Is mindfulness making young people more lonely?

9 Mins read

Around 35% of people aged 16-35 say they have never felt more alone, but could Gen-Zs approach to mindfulness be making them lonelier than ever?  

Is mindfulness leading to loneliness? It’s ironic but it seems so. With more young people romanticising the idea of solitude, placing it in the shadow of mindfulness, it’s questionable whether this is really ‘living your best life.’ 

It’s TikToks like these, the ones that present an idyllic lifestyle of spending time alone, whether that be taking yourself on a solo holiday, treating yourself to a solo date night, or even simply living alone. This type of content could have contributed to the highest levels of loneliness reported among young people for 13 years.

Just a quick search on TikTok of the term “romanticise your life” and you’ll be bombarded with 86.8 thousand videos, all of people sharing their mundane daily routines or doing things solo. This specific sound was trending for most of 2022, ironically the same year more young people reported feeling more alone than ever. 

In a world that is so chaotic, practising mindfulness can be key to managing stress and helping people to feel grounded. When broken down and put simply, it’s the practice of gratitude. 

You could argue that this trend of romanticisation could come from a place that yearns for simplicity. Taking it back to basics, enjoying the little things, and allowing time to be alone is something many of us do not prioritise – a positive side to the trend but it, evidently, can do more harm than good.

It’s surprising that these types of TikToks are being created, at a time when loneliness is so prevalent among young people. Now, let’s not get it wrong. We can all agree there is something special about appreciating the little things in life. It’s an easy way to boost your mood and practice being truly present.

But shutting the world out to take on a ‘hot girl summer’ – defined by a piece in The Tab as “the TikTok trend ripping joy away from everyone one treat at a time” – reinforces that this might not be a great choice for your mental well-being, especially when it comes to comparison culture online.

“Solitude, to me, is worth romanticising. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a demoralising feeling that none of us willingly choose.”

Sabina Trojanova

But one of the positives about this trend is that it’s cost effective (mostly free), easily accessible, and could make a huge difference to your mental health.

Practising mindfulness can be anything from taking yoga classes, meditating or just appreciating the small things; It can be as simple as ‘romanticising’ your Saturday morning coffee or the same mundane dog walk you do twice a day, even your morning skincare routine.

TikTokers, more specifically the Gen-Zs would call all these things romanticising your life. But is the act of purposeful solitude a great thing to romanticise when people are feeling lonelier than ever?

“There’s a big difference between loneliness and solitude. Solitude, to me, is worth romanticising – it enables you to be completely present and promotes mindfulness. Solitude is deliberate. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a demoralising feeling that none of us willingly choose” says content creator Sabina Trojanova, otherwise known as Girl vs Globe.

Sabina is just one example of the flock of people making the move to London, but the charm soon wore off and she recently left the capital. “Doing things by yourself because you have no-one to accompany you will make you feel alone and insecure. Doing things by yourself out of choice will make you feel alone and free,” she continues.

Sabina moved to the city just before the pandemic hit. It was once everything began to open back up that she realised how few people she knew in the city: “I’d imagined myself spending my 20s surrounded by a big group of friends, but instead I ended up with friends scattered all over the world as a result of living in five different countries during those formative years.”

The idea of being young and lonely could be confusing to some. London specifically has a population of 8.9 million people, in theory, you should be spoilt for a choice of friends right? But as Sabina says: “it’s not hard to meet new people and make new connections in the city, what’s hard is turning those initial connections into deeper and long-lasting friendships.”

She describes London as a very transient place where people come and go all the time – something you don’t see much of on TikTok, creating false ideals to the dreamy-eyed Gen Zs. 

For the Girl vs Globe creator, this could be a classic case of ‘insta vs reality.’ This idea of romanticising being alone, thriving in your ‘London girl era,’ isn’t always as it seems and the statistics around loneliness and young people are reflective of that. 

Portrait of Aldwyn Boscawen
Morale was designed to be antidote to social media [Aldwyn Boscawen]

With 35% of people aged between 16-35 admitting to feeling lonely, it shows that the subtle romanticisation, as lovely and idyllic as it may seem, is not helping with this silent battle among young people – with the constant, ever-evolving ‘highlight reel’ comes pressure and comparison. 

Sabina shares that “people only share their “best lives” online. Don’t compare your mundane everyday existence to another person’s highlight reel – especially if that person is a professional content creator whose livelihood depends on sharing their most exciting experiences with the world.”

If it isn’t enough hearing it from the content creators themselves, Aldwyn Boscawen, the founder of the Morale app, built to be an antidote to the regular social media platforms, explained that “social media’s worst trait is that it represents unrealistic versions of other people and does not offer context. This can lead us to compare ourselves and feel inadequate.” 

The premise of Morale is to contradict social media and its toxicity. Used to send affirmations, compliments, and motivations to friends anonymously – the app allows users to send ‘boots’, giving them prompts to help them create that positive energy and messaging. 

Aldwyn first thought of the idea at a difficult stage in his life. The pandemic had hit, he lost his business and really started to notice how social media was affecting his mental state. Conversations with friends made him realise the common feeling around the platforms – these being that they should be liberating and uplifting, but were having the opposite effect. 

It’s these conversations with friends that helped Aldwyn realise the clear distinction between having open and emotional conversations with friends. This then allowed support giving and receiving and was positive for his mindset in a way he hadn’t previously found. 

“Social media has been the most influential shift in how we interact. There is nothing that is designed to boost mental health, mitigate loneliness, or create happiness. There are some by-products of social media that make it easier to find people, but it is a far cry from the social ‘network’ that it started as” says Aldwyn, commenting on the influence social media has on loneliness. 

“There are never enough likes” exclaims the 33-year-old, touching on promoting Morale, an app that is not about likes but about mindfulness and affirmations between the users, spreading positivity and uplifting people. “The traps that you can fall into when creating content are awful.” 

The recent trend around ‘romanticising’ life, could be considered a trap like the one Aldwyn is talking about; manifesting itself in the form of a “Hot Girl Era” or “London Girl Era” – these trends leave room for expectations to be quickly met by reality, where TikTok has a lot to answer for.

Called the Boomerang Effect, lots of young people are returning back to London after the pandemic. In recent years the population in the capital has started to grow as young people packed up and decided to go and chase their dreams in the capital – but how many are influenced by social media and are they regretting their decisions? 

Whether it’s about moving to a big city alone or deciding to emigrate to Australia, it’s understandable why this is so enticing, especially when it is made to look so easy to do on socials. 

What people want to know is what it’s actually like, the reality of moving away, leaving friends and family to pursue your dreams. How much of their decision-making is influenced by TikTok and the practice of people sharing their way of life and how they adhere to wellness trends? 

This loneliness epidemic has led to the creation of Facebook groups like The London Lonely Girls Club and London New Girl. Their purpose is to make people feel less alone and have a chance at becoming more social, and finding like-minded people, since abandoning their past lives – all very telling regarding the reality of it all. 

Taking the leap to move to the capital city comes with positives and negatives, as these girls are aware. It’s no secret that it’s the place where the opportunities are, where you’ll meet new people and network, but at what cost? 

Many start out as international students and stay in the UK to pursue their dream careers, leaving family, friends and culture behind. As most of us know, it is hard to make new friends in adulthood, and this can be isolating. The thoughts that go through their mind could most definitely be “this isn’t what ‘their’ life looked like on TikTok” – this is when the comparison seeps in. 

It’s no wonder that the recent movement of de-influencing has surfaced, and 2023 could see the diminishment of the much loved (and dreaded) influencer, who instead tell you what not to buy. 

This movement could be revolutionary to the industry of influencers. It’s a movement that focuses on urging people not to buy things – are we going to see this with regards to moving away, will there be some hard-hitting reality on our For You pages that paints the picture in a more honest light? 

Whether it’s a choice to opt for solitude, or a form of events that have led a lonely life – it takes guts to be alone. A pursuit of happiness for some, either by choice as some people throw in the towel on the corporate rat race and others can be born into this lifestyle and know nothing better, blissfully unaware, some might say.

But what is the difference between solitude and loneliness? Especially for the solitude preachers on TikTok, are they content or are they just lonely and have the ‘every silver lining’ attitude? 

The difference is the mental state and the true intentions behind the act of being alone. To isolate yourself as a victim to mental health issues can be toxic to overall well-being, but simply choosing to be alone to work on yourself and to truly understand the person you are can be liberating – there is a fine line between solitude and loneliness.

Solitude can in fact lead to mindfulness but isolation can lead to loneliness. If we dig a little deeper, the TikToks promoting a solo life could be seen as a way of isolating yourself.  

“More people have come back to London and are wanting that connection; London is so big, it leaves a lot of space for loneliness.” 

Holly Cooke

It’s fair to say that adult friendships aren’t always the easiest to manage. Whether it be down to differences in age, life milestones, or life ambitions, it’s just life – it gets in the way.

Strong relationships with whoever it may be, require consistency and prioritisation; two things that are all over the place for people in their early 20s/30s as many are still figuring out where they fit and their purpose, meaning these two variables change. 

But social media can provide solace for this. Now I know what you’re thinking, earlier the narrative was that social media is adding to this epidemic of loneliness, but if it is used for the right reasons, and in the correct ways social media is a great tool. 

Facebook groups are a great place to start – groups like Truly Twenties, New London Girl and The London Lonely Girls Club, all offer a way to connect with like-minded people. 

The London Lonely Girls Club has almost 20,000 members. The group offers a way of tackling loneliness since the pandemic restrictions ended.

The page’s founder Holly Cooke told the BBC that “More people have come back to London and are wanting that connection; London is so big, it leaves a lot of space for loneliness.” It’s encouraging to know that there are communities of people who are trying to tackle this overwhelming sense of loneliness among young people in the capital, a place thriving and full of endless possibilities. 

Ironically social media can be truly isolating. Its impact and the societal pressures it can produce, inviting feelings of inadequacy, promoting toxic productivity and financial judgement – it’s a serious issue regarding wellbeing.

Add to that the influx of viral TikToks romanticising the idea of being alone, taking solo trips or solo date nights, can all make you feel even more inadequate. Are they meant to enjoy being alone?

Let’s not even talk about the cost of living crisis, being alone and trying to live is enough as it is, let alone taking yourself on a solo date to a fancy restaurant or café to enjoy your own company once again, I don’t think so. 

Using these solo activities as a way to perceive a mindful activity is dangerous territory. It’s all well and good enjoying the little things, but romanticising being alone to the extent this type of content is can be a slap in the face for people who are truly lonely and know the reality of being and feeling alone. 

Behind that highlight reel, the sad truth is as described by the German sociologist Georg Simmel: “Nowhere feels as lonely and lost as in the metropolitan crowd.”

Featured image by Sasha Freemind via Unsplash CC.

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