Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a routine or going through life on autopilot? You aren’t enjoying your hobbies as much as you used to, you don’t look forward to almost anything, you’re feeling apathetic and things just kind of happen to you.
Perhaps you’re not seeing your purpose in life and are asking yourself how you go to this point? It feels like there should be something more, but when you think about it you feel sort of empty. You feel stuck on a treadmill disconnected from everything and everyone.
You’re not alone. There are many people suffering from the disconnection of modern life. In fact, it’s quite natural and it can happen to anyone, no matter their living situation or social status.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to reconnect.
But first, you need to know why you’re feeling disconnected. Let’s take a look at some possible causes.
In this article
Why are we feeling disconnected
Feeling disconnected can mean different things to different people. You can feel like you’ve lost your passion for things you’ve once enjoyed. You can feel stuck and searching for a purpose. You can feel like you’re just going through the motions day after day. Or you can even feel lonely even though you’re not alone.
There can be various environmental and genetic causes. We’ll go over the most common ones.
Technology and dopamine
Looking at our phones and checking social media has become an automatic response to any sound or vibration that comes from our devices. We do it all the time, even when we have to wait just a minute to get our coffee.
Such behaviour can easily cause fear of missing out (FOMO) even if we’re not aware of it. We have learned to instantly check emails, notifications and to respond to any stimuli our devices send us. Our tendency to put our phone before our own wellbeing can quickly cause disconnection.
We can also see the best, often fabricated moments from everyone else's life which can lower satisfaction with our life. The whole Instagram seems to be living a dream while we’re stuck in our routine. That’s not a healthy image of reality nor it is in fact the reality.
Although it seems like social media connects people it really doesn’t. Even Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, admitted that the social network was founded not to unite us, but to distract us. “The thought process was: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” he confessed. To achieve this goal, Facebook’s architects exploited human psychology, explained Parker, who resigned from the company in 2005. Whenever someone likes or comments on a post or photo, Facebook gives you a little dopamine boost. And it’s the same with so many other platforms, innovations and applications.
We won’t go too deep into dopamine as there’s enough there for a whole book. The gist is that dopamine is a neurotransmitter that inspires us to take actions to meet our needs and desires, which was crucial for humanity’s survival. It has a lot to do with desire, ambition, addiction and sex drive.
Because we can now get small releases of dopamine so often during the day, it lowers our desire and motivation to do the harder tasks. That leaves us feeling guilty, lethargic and stuck in a negative loop where we blame ourselves. We end up disconnected from a lot of things we see as meaningful.
Loneliness and keeping to ourselves
Modern life and technology lead many people to situations when they are feeling lonely even when they are not alone.
When was the last time you had a truly deep and meaningful live conversation? This lack of connection with other people not only makes us feel disconnected from them but more susceptible to depression and other chronic health issues as well.
Many of us have a difficult time sharing emotions - because of various stigmas and because people, particularly men, are socialized not to talk about feelings. While this is slowly changing it’s still a huge problem.
Another barrier is the simple fact that it can be difficult to put feelings into words or explain them in a way others may understand. Especially in the world where we rely more and more on short messages. And if we feel misunderstood we might even seek solace in disconnection.
Stress and anxiety
People deal with intense stress in very different ways. Some are more easily annoyed or frustrated by minor inconveniences and lose temper much more easily than the average person. Some people are prone to just tune out. Some experience dissociation, others obsess over stressful thoughts. Stress sensitivity is also linked to cortisol reactivity, which has a genetic component.
Stress is another huge topic that we can’t really cover here. However, we have written a comprehensive article about stress and ways to manage it. You can read it here.
Lack of quality sleep
You know how sometimes you wake up and just feel it’s going to be a good day, while other times you wake up feeling worried or just empty.
You might just say that you’re not a morning person, but sleep is a basic human need and is so important for health and wellbeing. Sleep quality refers to how well we sleep, integrating aspects of sleep initiation (falling asleep in 30 minutes or less), sleep maintenance (waking up no more than once per night), sleep quantity (sleeping at least 85 percent of the total time while in bed), and refreshment upon awakening.
Getting enough quality sleep can help protect mental health, physical health, and quality of life. Changes in sleep quality, quantity, and timing have been associated with several human diseases, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.
As you can see, quality of sleep affects many aspects of our lives. Not getting enough quality hours can certainly be one of the factors that makes us feel disconnected.
Research has shown that sleep quality is a highly complex trait involving many genes and their interactions with environmental factors.
Seasonal depression is a type of recurring depression related to changes in the seasons.
For most people with seasonal depression, symptoms appear during late fall or early winter when periods of daylight are shortest and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Less commonly, seasonal depression occurs in the spring or early summer. The prevalence of seasonal depression is between 1% and 10% of the general population, and the age of onset is estimated to be between 18 and 30 years.
While some people with seasonal depression have mild symptoms like feeling irritable, others have worse including depression, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, low energy, difficulty sleeping, concentrating, changes in appetite or weight, feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty, or have frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Individuals with winter-type depression are more likely to experience carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, oversleeping and fatigue, while symptoms of summer-type depression include agitation, insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, agitation or anxiety, and intolerance of heat and humidity. In both cases, symptoms may begin to be mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
The causes of seasonal depression are complex, but studies suggest a genetic component. In this case, taking a genetic test can let you know if you’re prone to seasonal depression and can help you prepare accordingly. Also, the knowledge itself can be of some comfort as you know the season will pass.
Outlook on life
Optimism relates to how people see the future: more optimistic individuals expect good things to happen across various areas of life. Although we often say that an individual is either an optimist or a pessimist, researchers tend to view optimism and pessimism on a spectrum.
Unsurprisingly, optimism has been associated with higher well-being, higher levels of self-esteem, positive mood, more resilience to stressful or negative events, self-mastery, and active coping.
Psychologists have found that optimism may be beneficial for mental health because it allows us to cope adaptively with our problems instead of disengaging from them.
The benefits of optimism are also reflected in interpersonal relationships; optimists appear to engage in the sorts of problem-solving that keeps relationships alive.
Both optimism and pessimism are strongly influenced by environmental factors, but recent research has shown that the potential for optimism is also influenced by genetic factors.
It might be tough to change your outlook on life, but it’s far from impossible. Pessimists have a much greater chance of feeling disconnected, but as you’ll see there are things you can do to move towards the optimist side of the spectrum. After all, how you perceive life is highly subjective, which means you can influence it.
Depersonalisation disorder (also known as derealization disorder) is a different cause from the ones we’ve mentioned so far. The primary symptom is a distorted and detached perception of one's body and thoughts (depersonalisation).
The disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body, being in a dream or feeling like a robot. However, people with this disorder do not lose contact with reality. They realize that things are not as they appear. An episode of depersonalization can last anywhere from a short time (a few minutes) to (rarely) many years.
Depersonalisation also might be a symptom of other disorders, including some forms of substance abuse, certain personality disorders, seizure disorders, and certain other brain diseases.
If you are experiencing depersonalisation disorder symptoms you should see a doctor and get an official diagnosis as this is not the case where you should try to treat the feeling of disconnect yourself.
Now that we’ve reviewed some common causes of feeling disconnected, let’s see what you can do to “reconnect”.
18 things you can do to reconnect
We’ve compiled a pretty extensive list of activities and changes that can help you to feel better and more connected. We don’t recommend that you try all of them at once, because that would be taking on far too much. Instead, think about the reasons why you feel disconnected and find what activities address them the best.
While these descriptions are short, they are a good starting point and you can dive deeper to learn more about the ones that are relevant for you.
1. Reach out
It might feel counterintuitive or daunting, but to feel better, we often need to be vulnerable, reach out and open up to a friend or a therapist.
If you have someone in your life that you trust and knows will be supportive, reach out to them. If the interaction doesn’t feel right, try again with someone else.
If you find you have a hard time opening up to friends or family, you can seek out professionals trained in mental health. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about our problems to “strangers” and there’s absolutely no shame in searching for professional help and going to therapy.
2. Listen to your body
Our bodies send us messages all the time. You know when you’re tired, hungry or when you feel like hanging out with people.
As simple as it seems to honour the body’s needs, it’s not necessarily easy. Especially in a society that puts emphasis on productivity. We can quickly start overriding our body’s real need for fresh air, looking around, even going to the bathroom. This isn’t your fault, it’s merely conditioning that many of us have to practice becoming aware of, in order not to default to it over and over again.
Such behaviour can make you feel like you’re stuck in a rut.
Just think of athletes - their rest days are just as important as training days for the body to perform optimally, and health to be preserved. It’s the same with you and your mind!
3. Put away electronics
Resist the urge to check your smartphone when it’s not necessary. Put electronics somewhere where you can’t habitually pick up and use them. Try to avoid the stimulus in order to control the number of small dopamine releases. You might even consider uninstalling apps like Facebook, Instagram etc. There are many other ways to stay connected.
If nothing else, don’t use electronics before you go to bed as they can disrupt your circadian rhythm, mostly due to radiated artificial blue light. Research studies have shown that blue light suppresses the hormone melatonin, making us less sleepy.
Even not using electronics 30 minutes before bedtime will help, but remember that the sooner the better. For example, reading a book is a much better alternative to relax before bedtime.
4. Positive reframing and positive affirmations
Reversing negative thinking patterns and replacing them with positive ones can help us feel happier, more optimistic, and less likely to be engaged in pessimistic thoughts. Such a shift from a negative to positive perspective is called "positive reframing”.
Try to challenge yourself to always consider that there may be another way of looking at things. When you notice negative thoughts entering your mind, try to stop them before they tempt you into ruminating. This can be difficult at first, but with some perseverance and practice, it will become easier and more automatic over time. Making this conscious effort not only shifts your viewpoint in the short term but also trains your brain for an optimistic and positive mindset.
You can also use affirmations - positive statements that encourage an optimistic mindset. You may choose to use positive affirmations to motivate yourself, encourage positive changes in your life, or boost your self-esteem.
If you often get caught up in negative self-talk and focus on negative outcomes, affirmations can help you overcome these subconscious patterns and allow you to maintain control over your feelings. It is recommended to use affirmations every day and whenever you need a boost of positivity. Practising positive affirmations can be very simple - all you have to do is choose a positive phrase and repeat it to yourself.
5. Surround yourself with optimists
Research has shown that happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom we are connected. If one person is positive about a situation, others are likely to feel positive as well. On the contrary, being surrounded by more pessimistic people increases the chances that their pessimism will affect us as well.
If you are willing to practice optimism, hearing how other optimists explain their stories and events can be helpful. Try to maximise time spent with optimistic people and if you find yourself surrounded by people complaining about a situation or problem, try not to partake. See if you can shed some positive light on the situation instead. Making other people feel positive also has lasting effects on your own life.
6. Smiling boosts happiness
The evidence suggests that muscle and skin activity of facial expressions may directly activate regions of the brain that produce hormones associated with emotion.
Interestingly, it has been demonstrated that voluntary smiling, or faking a smile, can produce similar electrical brain activity to spontaneous, or genuine, smiling. This results from the activation of feedback pathways from muscles of facial expression to the brain, physiologically triggering happy emotions.
When it comes to smiling, the saying “fake it till you make it” holds true.
7. Spend time with friends and family
People who cultivate high-quality relationships experience higher well-being, life-satisfaction, and quality of life than those who do not nurture such relationships.
Studies have shown that individuals who maintain close relationships, especially with their close family and strong social ties cope better with stress and grief, job loss, or illness. However, recent research suggests that even social interactions with the more peripheral members of our social networks (“weak ties”) contribute to our wellbeing.
8. Regular exercise
The frequency of physical movement throughout the day, even if this movement is not rigorous exercise, is associated with both physical health and happiness. Levels of physical activity have also been shown to be positively associated with general wellbeing, as well as with lower levels of anxiety and depression and positive mood.
Therefore, you should try to find some time every day to, at least, go for a walk or do any other form of exercise. Something is always better than nothing when it comes to exercising.
9. Spend time in nature
Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing.
Therefore, it is recommended that you go for a daily walk or run in nature. If that’s not possible, do it at least over the weekend. Hang out near plants and trees, observe the sky and smell the flowers.
10. Consider a pet companion
A pet companion reduces loneliness and contributes to overall wellbeing throughout life. Having a dog around can lead to lower levels of stress. Having a pet can also benefit those with mental health conditions.
Another study has shown that dog owners were more physically active than those who did not have a dog, regardless of environmental conditions. However, keep in mind that a pet will not change things significantly if you do not establish a positive relationship with it. Having a pet is also a responsibility and a time investment, so don’t think about it as a magic problem solver.
11. Manage your stress levels
If you have a lot of stress in your life, find ways to reduce it: learn a few time-management techniques, practice yoga, meditation, or learn breathing techniques. All of the above can have a positive effect on improving stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep quality
12. Practice mindfulness
We spend a lot of time thinking about things that are not going on around us, contemplating events that happened in the past, may happen in the future, or will not happen at all.
Mindfulness is a practice aiming to increase awareness of the present moment (experiences happening within and outside you). This technique includes curiosity, openness, and acceptance. When we are present we find more meaning in our day-to-day experiences, which allows for moments of clear recognition. We can truly be with our loved ones, not just physically but emotionally.
Several research studies have shown that practising mindfulness can have a significant and positive impact on mental and physical health, as stress is reduced and the quality of life and sense of wellbeing are improved. It’s something that can definitely help you reconnect to your surroundings and feel more grounded.
13. Make your environment sunnier and brighter
Seasonal depression is related to changes in the amount of daylight during different times of the year.
So if you feel bad during a certain season make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible. Open the window curtains or shades to let in the daylight, trim tree branches that block sunlight, or add skylights to your home.
Also, try to sit closer to bright windows when you are at home or in the office - possibly in the sunshine. Full-spectrum bulbs, which emit a light spectrum that simulates the full visible light spectrum of natural sunlight, can bring a little more daylight into your home during the winter months and help with mild symptoms.
A sunnier and brighter environment can lift your mood even if feeling disconnected has nothing to do with seasonal depression.
14. Get sufficient and quality sleep
Research has shown that those who sleep well are more satisfied with life. In contrast, sleep disruptions have been associated with negative psychological consequences such as depressed mood, anxiety, and poor emotion regulation, and "repetitive negative thoughts".
An extensive survey revealed that individuals who reported getting more sleep also had higher overall wellbeing than those who said they got less sleep.
For optimal health, most adults need an average of about 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
15. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
Stress may have a profound effect on sleep.
Try to establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a bath or listening to music. Research has shown that taking a hot bath 90 minutes before bed improved sleep quality and helped to get more deep sleep.
You can also try to unwind before bedtime by practising meditation or relax with a good book instead of electronics, which can disrupt sleep. Try to drink herbal tea, especially valerian or lavender.
For more bedtime and morning tips, check out our article about waking up.
16. Eat a well-balanced diet
An unprocessed diet high in fruit and vegetable, healthy forms of protein and fats, has been associated with increased happiness, life satisfaction, wellbeing, and better mental health outcomes. Research has shown that consuming vegetables even led to a higher level of happiness over time than sugar or unhealthy food induces at the moment
Therefore, it is recommended to avoid foods that seem enjoyable at the time but then make you feel worse, such as eating unhealthy sugary foods or drinking too much alcohol. A Mediterranean-style diet made up of fruits, vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, yoghurt and cheese, nuts, whole grains, seafood, and lean meat is recommended
17. Enjoyable activities
Doing what you enjoy is good for your emotional wellbeing. A study has shown that individuals who engaged in more frequent enjoyable leisure activities, such as hobbies, sports, socialising, or spending time in nature had better psychological and physical functioning. They reported greater life satisfaction, life engagement, and social support.
Finding work and leisure that engage your skills, such as cooking or dancing, is also a good way to enjoy yourself and feel accomplished. Happy people often work in a state called "flow" – they are immersed in tasks that challenge them but do not overwhelm them.
It’s worth noting that activities you enjoy can also be detrimental and make you feel disconnected. We are sure you know if that’s the case and if it is, try to find other healthier enjoyable activities.
18. Let your imagination help you
We can create imaginative experiences to help us when we’re feeling disconnected. Just like athletes learn sports psychology techniques to visualize their success on the field or court, we can do the same. We can imagine we’re giving – or getting – a hug, even when we’re alone and just video chatting with someone we love.
“We can hug ourselves when we send that hug to someone else, and ask them to do the same. Our imagination will help us fill in the space between a real hug and what we’re doing,” counsellor Anne Marie Vorbach, PhD, LP, Avera Medical Group Behavioral Health Marshall, says. “It may sound simple, or silly – but it works.”
Interested in your genetic predispositions for mental wellbeing?
Now you know what steps and activities to try when you’re feeling disconnected. All of them have to do with environmental factors, but plenty of factors that influence our mental wellbeing are affected by our genes.
If you want to learn more about your predispositions we recommend GenePlanet’s Mind and Wellbeing DNA test.
It includes 12 analyses including sleep quality, stress sensitivity, happiness potential, seasonal depression, fear and anxiety and others.
It also comes with personalized recommendations depending on your results and it will certainly help you to know yourself better.