Loneliness is slowly killing us!

When I started Offline Connections, it was to have a better means to find your soul mate. As I started studying why we don’t approach each other anymore. I started reading the statistics of how many people live alone in today’s age compared to 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years ago. Then the statistics of how many people marry later in life and how many marriages end in divorce. We all know the reasons why this is happening, but few of us understand what it is doing to our health. 

This is when I started talking about loneliness in hopes to teach people to help themselves. I pray that raising awareness will help eliminate the stigma associated with loneliness. A huge part of it is that we don’t talk about it enough. So let’s do it! Would you know if your friend or someone in your family was suffering from loneliness? Are you? Do you know the signs if you were?

First of all, please understand that loneliness is something you can fall in and out of quite frequently. Chronic loneliness is what is killing us. You will hear our former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy talk about this. He treats loneliness as a public health risk. He wants employers to take action and be more aware for their employees. After all, this is where we spend more than eight hours a day.  Let’s compare loneliness to other things that are killing us. Odds of death by cigarettes is 5%, obesity 20%, drinking 30% and loneliness is unbelievably at 45%! 

This is why it angers me that we aren’t talking about it more. I have personally dealt with loneliness myself and I have watched someone I love slowly deteriorate with autoimmune disease caused by loneliness. His death was devastating to our entire family. I truly wish that I had known then what I know now. Could we have saved him? I believe we could’ve.

How can you save yourself or someone you love? Three easy words: RECOGNIZE, UNDERSTAND, and RESPOND. These three words were written by the amazing Dr. John Cacioppo in his book “Loneliness.”  He dedicated his life to the study of loneliness as a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Chicago. I highly recommend everyone to read this book.

RECOGNIZE – You may say “I’m not lonely! Sure I don’t want to be alone, but I’m not lonely.” Let me ask you this, have you ever planned to go out with your friends or a date, but at the last second, decided you would rather just stay in? Have you ever gotten close to someone after a few dates, and then made excuses why you can’t see them anymore? Do you feel like you are no longer close to anyone anymore? Do you ever feel like you’re left out? Growing up I remember always getting picked last to be on a team? The hurt that came with not being their first pick was devastating to me. This is the feeling I’m talking about. If you don’t have a group of friends you can count on or you don’t have someone that counts on you I want you to recognize that as humans we require this to live a full, happy life. If you feel you may have fallen into loneliness and need more questions to confirm it, please go to UCLA’s loneliness scale. 

UNDERSTAND – Here, you have to understand that you can fall in and out of loneliness, but chronic loneliness is where your brain is firing differently. Dr. Cacioppo’s research shows that the lonely brain has different empathy levels than a non-lonely brain. He describes the lonely brain as being in self-preservation mode. Your brain unconsciously protects you from danger. The danger of possibly getting your heart hurt again. Of course there are times where you desire to connect with someone, and you do. But your brain is still in this protection mode. Instead of looking at the positives of someone, all you see is some one small negative trait that really means nothing. Now take a second and think of a date you had where you never saw that person again because of something little, but it felt like a big deal at the time. I once never saw a guy again because he liked to cook. My mind told me that he would never like my cooking, so why bother? Doesn’t make sense, does it? Have you ever wanted to ask someone out, but every time you make an excuse why it’s not the right time? It’s not just being scared to do it, it’s your brain sabotaging you to protect yourself. Once you understand this, you will recognize what’s happening so you can put a stop to it. You may even start to recognize why your family and friend relationships are suffering too. 

But how is it killing us? Loneliness increases morning cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by your adrenal glands. When cortisol levels are too high, depression sets in and leads to a whole host of problems. A depressed person is unable to sleep well. If you aren’t sleeping well, then your body isn’t able to detox this stress hormone, and it just keeps accumulating in your body. We all know that untreated depression can lead to drug abuse, alcoholism, and autoimmune disease. Remember at the beginning of this I talked about losing someone in my family. His immune system was compromised, and cancer set in. They gave him 3 months to live, he was only 63.

RESPOND – We are social creators that require human interaction. Get offline and talk to people! If you follow me on social media, you hear me say this all the time. Sure I’m promoting my business, but I truly believe being online so much is hurting us. They say on an average day we check our phones 150 times a day. A day!! People tell me that this is how they stay connected with their friends. I think that’s great, but again we require face to face conversations. Call your friends to go for lunch, coffee, or an afternoon at the park. It’s not hard and we don’t require a whole group of friends, we only require one person to whom we can relate with. Like the old saying “I would rather have 4 quarters, then 100 pennies.” The same applies here: quality over quantity! If you have no one to connect with, then help out at your local soup kitchen, church, or community center. I have found that United Way needs and loves volunteers.

The next time you feel lonely, respond to it like you would to thirst, hunger or pain. Get Offline and make Connections!

Faithfully, Rita