Relationships expert Dr Anna Martin puts the spotlight on loneliness.

Loneliness is a pressing challenge for many Kiwis and, despite being more connected than ever before, many of us are feeling increasingly isolated.

Loneliness affects different people in different ways with the underlying causes varying from person to person, however there is mounting evidence pointing to the conclusion that over-reliance on digital devices is potentially one of the common factors producing an isolating effect.

Technology has undeniably enhanced so many aspects of our lives, and the myriad social media platforms available provide seemingly endless opportunity to meet and interact with people.

However, we know that a lack of quality and meaningful relationships is a significant contributor to feelings of loneliness, with studies suggesting that spending too much time online rather than seeking out real-life connections heightens feelings of isolation.

Humans by nature are social creatures, so it’s important we feel a connection with those around us. While maintaining relationships using online methods can provide this to an extent, rarely do they offer the genuine connections we require to feel valued and content. Direct human contact measurably lowers our stress levels and therefore feelings of anxiety and aloneness.

According to the 2degrees #GoodChat survey, 27 percent of Kiwis feel it’s harder now to form new relationships than it was five year ago.

One respondent noted that “social media gets in the way and makes it hard to truly connect with people,” while another said the reason it was harder for them to form genuine relationships was due to people’s fixation on online interactions.

The survey also revealed that more than half of New Zealanders struggle to tell their partners when they are feeling lonely.

It’s critical that both individually and collectively we remove the stigma around loneliness in New Zealand, as most people across all age groups, genders and ethnicities will at some stage in their life feel sad and lonely.

If you suspect someone close to you is feeling vulnerable, the first step is to reach out and start a conversation, whether that be in person, by text or phone call.

Although it’s not always possible to connect in person, face-to-face interactions are valuable to a person’s well-being. The survey noted that a helpful approach to explore if our family or friends are sad is by taking note of their facial expressions/body language, especially when it comes to partners (56 per cent) and parents (41 per cent). Non-verbal language plays a very big role in how we communicate.

While technology can connect people in ways we never dreamed of 20 years ago, it’s essential we remind ourselves to continue to have face-to-face conversations. Without face-to-face communication we risk losing deeper connections and therefore more fulfilling relationships, which is key to validation and long-term connections and contentment.

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