How your Instinctive Need Towards Avoiding Loneliness keeps You Scrolling

5 October 2023
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Key Take Aways:

Loneliness is a deep and complex emotion. It is an integral part of being human. It is easy to assume that we naturally avoid feeling isolated and alone, as this can significantly impact our mental and emotional health.

And while it is true that we have an innate desire for human connection and companionship that motivates us to seek out social interactions and meaningful relationships. We crave to feel understood and accepted. However, this may be for something other than the reasons we imagine.

In this article, we will explore our instinctive avoidance of loneliness from an evolutionary perspective and how this biological tendency to avoid loneliness might fuel our excessive scrolling behavior.

Loneliness and solitude: two different experiences

Loneliness and solitude are two different experiences that can be easily misunderstood. Let’s examine how they differ before we move on.

Loneliness is a subjective feeling of isolation or disconnection from others. It is often accompanied by emptiness, sadness, or a longing for social contact. Loneliness is typically seen as a negative emotional state that can harm mental and physical well-being.

Solitude, on the other hand, refers to being alone or enjoying one’s own company. Spending time in solitude is a deliberate choice for self-reflection, relaxation, or personal growth. Solitude can be a positive and rejuvenating experience, providing an opportunity for introspection, creativity, and self-discovery.

While loneliness is characterized by a lack of social connection and can be distressing, solitude is a voluntary and intentional state of being alone, often a source of peace, inspiration, and self-awareness.

In our increasingly hyper-connected digital world, where constant “social” interactions are readily available through social media, we are better off recognizing the importance of genuine human connections and moments of solitude for our overall well-being.

Now, let’s return to loneliness and examine it from an evolutionary perspective.

The origin of our fear of being alone

Humans have relied on living in groups for protection and survival throughout our evolutionary journey. Being alone in a hostile environment makes us susceptible to various dangers, threats, and death.

Predators posed a significant risk to our ancestors in the past. By living in a group, we could collectively defend ourselves against predators by sharing the responsibility of keeping watch, warning each other, and coordinating our actions for protection. However, when alone, our ability to defend ourselves against predators significantly diminishes.

In addition to predatory threats, non-predatory threats in the ancestral environment were better managed within the group. These threats included finding food and water, building shelter, and navigating unfamiliar territories.

Being alone not only limited our access to resources and support. It also increased our risk of survival.

By avoiding loneliness and staying together in groups, we were able to pool our resources, knowledge, and skills to overcome these challenges more effectively. From an evolutionary perspective, the fear of being alone can be seen as an adaptive response to solitude’s potential dangers and vulnerabilities.

In the past, when we felt loneliness, we handled it much differently than we do today.

The need for connection and belonging

As social creatures, we have an innate need for connection and belonging. This fear of being alone is still deeply ingrained in our psychology. For many of us, it manifests as anxiety, unease, or discomfort when faced with unwanted loneliness.

When we feel lonely, our brains perceive it as a threat because it does not know that most of us are no longer in immediate danger.

Today, we no longer live in close-knit communities that give us a sense of belonging. Most of us spend long hours commuting and working in jobs that don’t align with our personal values and goals, and many of us return home to an empty apartment.

As a result, feelings of loneliness and emotional distress have become increasingly common. Instead of seeking support from our communities, many people use social media platforms to cope with loneliness, seeking social interaction, connections, and belonging.

Is scrolling through social media effective in reducing feelings of loneliness? This is the million-dollar question.

The allure and addictive nature of social media

Social media seems to provide us with a seemingly endless stream of content and the opportunity to connect with others.

With just a few taps on our screens, we can instantly access a virtual world to see what our friends and acquaintances are doing, share our thoughts and experiences, and receive validation through likes and comments.

Companies like TikTok or Facebook, which also owns Instagram, know that our brains naturally seek social interaction and reward us when we find it.

This constant availability of social connections on social media is addictive because our brains are wired to seek out social interaction and reward us when we find it, or should I say, “believe we have found it”.

Despite the endless scrolling on social media, the problem of loneliness still lingers.

We often mistake social media for a temporary sense of connection. Still, it often distracts and fails to fulfill our more profound need for meaningful and authentic human connections.

The bottom line is that our endless scrolling and superficial interactions often leave us feeling more isolated and lonelier than before.

Navigating our scrolling habits consciously

Recognizing our biological bias towards avoiding loneliness and understanding the limitations of social media can help us navigate our scrolling habits more consciously.

Only by prioritizing genuine face-to-face interactions, nurturing real-life relationships, and seeking out activities can we truly fulfill our need for connection and belonging.

We must prioritize genuine and authentic face-to-face interactions to satisfy our innate desire for connection and belonging. Investing time and effort into cultivating and nurturing real-life relationships is crucial while proactively seeking out activities that allow us to engage with others personally and meaningfully. 

When we clear space in our calendar, we can foster a sense of community and establish a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

But where should we start and how?

We can only satisfy our innate desire for connection and belonging by prioritizing genuine and authentic face-to-face interactions. 

Striking a balance

When mindful of our innate biological tendencies, we can work towards a balanced coexistence between our digital and physical worlds.

Recognizing that our incessant scrolling habits are a substitute for genuine human connections is an important initial step toward reducing feelings of loneliness.

By being aware of losing balance, we can take proactive measures to restore equilibrium and prevent further imbalance. This awareness allows us to identify the signs, symptoms, or imbalance indicators in different areas of our lives. It could be noticing physical signs of fatigue or strain, feeling overwhelmed or stressed in our daily routines, or sensing emotional turmoil or dissatisfaction.

Our body constantly communicates with us; unfortunately, we often fail to notice these signals.

Loneliness Check List

(Avoid loneliness without scrolling)

  1. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” by Sherry Turkle
  1. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari
  1. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” by Cal Newport
  1. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle
  1. The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier” by Susan Pinker

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