure you get some human touch. Maybe add one volunteer commitment to your schedule that will require meeting other people face to face. If you’re really brave, find a therapist and start talking about things like vulnerability. Community is not going to happen to you by accident. You need to fight for it!

4. Deepen your spiritual practice: Loneliness can often catalyze a deep and meaningful existential experience, and you have an opportunity to respond to this through your faith, devotion, meditation and prayer. There can be a lot of emotional and spiritual insights buried under our loneliness if we don’t rush to distract ourselves from them and, instead, connect to something or someone greater than ourselves. Ask yourself, “how can I transform this moment of loneliness into an opportunity to go deep?”

5. Fall in love with yourself: It is possible that lurking beneath the malcontent of loneliness is an uncomfortable but simple truth that you don’t like your own company very much. I think dealing with loneliness starts when we choose to be a friend to ourselves. We can do this by ensuring our self-talk is kind, exploring our likes and preferences, and spending time doing things we love. We can also get better at finding small ways to celebrate ourselves and the key moments in our lives rather than waiting for someone else to throw us a party. When you are comfortable in your own skin, alone time doesn’t have to mean lonely time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would truly love to shift the way our society thinks about, discusses, and treats singleness. There are more singles now in North America than there have ever been, yet we still treat coupledom as the norm and seem to have a fascination with getting everyone into a romantic relationship whether it’s the right thing for them or not. This leaves many people feeling like failures and doubting their worth. I think if we stopped stigmatizing singleness as this temporary, scary and unwanted thing, and if we stopped assuming that the goal of adulthood should be to find a romantic partner, many people would start to find a sense of purpose and usefulness regardless of their love lives. If we could figure out what is unique, beautiful and even advantageous about single living we would make healthier choices all around, especially when it comes to relationships! Can you imagine that many people feeling a sense of purpose, worth, and embracing the adventure?

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’ve admired Christine Caine for quite some time. She’s doing amazing things to combat human trafficking, and is also an incredible speaker and author.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thanks for asking! I’m @karissasovdi almost everywhere, and I host a Christian singles facebook group.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

Thank you. It has been a pleasure.

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