How To Fight The Loneliness Epidemic: The Paradox Of Modern Living

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In the 21st century, more people are experiencing loneliness due to a lack of community and nourishing human connection. Some experts have started referring to this uptick in cases as “the loneliness epidemic,” and it seems paradoxical on its face. For example, the internet allows people to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Some might expect that loneliness would be lower. To understand why loneliness levels have increased, it can be essential to look at modern research and the most common causes of loneliness. 

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Causes of loneliness in a hyper-connected society

While Gallup recently reported that the number of US adults who say they felt lonely “a lot of the day yesterday” has dropped significantly since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains at 17% in 2023—or over 40 million people.

Humans are social creatures, so connecting socially has various mental and physical health benefits. However, the many cultural, societal, and technological changes the world has experienced and continues to experience have changed patterns—and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many of these changes. 

It can be challenging to connect with others personally, leaving some people lonely. As people transition back to in-person connections after the pandemic, some may have developed social fears due to long-term social isolation. 

Below are a few key factors that have contributed and continue to contribute to this issue.


Urbanization refers to the process of cities growing because of an increasing number of people moving. As a result, they can become more crowded and nameless, and traditional social structures may fade, leading some people to feel increasingly lonely despite often being surrounded by crowds.


Technology like the internet, smartphones, and social media have made forming digital relationships with people worldwide more reachable. However, while research suggests that online connections can be positive when they coexist with in-person ones, they’re typically not enough to be sustainable compared to in-person relationships. More time spent on phones can also take away from opportunities for in-person community and connection.

Remote work

According to Forbes, as of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, and 28.2% work a hybrid model, a shift that may result from the COVID-19 pandemic. This structure has brought these workers benefits like better work-life balance and more time spent with family. However, it may also decrease opportunities for in-person social connection with coworkers, which used to represent a significant component of many people’s social lives.

Ease of delivery

Online shopping and food-delivery apps had already become popular before 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to explosive growth in both areas. In 2023, someone who used to leave the house to go to work, buy household items, and get groceries may have more reach to doing so from home, resulting in fewer opportunities for spontaneous social connections in their own neighborhoods. In addition, it may be safer for some people to order household goods like groceries at home to lessen their exposure to potential illness, which can lead to further social isolation. 


The United States Census Bureau found that almost eight million people in the US moved from one state to another in 2021—a significant increase from 7.4 million in 2019, likely attributable to the pandemic and the rise of remote work. As a result, some people may live further away from family, friends, and other support systems, struggling to form new connections. 

Illness and disability

Some people with a physical or mental illness or disability may also face barriers to getting adequate social connections, which has been an issue for many years but can be increased due to the increase of COVID-19 rates worldwide. For example, an inability to leave home, requiring accommodations that aren’t met, or experiencing chronic pain and fatigue may compound the factors listed above, further limiting social opportunities for some individuals. 


Potential physical health impacts of loneliness

Loneliness can be like stress, as some people experience it to some level throughout life. However, when it becomes chronic, there may be cause for concern. As research continues to expand in this area, experts find that long-term loneliness can result in biological and physiological changes that can make the body and mind more prone to illness. It has been suggested that long-term social isolation can have consequences proportional to smoking 15 cigarettes daily.

Researchers state, “Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases.” For example, it can increase a person’s risk of:

  • High blood pressure

  • A weakened immune system

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Cognitive decline

  • Death 

Mental health impacts of long-term loneliness

An ongoing sense of loneliness can prompt a cycle that makes it more challenging to pursue connection. Research suggests that long-term loneliness can activate evolutionary defense mechanisms that may make a person more guarded and less likely to trust others, further impairing their abilities and willingness to interact socially.

Rates of social anxiety disorder have increased in recent years for women and low-income earners in particular—a trend that may be partly due to or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This mental illness can make socializing difficult or impossible, further contributing to isolation and loneliness. 

As one study suggests, maladaptive coping techniques, “socio-emotional well-being,” and poor support networks may play a role in the chances of developing this condition. Not having social support or positive coping mechanisms can make it more challenging to seek out social situations—another example of the cycle of loneliness that can be difficult to break out of.

Strategies for addressing the loneliness epidemic

A lack of community and connection is often the cause of loneliness, so promoting and increasing a reach to both areas may be a crucial part of the solution. Community members banding together to check in on and care for each other can help individually. Acting with friendliness and kindness and not shying away from even brief, casual social interactions with others you encounter daily can also foster a more significant sense of local connectedness.

From a policy standpoint, more initiatives and programs to reduce loneliness may be helpful. Diverse, reachable, and free public spaces that facilitate and encourage social interaction along with events of various types for individual communities and neighborhoods may also build a sense of connection between people. Mentorship programs and support groups can also provide avenues for people in all situations to pursue the formation of meaningful social relationships.

It may be worth considering the findings of a 2022 study on the relationship between loneliness and purpose. This research suggests that those experiencing psychological distress benefited from identifying a purpose that could offer them perceived life direction and meaning. Having a purpose may also decrease the risk of developing loneliness in the future. Whether by volunteering, creating art, caring for a loved one, or immersing yourself in a hobby, having a meaningful reason to get out of bed each morning may help you reduce loneliness. 

Is loneliness impacting your life?

Support options

One of the most common types of talk therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to help an individual learn to recognize and shift distorted thought patterns. Those experiencing loneliness may be prone to distorted thoughts related to their social life. They may become more distrustful of others the longer they’re isolated. CBT may help individuals in this situation learn to challenge their thoughts about the motives of others and their own social abilities to help break down some of the barriers to connection. Those experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition in addition to or because of chronic loneliness can also get support in addressing these.

For those experiencing loneliness, the prospect of venturing out to a therapist’s office to speak about challenging topics with a stranger can seem intimidating or threatening. In addition, those with specific availability needs or lacking reliable transport may have difficulty commuting regularly. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be a helpful alternative. 

With an online therapy platform, you can get matched with a licensed therapist and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. In addition, you can get benefits like journaling prompts, group therapy sessions, and weekly webinars. Research suggests that online therapy can offer similar benefits to in-person options in many cases. You don’t have to have a mental illness or diagnosis to get started, and multiple modalities are available. 


“The loneliness epidemic” refers to a combination of modern factors—such as technology, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rise of remote work—that often contribute to increased isolation and loneliness among individuals today. Combating widespread loneliness may involve individual, community, and structural efforts and changes. If you’re experiencing loneliness, consider connecting with a therapist online or in your area to get started. 
You're not alone with your loneliness
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