The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved. Mother Teresa
Nearly half of Americans report that they sometimes or always feel isolated or left out. But this loneliness epidemic isn’t just happening in America. Experts from many countries are looking at the scientific facts of loneliness and what health implications the emotion carries including heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s.
Michelle H. Lim, scientific chair of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness, states, “You might meet people and be embedded within families, be married, but you might still feel a sense of disconnection from other people.” Lim sees loneliness as more to do with the quality of the relationships people hold than the quantity of people they’re encountering day to day. “You can have social isolation but not feel lonely, or you can feel lonely and not be socially isolated.”
Hiding our loneliness from each other makes the problem worse. December is a particularly difficult time for those who feel lonely. Be aware of the people around you and notice who might be feeling isolated and lonely. Experiencing a recent loss of a loved one can magnify these feelings. Ending on a positive note, Lim says, “Humans are designed to be kind to each other, and we’re designed to rely on each other and to thrive.”
Affirmation: I strive to be kind and to help others thrive.
Coaching questions: When have you felt lonely? What has caused you to feel this way? If you know someone who is lonely, how will you reach out to them?
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Old African proverb
John Cacioppo, American neuroscientist and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, argues that loneliness developed for important evolutionary reasons: to remind us that as social beings we must seek the company of others. Societies and individuals who drift into disconnection are fostering problems for the future. Twice as unhealthy as obesity, loneliness poses a significant health risk. Men are particularly vulnerable with nearly half of all men over 50 suffering from severe loneliness. This figure is expected to rise by 50% in the next fifteen years.
For me, being motherless at a young age and living in a family of two, satisfying as it was, motivated me to broaden my relationships. It also taught me how to enjoy my own company—to be alone without being lonely. Though I’ve been motherless, divorced and widowed, I’ve rarely felt lonely. Like hobbies and physical activity, fostering the skill of making friends is developed when we need it the least. Friendship/relationships require attention. Similar to keeping your muscles strong, without effort and attention, relationship atrophy can easily set it and along with it loneliness.
Affirmation: I am not alone.
Coaching questions: What are you doing now to keep loneliness at bay in the future? If you are lonely, what’s one step you will take today to feel less so—call an old friend, attend a social event, reach out to a neighbor, volunteer with others?
More than eight million adults age fifty and older are affected by isolation. AARP Bulletin
Isolation is different from loneliness. Isolation is when someone is physically or emotionally disconnected from friends, family and community. Loneliness describes how people perceive their situation. Prolonged isolation is a risk factor for poor health, an impact equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a recent study.
AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) is experiencing with Alexa, voice-activated technology, to help alleviate isolation. Residents of retirement communities testing the device enjoy asking Alexa to tell them jokes, play certain music, give them the news, play audiobooks, or access the community calendar. Seek out someone you know who might be isolated and pay them a visit.
Affirmation: I’m blessed with community.
Coaching questions: If you live alone, how do you combat isolation and loneliness? Consider the future….how will you combat isolation? Developing interests, hobbies, and friends now will help you cope later.
We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel–“Yes, that is the way it is, or at least that is the way I feel.” You’re not as alone as you thought. John Steinbeck, author, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature
One purpose of writing my book, When Lightning Strikes, is to help people feel connected and understood…. to be able to say, “Wow, I’m not as alone in my experience as I thought!”
Loss is universal. Whether it is parent loss, sibling loss, spouse loss, friend loss, health loss, or even pet loss (I just met an author who is writing a memoir of her dog)…we all have had losses in our life and, if we live long enough, will have losses in the future. Although I’m focusing on mother loss, because that is what I know best (although I have first hand experience with spouse, friend, and father loss as well), the stories of loss are universal. The questions, the grief, the guilt, the recovery, the empathy…all apply across the loss experience.
Affirmation: I am not alone.
Coaching questions: If you have not “told your story” of loss to another caring person, consider doing so. How might the “telling” help you in your recovery? If you have done this and found it beneficial, how might you help another person tell their story?