“We are in a spiritual crisis, and the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in the inextricable human connection” (Brown BTW, pg. 118)
Connection is something humans are hardwired for; we all long for it and need it in order to thrive. As a social species, humans rely on a safe, secure social surrounding to survive and thrive. Perceptions of social isolation, or loneliness, increase alertness for threat and heighten feelings of vulnerability while also raising the desire to reconnect.
Loneliness is defined as a distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships. We have over the past few years seen an increase in loneliness which has led to many health crises, one example which will be later examined in depth is mental health. Recently Time Magazine published an entire issue dedicated to understanding mental health and even how loneliness is contributing to it. We have all been affected, I believe, by mental health directly or indirectly. In the news we hear about celebrities who are battling with mental illness, whose lives are rich in material things but yet struggle with connection. Humankind is struggling with something we can help correct by our actions.
When you study the effects of loneliness, research shows how not only is it bad for our mental health but also our physical health. We have all heard that stress is bad for us; it causes many of our modern day health concerns. We know in order to lower our stress we need to sleep more, eat better, say no, etc. But did you know when deprived of regular contact with companions, people may live in a constant state of mild stress, this constant state of stress can increase inflammation and lead to disease according to Jeppe Henriksen a researcher from Denmark.
So many of us eat a specific way to decrease the inflammation in our body, but how many of us take the time to nurture ourselves with relationships that truly light us up. As much as self-care is important in terms of the food we eat, it is equally as important as the company we keep. Loneliness is associated with a 26% jump in mortality risk, according to research from Brigham Young University that puts it on par with smoking and obesity. Loneliness puts you are risk for other conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This is just another good example of how connection is so important.
Who is affected by loneliness? Studies have shown that most of us are at some point in our lives. The teenage and young adult culture, as many of the older adults remember, is a hard time, manly because of all the transitions that this time of life dictates. The movement from schools, friends, and new jobs creates between 6-12 years of constant transition, new friends, new cities and new beginnings. This can create a space for loneliness to creep in. According to the University of Pittsburgh, people between the ages of 19-32 who spend 2 or more hours on social media are twice as likely to feel isolated. As we all know social media has an impact on our culture and combined with the transitions at this time, can lead to a period of loneliness.
Another period in our lives according to Penn State has shown risk of loneliness. During the age of retirement, changes in lifestyle have lead to an increase of loneliness especially in a culture of big box stores take out, and online delivery. As well, most people in this age group also don’t live close to family. The rates of people without kids, spouses or family near them are on the rise.
Also, many of us read stories on social media of post partum depression or families suffering with mental illness. These as well put people in places of isolation and loneliness.
While it is good to know the statistics and studies, a question always to ask is how can we create safe connection? What does it mean to be connected? How do we connect with one another? We are around people all day long, we ask how was the weekend, what are your plans, what’s new, how are you? But what about the real questions? How are you holding up? What lights you up?
This next quote will strike a cord within most when you slowly read it. “We are not good to each other. Our tribalism is to an extremely narrow group of people: our children, our spouse, maybe our parents. Our society is alienating, technical, cold, and mystifying. Our fundamental desire as human beings is to be close to others and our society does not allow for that.” Junger Pg (94)
What would it feel like if we connected with each other, put down our phones and practiced compassionate listening with each other?
“The beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good” Junger pg 59
Connection to others is serving. It is a part of something more significant than you. It is walking into a yoga class you haven’t been to in a month, and feeling like your fellow yogi’s, without words, feel grateful you are there. It knows you are alone as no one knows what it’s like to be in your skin but also knowing everyone feels pain, anger, hurt, joy, happiness.
“Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite us?” Yehuda, Junger Pg 127
So often we focus on what is wrong, how disconnected we are from one another and the differences between us. But what if we focused on being a human, and having a human experience?
So what are the practical tools we can use to connect with one another? Maybe you remember a time when your mother’s had book clubs, Tupperware parties or street parties. All of these are work however, the work never felt like work because it was in order to create a greater good, Community. In order to help our epidemic of loneliness, because that is what this is becoming, we need to create times and spaces for connection, real connection, hugs, looking at one another and practicing real true listening.
Mindful listening is a lost art really; it requires full attention, no phones or distractions. Look at a person, eye contact, listen fully, respond back with empathy and notice how you feel when they are speaking.
The epidemic of loneliness is a real thing, real studies are being conducted. If we know that all humans need connection and love, what are we doing? How are we spending our time?
Tribe, on Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger, Harper Collins, 2016
Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown, Random House, 2017
Mental Health A New Understanding, Time Magazine Special Edition, 2018