These 3 Daily Habits Help The U.S. Surgeon General Combat Loneliness And Burnout

Fortune Well December 12, 2023

Lifestyle

These 3 Daily Habits Help The U.S. Surgeon General Combat Loneliness And Burnout

A third of Americans feel lonelier now than ever before. If you find yourself socially isolated or lonely, you may not know how to get more connected. As policymakers and communities begin to brainstorm ways to foster social connectedness on a large scale, there are things we can all do each day to strengthen ties. 

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recalls his own bouts of loneliness. The feelings impacted his mental health and made it harder to be present at work. Since highlighting the loneliness epidemic and creating an advisory with a framework for change, Murthy has also implemented small strategies into his day to feel more present and connected. 

“I’ve spent much of my life really focusing on work and not really investing as much time in relationships as I should have,” Murthy tells Fortune. “I have had to deal with the consequences of that over the course of my life, of feeling lonely and isolated at times.”

 

These are the U.S. surgeon general’s three easy ways to combat loneliness each day. 

 
1. Reach out to someone 

Every day, Murthy reaches out to someone in his circle to catch up, ask how they are doing, or remind them he’s thinking of them. Micro acts of joy, such as feeling grateful for a friend or family member, can boost positive emotions and reduce stress while incentivizing moments for connection. 

“It could be my mom or dad. It could be my sister. It could be a friend who I haven’t talked to in a while,” he says. “It could be anyone in my life.”

 
2. Establish tech-free zones 

Murthy swears by phone-free times in his day when he’ll be rid of distractions from incoming email notifications or catchy social media headlines. Many would argue that excessive screen time has catalyzed the loneliness epidemic. One survey found over half of Americans spend 50% of their time online, but a majority want to devote more time to in-person connection with others who share similar values and interests. 

“I’m putting technology aside—my phone, any social media, my inbox—and just focusing on the people in front of me,” he says. Tech is most often off-limits during dinnertime so he can enjoy a distraction-free meal with his family. 

 
3. Pick up the phone 

With texting and instant direct messaging, many of us have lost the art of speaking on the phone. Hearing someone’s voice, though, establishes a connection, even if it isn’t for long. It helps us remember someone’s tone and understand the person in ways we can’t through screens. 

“Even if it’s just to say, ‘Hey, I’m about to do this interview with Fortune magazine, is it okay if I call you back later,’” he says. “Even that five or 10 seconds of hearing someone’s voice and exchanging a few words with them is so much more powerful than silencing that call and trying to find a few hours later in the day or later in the week to call them back.” 

Murthy’s tips are not revolutionary—but they are accessible. While his advisory advocates for wide-scale policies to foster connection in communities like schools and workspaces, he also models how simple it can be to stave off loneliness in your own life. Murthy admits he did not focus on connection during his first term as surgeon general but notices a significant shift since implementing these three habits into his current routine. 

“They have made a world of difference, and it is helping me not only feel more connected to people in my life but actually making me better in my job because I feel more grounded and more protected from burnout,” Murthy says. 


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