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How to Cope with Loneliness

How to Cope with Loneliness

How to Cope with Loneliness Atlanta Group Together

Where You Live Can Make a Difference for Your Health and Happiness

Where you live goes a long to addressing how to cope with loneliness. In 2023, the Surgeon General declared loneliness a pandemic after four years of intensive research revealed its widespread impact on health and well-being. States and cities across the nation have since been racing to combat this silent epidemic. And right here in Atlanta, the challenge is particularly pressing. According to a recent survey, Atlanta ranks as the ninth “loneliest” American city. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that just under 45% of Atlantans live in one-person households, with this percentage creeping up by about 2.75 points each year since 2016. Additionally, around 10% of Atlanta residents living alone are aged 65 or older.

But Atlanta is not taking this lying down. Over the past few months, the Breathe team has been deeply embedded in the community, talking to local experts and residents to get a real sense of the situation on the ground. We’ve heard firsthand how isolation affects Atlantans and learned about the inspiring efforts underway to foster connection and well-being in the city. In this article, we’ll dive into these stories and insights to understand how Atlanta is addressing the loneliness pandemic head-on.

Socially Connected Communities

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community underscores the vital importance of social connection not only for individual health but also for the overall health and well-being of communities. The advisory highlights the profound consequences that can arise when social connections are lacking. Although social connection is often viewed as an individual challenge, the advisory explores the broader cultural, community, and societal dynamics that drive connection and disconnection. It offers a framework for a national strategy with specific recommendations for key institutions, including governments, health care systems, public health departments, research institutions, schools, workplaces, and community organizations, to foster and strengthen social connections.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer arrives at the Governors Awards at the Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles on October 27, 2019.  Source: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

How to cope with loneliness? Social connection significantly impacts communities. At Breathe Media, we have observed that access to quality experiences and communities in sports, fitness, spiritual wellness, and longevity drives the well-being index of a city and its residents. Our mission is to improve this access.

Why Social Connection Matters

Our relationships and interactions with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors are foundational to social connection. Additionally, our connection with others and our community is shaped by our neighborhoods, digital environments, schools, and workplaces. Social connection—defined by the structure, function, and quality of our relationships—is a critical and often underappreciated contributor to individual and population health, community safety, resilience, and prosperity.

However, many Americans lack social connection in one or more ways, which compromises these benefits and leads to poor health and other negative outcomes. Social isolation and loneliness, while related, are not the same. Social isolation is the objective state of having few social relationships, social roles, group memberships, and infrequent social interaction. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a subjective internal state—the distressing experience that results from perceived isolation or the gap between an individual’s preferred and actual social experiences

Enhancing Social Connection in Atlanta

In Atlanta, the City maintains over 3,000 acres of parkland and operates 33 recreational centers, which play a vital role in fostering community connections. These public spaces provide opportunities for residents to engage in social activities, sports, and wellness programs that can alleviate loneliness and build stronger community ties.

Earth Goddess Atlanta Botanical Garden

The Surgeon General has even published a glossary of terms such as belonging, norms of reciprocity, and social participation to help understand and communicate about loneliness more effectively. This resource can be viewed here.

By addressing the cultural and societal factors that influence social connection and implementing the recommendations from the Surgeon General’s advisory, we can work towards creating a more connected and healthier Atlanta. At Breathe Media, we are committed to enhancing access to experiences that bring people together, fostering a sense of community and belonging that is essential for combating loneliness.

Six Pillars to Advance Social Connection

To effectively combat loneliness and enhance social connection, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory outlines six key pillars. These pillars serve as a comprehensive framework for fostering social connection within communities and across the nation.

Pillar 1: Strengthen Social Infrastructure in Local Communities

Investing in social infrastructure—such as parks, libraries, community centers, and public spaces—provides essential venues for people to gather, interact, and build relationships. In Atlanta, with over 3,000 acres of parkland and 33 recreational centers, these spaces play a crucial role in promoting social engagement and reducing loneliness.

Pillar 2: Enact Pro-Connection Public Policies

Governments at all levels can support social connection by enacting policies that prioritize community building. This includes funding for social programs, incentives for community-based projects, and regulations that encourage inclusive urban planning. Such policies can help create environments where social connections can flourish.

Pillar 3: Mobilize the Health Sector

Healthcare providers and organizations are uniquely positioned to address loneliness as part of a holistic approach to health. This involves integrating social health into patient care, training healthcare professionals to recognize and address loneliness, and promoting community-based health initiatives that encourage social participation.

Pillar 4: Reform Digital Environments

Digital platforms can either contribute to or alleviate loneliness. By designing digital environments that encourage meaningful interactions and reduce harmful behaviors, technology companies can play a vital role in fostering social connection. This includes developing features that promote positive engagement and limit excessive or negative online experiences.

Pillar 5: Deepen our Knowledge

Ongoing research is essential to understand the complexities of social connection and loneliness. By investing in studies that explore the causes, effects, and solutions related to social isolation, we can develop evidence-based strategies to enhance social health. Collaboration between academic institutions, governments, and non-profits is crucial for advancing this knowledge.

Pillar 6: Cultivate a Culture of Connection

Promoting a culture that values and prioritizes social connection is fundamental. This involves public awareness campaigns, community events, and educational programs that highlight the importance of relationships and community involvement. Cultivating such a culture encourages individuals to seek and maintain social ties, ultimately fostering a more connected society.

Local Health Care

Did you know that the health impact of loneliness is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day? That’s a startling comparison and underscores just how critical social connection is to our well-being. When you’re dealing with a health issue, whether it’s a chronic condition or a sudden illness, the sense of isolation can grow exponentially—especially if getting to the doctor feels like a cross-country trek.

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In Atlanta, this is a reality for many. Struggling with a health issue can significantly increase feelings of loneliness, particularly when access to healthcare is limited or requires a lengthy commute. This is why access to healthcare is not just a convenience; it’s a crucial factor that influences where people choose to live.

Imagine feeling unwell and knowing you have to travel miles to see a healthcare provider. It’s no wonder that inadequate access to healthcare can compound the sense of isolation and disconnection from the community. That’s why having local, accessible healthcare services is so vital—it’s not just about treating illnesses but also about maintaining a connected and supported community.

We spoke with Barry Petrea, President of Virtual Imaging Atlanta, one of the leading preventative health centers focused on providing heart scans, brain scans, and virtual colonoscopies. He shared his perspective on the importance of proactive healthcare:

“Right, where you’re talking about preventative and prevention and really what Dr. Peter Attia would call Medicine 3.0. Medicine 2.0 is where we live today. We wait for you to get sick and then we try to fix you. Medicine 3.0 is about functional medicine, where you’re trying to live your life in a way where you avoid these things that can harm you through lifestyle changes and other interventions. By looking at the entire health picture of the individual, part of 3.0 is also aggressive and frequent screenings.”

Barry also highlighted a sobering statistic: “66% of all American bankruptcies are due to medical expenses.” This emphasizes the need for accessible and preventative healthcare to not only improve health outcomes but also to alleviate the financial burdens that can lead to social isolation.


Addressing loneliness is a multifaceted challenge that requires a concerted effort from individuals, communities, and institutions. In Atlanta, where nearly half the population lives alone, the stakes are particularly high. Yet, through strategic investments in social infrastructure, supportive public policies, proactive healthcare, and high-quality education, we can create an environment where social connections thrive.

From the extensive parks and recreational facilities that offer communal spaces, to the healthcare providers like Virtual Imaging Atlanta that emphasize preventative care, Atlanta is taking significant steps to combat loneliness. Additionally, educational institutions play a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging and community among students and families.

As we’ve learned from experts like Barry Petrea and Dr. Sener, creating a socially connected community requires a holistic approach that considers all aspects of our lives. At Breathe Media, we are committed to enhancing access to quality experiences that bring people together, promote well-being, and build stronger, more connected communities.

By embracing the principles outlined by the Surgeon General and the six pillars to advance social connection, we can move towards a future where loneliness is the exception, not the norm. Together, we can foster a healthier, happier Atlanta where everyone feels connected and supported.

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