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What To Do About Modern Loneliness: Advice from a Black Psychiatrist

By Dr. Brian Dixon

|Jan 29, 2019

As more and more articles about the connection between loneliness and social media appear, I cringe.

Social media’s deceptive truth is that “we’re now more connected than ever.” But this technology comes with a price.

You pay for what you value and you value what you pay for. Social media sites are technically free. So why do we expect anything of worth to come from our outsized social media addiction?

Most social media sites make money off one thing: your attention. These sites generate revenue by selling ad space. By keeping your eyes glued to the screen, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram make money.

Lots and lots of money.

The longer they can keep your eyes glued, the more money they make. These big companies hire top scientists to keep your attention for longer and longer, meaning social media will only get harder and harder to ignore.

But your attention is valuable to someone else as well: you. Investing your time and focus in healthy places can improve your wellbeing.

I can’t solve all the loneliness social media has contributed to this world, but as a therapist, I can offer some simple tips for finding more meaningful connections.

It’s a T.E.A.M. effort:

TEAM: Time, Energy, Attention, Money

Time

Time is our most valuable non-renewable resource. Yet each of us wastes so much of it in passivity.

Don’t get me wrong, rest is a great way to spend your time. But scrolling behind a bright screen zaps time and mental energy. It doesn’t qualify as true rest.

For one thing, it keeps us awake long after we should all be asleep.

For another thing, it steals time from other restful activities that don’t involve stress, alertness, and screen-induced zombie brain.

Just listen to the self-named Digital Minimalist himself, Cal Newport. In his blog, Newport talks about participating in “analog social media.” By that, he means replacing screen-time with real life experiences.

“You cannot improve your life by focusing exclusively on digital tools. Triaging your apps, or cutting back phone time, will not by itself make you happier. You must also aggressively fill in the space this pruning creates with the type of massively satisfying, real world activities that these tools have been increasingly pushing out of your life.” –Cal Newport

Thanks, Cal!

Energy

Food gives us calories. Calories are packets of energy. Energy empowers us to function in this world; enables singing and such. Many activities can drain your energy, sometimes for good and others for bad.

I suggest doubling down on those good spends and avoiding the bad ones like politics over Christmas dinner.

Spend those calories wisely.

Even beyond social media, we all know those people who just drain. They zap your energy just by being in the same room. They force you to spend calories: Good for weight loss, bad for your spirit.

Be mindful of who you let into your life. You don’t need that kind of bad energy stealing all your caloric energy.

Spend time with like-minded people. Older websites like MeetUp are based on this premise of spending time in-person rather than just online.

You have to be a good friend to gain a good friend.

Attention

Attention is the new oil and those who command it can make a ton of money. Guard your attention with the zeal of holding the benjamins in your wallet.

No one deserves your attention. You are the ultimate arbiter of whom to give it to.

As Nigerian-born digital strategist and generally awesome human Luvvie Ajayi writes,

“People are prospering from being unapologetically offensive, trite and stupid. And we are tweeting ourselves into high blood pressure and ulcers trying to tell them to do better… Being a pompous nut biscuit is now a publicity strategy, and I don’t know what we can do to end the madness.”

It may seem like you can solve the world’s problems on social media. But it is helpful to ignore the “pompous nut biscuits” of social media completely.

Your attention is valuable. Instead of fighting online battles, find a way to serve at a local soup kitchen. Instead of Twitter feuds, spend time with people who bring out the best in you.

If you want people to do better, lead by example.

Money

Oh yes, this one too. Nothing that is valuable is free.

Even if you don’t invest your physical dollar, that doesn’t mean money isn’t being exchanged. As we learned earlier about social media, your attention puts money in the pockets of Facebook/Twitter stakeholders.

And that’s fine, as long as you think so. It’s your money—your time, energy, and attention—after all.

Everything we do is an investment. It takes time, energy, and attention to get money which is then required to effect change. Give this away to people, systems, and structures that extend your hopes and dreams.

Realize that your time is money. Money is money, also (yeah, duh). Which begs the question, are you investing in the world and lifestyle you want?

One of the best things you can do to combat loneliness is to invest in yourself. Eat healthy. Buy coffee for a good friend.

Don’t invest in systems that ultimately isolate you. Does that mean quitting social media? Maybe. All I’m saying is, delete energy-sapping apps (and people) from your life. Get out there and make a better future for all.

You’re valuable. Defeating loneliness is a T.E.A.M. sport. Let’s kick this thing together to make tomorrow better than today.

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About the author

Dr. Brian J. Dixon

With accolades spanning my career as a child psychiatrist, entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker, I advocate for a more sensible U.S. healthcare solution that appeals across all party lines. I am a Texan, born and raised. My psychiatry practice, Progressive Psychiatry, is based in Fort Worth.

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