The Mental Health of Loneliness: Are Smartphones the cause and the solution to it?


If it comes to the developing issue of loneliness in the USA, many have cited one main offender: smartphones. They disrupt conversation. Constantly divert us. And decrease face-to-face interaction.

However, a new study suggests the same phones, if used the right way, can be an excellent platform to teach individuals how to decrease loneliness and social isolation.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, included 153 adults practicing 20-minute guided meditations on their telephone each day for fourteen days. From the end of the research, those whose meditations focused on growing acceptance and consciousness — key elements of mindfulness — believed 22 percent less lonely and had two social interactions every day.

“Acceptance is the key piece,” said Emily Lindsay, a coauthor of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Pittsburgh. Learning how to experience feelings without being overly critical or shoving them away can help people deal with loneliness.

And being able to focus your attention on the present moment — the core of mindfulness practice — can improve your social interactions,” said Michael Baime, director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness, who was not involved in the study.

“Since the people in life are a essential part of everything you pay attention to, it’s a massive influence on how others experience you and how you experience others,” Baime said.

What is surprising, though, is that a technique that has been passed down from teacher to student for thousands of years can be successful through a telephone.

“It flies in the face of traditional wisdom and historic precedents which you may do it using a device in your pocket,” Baime said.

From the analysis, participants were randomly assigned to one of 3 classes.

The first practiced meditations based on awareness. They concentrated on physical sensations, like the process of breathing as well as the sense of clothing on their skin.

The next group practiced awareness and acceptance. In addition to recognizing the senses in their own body, they were told to welcome them saying “yes” at a gentle tone whenever they noticed something fresh. A pleasant breeze? Yes. Back pain? Yes.

“Despite it being good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, they learned to take it,” Lindsay said.

The last group served as a control, focusing on free manifestation and problem solving abilities without any mindfulness content.

For three days before and after the intervention, participants answered questions on their telephones five times every day, noting their stress levels, feelings of loneliness, and number of societal interactions.

Individuals in the awareness and approval group were the ones that saw a significant shift in loneliness.

The researchers found a similar pattern with stress, which is often the reason people turn into mindfulness meditation. Only those from the awareness and approval group revealed significant declines in physiological markers of stress.

Since the follow up was limited to a few days, however, authors can’t say how long the results could last. They also don’t know whether it would be just as successful with meditation apps now available on the current market, because the analysis used a specially-designed intervention.

The finding could be a step in developing a nationwide problem of loneliness. A 2018 study of 20,000 Americans by health insurer Cigna found nearly half sometimes or always feel lonely, and just 53 percent possess meaningful in-person connections, like speaking to a friend or spending time with family, on a daily basis.

Studies have demonstrated loneliness is among the most powerful predictors of poor health and premature death, yet caregivers are struggling to find ways to alleviate it.

“it is a critical shortage we’re all feeling,” Baime said. “But we do not address it because we do not have a fantastic way to intervene.”

While one study is insufficient to prove smartphone-led meditation would be the solution, it’s a promising start, he explained.

Moving ahead, researchers hope to better understand precisely how mindfulness decreases loneliness.

One possibility is that it helps folks re-frame the emotion in a new manner, Lindsay said.

“There is a distress related to solitude,” she said. “It is uncomfortable.”

That’s why people often turn to TV or work to avoid it.

“But if you practice remaining with this feeling, tracking it and accepting it without judgment, without ruminating on what it means for your future,” Lindsay said,”that will alter.” It can grow to be a feeling of peaceful solitude.

Mindfulness may also reduce loneliness by improving the quality of connections people have with other people, Baime said.

“Mindfulness teaches you to appear here,” he said. “And when you appear, you find that there are other people here too.”

Rather than speaking to the cashier in a shop with the automatic,”Fine, thanks. How are you? ,” you might actually look at them.

Or instead of coming home and simply asking what is for supper, you might sit down with your spouse for a concentrated conversation about their day.

It seems so straightforward, Baime said, however, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness over time may actually change the structure of their brain. Scans have shown that the amygdala, which is thought to be where feelings such as panic and anger arise, is reined in after eight weeks of mindfulness training, while neural tissues that control emotion and attention regulation become more powerful.

“The world isn’t any different,” Baime said. “But mindfulness changes how we experience the world”


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