THE BLOG
08/26/2015 04:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Can Connection Save Us?

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We're not imagining it: We really are losing our connections to each other.

It's a huge problem. In fact, it's life-threatening.

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the Brigham Young University study that found that social isolation increases our risk of death by 32 percent.

Duke University and the University of Arizona have been watching our connections go down the tubes. Each of us used to have at least three close friends. Today, we're lucky to have one. And 25 percent of Americans say they have no one to connect to or depend on.

What does that mean in real life?

Eighty million Americans have no one.

If you're like me, that number -- 80 million -- is hard to wrap your head around. So picture this: Eighty million people equals the current populations of California, New York, and Texas. Yep. All those people. That's what we're talking about. Just in America.

A few weeks ago, I shared this "idea worth spreading" with almost 2,000 folks at
TEDxFargo in my talk "Connect or Die: The Surprising Power of Human Relationships."

As an ophthalmologist, I see people with vision issues every day. Sadly, I also know that my patients aren't the only ones with vision problems.

We're all becoming blind to each other.

You may not have cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration but your vision may be distorted in similar ways. And without clear vision -- and I'm not talking 20/20 -- we can't connect with each other.

In my operating room, my office, and my daily life, I see people with warped perspectives every day. And don't get me wrong: Some days I have the same visual distortions.

What's the answer?

Recognition of the problem is the start of the cure. Finding steps for the remedy comes next.

Easy things can truly make a difference. Set down your phone. Express gratitude. Share the best part of your day with someone you love.

It turns out, connection is good for us!

It strengthens our immune systems, and lessens anxiety and depression, which may well lead to longer lives.

Perhaps we can take our cue from the Natal tribes of South Africa. Members greet each other with "Sawa bona," which means "I see you." They respond with "Sikhona," which means "I am here."

As an ophthalmologist and as your Connection Doctor, I want to teach you how to save lives. My prescription for you is this: Open your eyes. Look at each other. And make the connection.

I see you.

Starla Fitch, MD, is an oculoplastic surgeon in practice in Atlanta. She has made it her life's mission to help people see more clearly, literally and figuratively. What started as a movement to help medical professionals love medicine again has expanded into a global community, guiding people in all walks of life as they improve their connections -- with their colleagues, their families, and themselves.

Known as "The Connection Doctor," Dr. Fitch is a #1 international best-selling author, professional speaker, and certified life coach. She speaks around the world on "4 Steps from Burnout to Balance" and "Connection 101." Dr. Fitch writes at StarlaFitchMD.com, where you can get a free copy of "Encourage Connection" here from her book Remedy for Burnout. You can see her TEDx talk here. You can follow Dr. Fitch on Twitter and Facebook, and connect with her on LinkedIn.