We’re in the midst of our series of articles about loneliness this month. And it may seem odd to you that the focus is on health. Or maybe not, if you realize the profound connection there is between your body and your mind.
The first real lesson I had on this connection was years ago when my husband died suddenly. We had moved more than a thousand miles away from where I had lived my whole life and where my support system still was. Then he was gone. In addition to my grief, my loneliness was immense. And it didn’t take many months for health problems to show up. It turned out that I was clenching my jaws all night long while I slept and causing huge problems. The connection between my feelings and my health was pretty clear.
Many people I know are very conscious about their health. Perhaps you are one who is. Like many others, I’m trying to eat right, get lots of exercise, have enjoyable activities for relaxation and even pay attention to posture and alignment. It’s common these days to take active steps to be as healthy as possible.
What many people seem to miss though is the social component of good health. Scientists have proven that one of the most important health protection factors is your social support system. What I most want for you this month is for you to recognize that your loneliness is impacting more than your feelings. And that there is something you can do about it!
Please pay special attention to this month’s article about how loneliness can impact you physically and ideas for becoming less lonely.
LONELINESS AND HEALTH
Humans have an innate need to feel connected; we are social beings with a fundamental need to belong. This need is not only essential to your growth and development when you are young, but it also continues to play a role in your overall sense of well-being throughout your life.
And while loneliness is a universal human emotion, it is complex and unique to each individual. A child who struggles to make friends at her new school, an elderly man whose wife has recently died, a recently divorced single mother, a newly deployed soldier, or a freshman in college may each feel lonely even while surrounded by others. Loneliness has no single common cause, so the preventions and treatments vary dramatically.
Research suggests that loneliness is becoming more common in the United States. When polled as part of a 1984 questionnaire, respondents most frequently reported having three close confidants. When the question was asked 20 years later, the most common response was zero confidants. This is a concerning trend, since experts believe that it is not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness, but that it is the quality. Having three or four close friends is enough to ward off loneliness and reduce the negative health consequences associated with this state of mind.
And while loneliness is a state of mind, you can also feel loneliness in your body. And those physical and mental feelings can take a toll on your health.
Lonely adults consume more alcohol and get less exercise than those who are not lonely. Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Scientists believe that feeling disconnected and alone may trigger damaging inflammation and immune-system changes, predisposing us to premature aging and increased sensitivity to physical pain.
Additional health risks associated with loneliness include depression and suicide, increased anxiety and stress levels, substance abuse (including alcohol, tobacco, and drugs), cardiovascular disease (including hypertension) and stroke, and reduced medical care and compliance. Further symptoms involve altered brain function and include decreased memory and learning, poor decision making, antisocial behavior, and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The more pervasive and overwhelming the feeling of loneliness, the more serious the condition of disease that may be present.
So what can you do to avoid this degenerative effect of loneliness on your health?
First of all, look at your situation as positively as possible. Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. It’s easy to criticize yourself; avoid that temptation. Instead, assume a positive attitude and realize that the feelings are there to show you it is time for a change.
Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.
Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests, and values with you. Seek a common connection or link with those you live with, work with, or meet socially. Living alone increases loneliness, especially during middle age when living alone is least common. Solo living increased the risk of heart problems and early death by 24% among people ages 45 to 65, and by only 12% among people ages 66 to 80. So if you live alone, purposefully extend a connection to others.
If you do live alone, consider adopting a pet. They are companions through thick and thin. They count on you, and you can count on them.
Or consider having a roommate. Studies show that people who don’t have a spouse or other family member keeping an eye on them may be more apt to skip their medications or ignore the warning signs of heart trouble.
Also, consider doing some community service or activity that you enjoy. Such situations present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.
Are there particular situations that make you feel more lonely than others? Going to an events which mostly couples attend when you attend on your own might be one example. If so, evaluate whether it would benefit you to let go of that feeling of loneliness or to avoid those situations.
Understand the effects that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally. Awareness will keep you from wondering if you are “losing it” as well as help you focus on staying healthy.
Everyone feels lonely sometime or other. But a consistent feeling of loneliness can have a detrimental effect on your health. As we blossom into spring, I encourage you to take action towards blooming into a more fulfilled sense of connection with others and a healthier life for yourself.
How many confidants do you have in your life?
What health issues are you facing or have you faced in the past two years? What impact could loneliness have on your health?
What specific situations leave you with feelings of loneliness?
How can you decrease the sense of loneliness in your life?
From The Book of Awakening ~ by Mark Nepo
I have been blessed to have deep friends in my time on Earth. They have been an oasis when my life has turned a desert. They have been a cool river to plunge in when my heart has been on fire. When I was ill, one toweled my head when I couldn’t stand without bleeding. Another bowed at my door saying, “I will be whatever you need as long as you need it.”
Still others have ensured my freedom, and they missed me while I searched for bits of truth that only lead me back to them. I have slept in the high lonely wind waiting for God’s word. And while it’s true – no one can live for you – singing from the peak isn’t quite the same as whispering in the center of a circle that has carried you ashore.
Honest friends are doorways to our souls, and loving friends are the grasses that soften the world. It is no mistake that the German root of the word friendship means “place of high safety.” This safety opens us to God. As Cicero said, “A friend is a second self.” And as Saint Martin said, “My friends are the beings through whom God loves me.”
There can be no greater or simpler ambition than to be a friend.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.