Our worldwide epidemic of loneliness and social isolation

Our worldwide epidemic of loneliness and social isolation

Our worldwide epidemic of loneliness and social isolation

Peter (name changed for purposes of confidentially) was always very talkative when I would bump into him at the gym; he was jovial and only by taking time to talk further with him did it become apparent this man was lonely.

Peter could talk all about sports that were on that week and give you a running commentary of what happened. On a surface level this all seems fine, after all this is the level that most of us interact on a day to day basis, yet it is an exchange that often leaves us hollow, unfulfilled and craving more. In our need to connect we engage in small talk so as to spend a few minutes with each other, fooling ourselves that this is connection as for a fleeting moment it fills the space of what is missing in our lives.

What I observed in Peter is that without his sport, he would have nothing in his life, his sport and his ability to regurgitate it was what gave his life meaning. Keeping conversation on a certain level and a certain topic was his way of feeling safe.

Even though we all know deep down this shallow way of relating to each other keeps us held back and stagnant it is still seen as a very ‘normal’ accepted way of relating and communicating to each other in society. But is it normal and could this way of communicating that keeps each other at arm’s length and bonded in a fake protection be adding to the rise of illness and disease in the world?

How we communicate directly impacts our physical and mental health and if we are not having real, honest, truly loving, caring conversations, then how does that impact the quality of our interactions and affect our health and wellbeing?

Incredibly we have entire industries built on selling this type of conversation, a certain vibration in which you can agree, not agree, love your team, hate a team, feel elated, feel deflated – the range of conversation is huge and within this range there are many differing stories to be told, but with all of it, it is held within a certain vibration, a vibration that is not allowing of real love, real truth and real evolution. We seek to keep things on this superficial level and avoid the deep and meaningfuls, closed off from showing our true selves perhaps out of fear of rejection or judgement, avoiding transparency, intimacy, love and connection and instead settle for the exchange of being entertained for a brief buzz of contact that only ever serves as a poor substitute for what could have been if we were only willing to go there. Peter had identified with his sport and what he watched on television, he had forgotten there was so much more to him.

And hence, many many people turn to entertainment to fill the hole they feel from not connecting deeply with others. Entertainment can come in many 1000s of different forms, offering all sorts of alluring lights and rewards, from food, support, TV, gossip, chit chat and hobbies to argument, debate, intellect, politics, music and on and on this list could and does go. But if we are honest with ourselves these forms of entertainment, no matter how stimulating, are never enough, for that inner void and emptiness persist and constantly need to be filled. Never do they truly replace good old fashioned deep, honest connection with another. People are fascinating – People are so worth getting to know!

By being honest with ourselves and knowing when we are engaging in entertainment to fill a void and an emptiness inside is a good way to healing. Being aware we are doing it and why we are doing it is the first step!

When we take the opportunity to look in rather than out, get still and quiet and be with ourselves we are met with our true essence, we are met with God and our Soul.

This divine essence has always been there but is often dormant and untapped, buried under a sea of being human and seeking entertainment and distraction to fill the feeling that there is more to life than this. When connected to our soul no amount of entertainment will ever match the deep settlement and love that is on offer, yet this untapped potential often remains suppressed under a superficial layer of chit chat that is void of the grandness we are all from.

When with our soul we are impulsed to make good healthy loving relationships that nourish us and keep us in love and engaged with life.

Just after Christmas Day I heard through a friend that Peter had been admitted to hospital.

Peter had had a stroke in which he was alone for seven days, conscious but unable to call for help; he had spent seven days on his living room carpet, unable to get up, unable to eat or drink, unable to go to the toilet, until Christmas Day when a neighbour called on him.

Knowing he did not have many friends or family nearby I visited him; as I held his hand, I told him he was very loved.

Peter died the next day.

This extraordinary, beautiful man had passed and on to a new beginning.

As he was dying Peter told me how horrid it was to be at home alone, unable to call for help. This beautiful man was now at his most vulnerable and open. I sat by him and delicately stroked his forehead. Peter was preparing for his next journey and was scared.

By his bedside I felt honoured to be next to such a man. For in this man beyond all the superficial small talk, the chit chat, the sport regurgitation I saw a divine and deeply sensitive, incredibly beautiful man, wise and totally unique and even though he did not see it in himself I always saw it in him, and even though his conversation was kept at a certain level, I always knew he was so so much more.

There are many lonely people like Peter, whose best friend is the TV and companionship for them is based on the superficiality of the football scores. How sad is it that we live in a society where we spend billions on space travel and yet there are millions of people not living a loving fulfilled life. For many go days, months, years without any real and true connection.

We have allowed this superficial way of communicating to be the normal, yet we all know deep down there is so much more to life.

At Peter’s funeral there were not many who attended and those who did where mainly the regulars at the gym.

How many people die every day alone, or with someone but having lived a life not fully connecting to others or to their own light inside?

How many people spend their life in the shallows of small talk aching with loneliness and the desire to truly connect?

We have many advances in society, yet we cannot be advanced when there are so many lonely people.

Loneliness is a major health risk. Research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience found that social isolation contributes as strongly to mortality as does smoking 15 cigarettes a day[1]. Deep down we all know this and don't need research to tell us that loneliness contributes to a whole range of negative physical and psychological conditions.

The effects of loneliness can feel devastating. Our whole purpose of life is to connect and interact with one another, we are made to be socially interactive in a deep, intimate and caring way; any steps away from this natural way of being causes us and others much harm.

In more recent years we have seen self–sufficiency, self-preservation and protection taken too far, often to one’s own detriment. Worldwide there are now more single person households than ever before.

In the UK currently, more than half of people over the age of 75 live on their own, and some 500,000 older people in the UK go up to a week without seeing or speaking to anyone[2].

These statistics say to me we have failed.

In the western world it is a now common perception that as a person gets older they will inevitably feel lonely.

We may plan for retirement, plan our finances and even our own funeral before we plan on making new friends, getting out, learning new things and work on developing new and deepening current relationships.

Loneliness feeds stagnation and stagnation feeds loneliness.

And yet, if the word ‘loneliness’ conjures up images of elderly people sitting looking lost in their armchair – think again: loneliness affects many younger people as well.

Nearly 70% of university students battle loneliness during a school year[3].

A national survey in Canada[3] found students felt ‘very lonely’ and ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function’.

The Lonely Society, a 2010 report commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation[4], revealed that 60 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 spoke of often feeling lonely. That report[4] found loneliness to be a greater concern among young people than the elderly, as the 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed were more likely to feel lonely often and depressed because of loneliness than the over 55s.

Connection with another is so very important; if we don't have connection, we all suffer.

With more and more people reporting dissatisfaction with work, is lack of true connection one reason why? When we have joyful and fulfilling relationships in the workplace our days become lighter, there is a certain magic to the day; take away those valued connections and we feel dull and unsatisfied, rejected, useless and demotivated.

With the advancement of technology one would think we may have advanced in the way we relate to one another and that loneliness could be a thing of the past, but sadly this could not be further from the truth.

We may have more advanced technology than ever before and ‘better’ forms of entertainment, yet at what cost? Loneliness has never been more rife. We have isolated ourselves from others and as a result community life has suffered.

A snapshot of loneliness in the United Kingdom[5]

  • Two fifths of older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)
  • 63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed and 51% of the same group who are separated or divorced report feeling lonely some of the time or often
  • 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health
  • A higher percentage of women than men report feeling lonely some of the time or often.

It makes sense that loneliness and lack of true connection with another can directly impact our health

Loneliness is a public health issue; if people are lonely, they are more likely to:

  • Visit their GP, have higher use of medication, higher incidence of falls and increased risk factors for long-term care
  • Undergo early entry into residential or nursing care
  • Use accident and emergency services independent of chronic illness
  • Have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia[6]

Key risk factors for loneliness:

  • Include being in later old age (over 80 years), on a low income, in poor physical or mental health and living alone or in isolated rural areas or deprived urban communities.

Real purpose in our lives can be felt through relationships with others.

We have many ways that we could ‘tackle’ loneliness, for instance:

  • Volunteering can give you an opportunity to meet new people, make rewarding friendships and work alongside like-minded people. Making a difference and having a purpose can really help.
  • Tend to existing relationships, make plans to spend time with people you already know and care about, be the one to send out invitations for a weekend walk, dinner or some kind of shared activity.
  • Make socialising a priority, look around the community, there is usually loads of things to get involved in; make new connections and learn new skills, there are literally hundreds of people out there you could meet.
  • Try something new, go to different places, join a class or a club or connect with others, don't be afraid to be you. You are worth getting to know.

But what if there is something more foundational, a first step before we activate any of these suggestions? What if loneliness starts with our relationship with ourselves? And that we can learn to connect to ourselves and deepen our relationship with ourselves (e.g. gentle breath meditation) and that what it is we are missing is our connection to God? As God is found in our every particle and deep within ourselves – what if that is the thing we miss most?

When we are with God it is impossible to feel lonely, when we are with God we know we are an equal part of the all. The statistics in this article highlight an indictment on society, on our education system, on all the cold loveless systems in the world that we have allowed to prosper at the expense of our own inner connection. When not connected to our innate natural loving self, we perceive God to not be there, to not be part of us. This is an illusion we have fostered for many years, as in truth God is always there.

When we do not feel connection with God we are less likely to reach out to make meaningful purposeful relationships. Is it no wonder then that loneliness is rife across our planet when we have systems and structures in place that do nothing to confirm the sensitive, powerful divine beings we are?

Added to that it is deeply concerning how many more people are feeling separated, lonely, deserted and isolated because of the worldwide lockdowns. The lack of interactions with others produces many psychological disorders including anxiety and panic, insomnia, digestive problems, as well as depressive symptoms and post-traumatic stress[7].

The medical journal The Lancet recently published an article from which a clear and disturbing picture emerges: periods of isolation, even less than ten days, can have long-term effects, with the presence – up to three years later – of psychiatric symptoms[7].

Additionally, in line with current regulations, society has begun to behave as though being around people is potentially dangerous and threatening for our health and for the health of loved ones.

If currently in a lockdown, is it not even more important to develop one’s connection with oneself, our innate divinity and connection with God, as with God and as with our soul, one can never ever be lonely.

Is it not time to say no to the epidemic of loneliness that has plagued so many people for far too long and instead come together to realign to the truth inside, the truth that knows a way of living that confirms the love we all are and our deep inner connection to God almighty.

“Say no to what is not love,
but do not close or protect your body.

Choosing your body/heart to protect yourself
also closes it to love.

Stay open and let your love be.
Hence, saying ‘no’ to what is not love
does not mean closing down to it.”

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume II, ed 1, p 240


References

  • [1]

    https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20180504/loneliness-rivals-obesity-smoking-as-health-risk

  • [2]

    https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/loneliness-research/

  • [3]

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/university-loneliness-back-to-school-1.3753653

  • [4]

    https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/lonely-society

  • [5]

    https://www.everycare.co.uk/companionship-care-hastings

  • [6]

    http://www.healthyabingdon.org.uk/events/ArchwaySlides2018.pd

  • [7]

    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02201/full

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  • Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based photographer and film maker of 13 years.

    Dean shoots photos and videos for corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos and videos that have magic about them.