I was twiddling my thumbs. Having resigned from my position as principal in a private school a number of years ago, I thought I’d have enough to keep myself as busy as I wanted to be. I was certified to teach language therapy to students with dyslexia or other reading issues, I taught mindfulness to children, parents, and adults to help them learn to reduce stress and anxiety, I was certified to provide continuing education to educators in my state, I wrote a book for teachers, and was giving more focus to personal self-care experiences like regularly exercising, volunteering in different organizations, spending more time with friends, and going from city to city visiting and helping care for my grandchildren. I thought that list would keep me busy. Even looking at it as a list, I don’t think I should have had enough time to read as many books, watch as much television, or spend as much time alone as I was. Like I said, I was twiddling my thumbs.
Until, finally, I decided that I needed to involve myself in more experiences that would make my heart sing.
And then I realized: at the heart of the issue was loneliness.
Feeling lonely has come close to becoming an epidemic in America. While surrounded by others, we can still feel alone. What do we see on social media? Pictures of other people always looking happy and surrounded by friends. (After all, how often do any of us post pictures of ourselves looking sad???)
It has been proven that those without community ties are at risk for personal harm. Research has shown that continual feelings of loneliness can lead to poorer health and decreased longevity. In fact, those with social isolation are twice as likely to die prematurely, have increased mortality rates comparable to smoking, and the experience is twice as dangerous as obesity. In addition, it impairs immune function and boosts inflammation that can lead to arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Countries such as Denmark and Great Britain have started devoting time and energy to reduce the possibility of loneliness, especially with the elderly. One example for this has been to establish intergenerational retirement homes. University students, who do not pay rent, live alongside more elderly tenants in exchange for 30 hours of time spent with those older residents. It’s a positive situation for both parties.
This is not to say that we don’t all need a bit of time on our own. Reading a book, walking in nature, or journaling are all examples of self-care that we all need. However, when that time alone seems to go into overload…when we feel ourselves being cut off from others to the point when we hesitate to reach out at all…that’s when self-care crosses the line to chronic loneliness.
That is the time to take stock of your situation and make changes.
- Reach out to others for a quick bite or snack.
- Meet someone at a nearby park.
- Use one of the on-line sites for people who already have common interests.
You can do this! And you will find that you are not alone, afterall.