In order to discover what his constituents’ health concerns were, Vivek Murthy, former US Surgeon General, went on a “listening tour” to many of his American communities. The stories he heard, in answer to his question “How can I be of help?”, uncovered what Murthy coined as a loneliness epidemic.
It’s a global problem. In the U.K., the situation has become so pressing the government there has appointed a loneliness minister to tackle the issue. In Canada, studies have found that one in five Canadians identify as being lonely. CBC News
Not only is loneliness common, Murthy also stated that it contributes to bad health outcomes — a shortened lifespan, psychological stress, depression, anxiety, higher blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, etc. If you have or are experiencing loneliness, I think you can agree.
Murthy feels that chronic loneliness can be triggered by our greater mobility as well as our “anti-social” media. Although, both of these realities can inhibit our social connection with others, it is important to note that loneliness is not defined as social isolation. Rather, it is the subjective discrepancy between our actual level of social connection and our desired level of connection.
Thus, a person can be physically isolated and feel lonely, but another person can be physically isolated and not feel lonely. We can and do feel happy and renewed by solitude. On the other hand, many of us have experienced loneliness when people are around us, that is, we are socially connected. So, what is behind this symptom of dis-ease? In other words, what is the root cause of loneliness? Relative to the health care industry, the verdict is still out on causation, but a safe guess on my part would be not enough love.
From personal experience, I offer these three cures for loneliness — love yourself, love other humans, love animals.
Love is the oldest medicine we have. Dr. Vivek Murthy
Love You. Believe it or not, when asked the question “What brings you joy?”, many adults answer with “I don’t know”, particularly if they find themselves in a mid-life crisis. Somewhere along the journey toward adulthood, many of us forget to feed ourselves by experiencing all the aspects of life that we enjoy and love. Limiting ourselves from such experiences is self-sabotage. One of the ways to truly love ourself is to nurture that which brings us joy, every day.
Another way to love ourself is become our best friend. These intra-personal relationship skills might not have been taught to you but you can learn them via counselling or self-directed personal development. For instance, my greatest guide is my intuition, which I “converse” with when I feel the need for more love in my own life. During times of meditation, I ask for this guidance to show me what I need to understand. The answer may not be immediate, but it always comes.
As I grew my ability to look in the mirror and say, “Helen, I love you”, feelings of loneliness and depression exited my body and mind.
Love Others. I have always known that a community of like-spirited people is also good medicine. One of the most loving and kind communities you can join is a yoga community. Not all yoga communities are alike, so be discerning. Know what you want, and give yourself time (three to six months) for loneliness to ease and relationships to develop.
Yoga’s tenets (yamas and niyamas) such as loving kindness, truth, contentment and acceptance, ask you to look deeply within yourself and reflect on your ability to live these values. Practising these 10 ‘ways of being’ in community is enough to keep any of us happily engaged and not lonely for a lifetime.
Love animals. If you have ever doubted the impact of unconditional love, then find yourself an off-lead dog park and sit in the midst of their play. Eventually, every dog will make it over to say “Hi”, but even more importantly, the energy of joy is so pervasive that everyone there is uplifted. Fortunately, I have such a heart-filler within walking distance from my home and go visit for the shear joy of it. If you cannot own a dog, love someone elses. Your love will be returned ten fold.
This unconditional love response applies to cats, other pets and animals in general. Jennifer Holland, author of the Unlikely Friendships series, “celebrates our essential connections to animals — in the wild, in the city, in our dreams, in our hearts.” Richard Louv’s new book, Our Wild Calling, tells us how connecting with animals can transform our lives and save theirs.
Reconnecting with animals is a remedy for much of what ails modern life including loneliness and boredom. David W. Orr
For a deeper dive into eradicating loneliness, have a look at Murthy’s video below . . .