Reflections and Commentaries from the Rev. Patrice Al-Shatti, our Deacon.
August 8, 2019
Lonely in a Hyperconnected World, Part 2 of 8
The Personal Consequences
Loneliness is a serious health problem. Lonely people are literally more at risk of dying in any given year than socially connected people, 50% more likely. This is equivalent to the impact of smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Can you believe it? Lonely people also have a higher likelihood of Alzheimer’s Disease, high blood pressure, abnormal white blood cell production, stroke, heart disease, immune system malfunction, and insomnia. Their health is much worse in all ways and in old age lonely people have more problems with activities of daily living, such as walking and getting up and down from chairs.
The physical toll of loneliness is astonishing, and it’s all because the body interprets loneliness as a serious threat. In primitive times, when we lived in small groups in a daily fight with nature, a lonely human was soon a dead human, so our body’s fight or flight response is triggered when we feel chronically isolated. This chronic physical arousal is deadly because it hijacks all our normal physiological processes.
The mind is also affected by this warning system and the way we process information changes for the worse when we are lonely. Because we feel under threat, we focus on survival. We have a harder time focusing, soothing ourselves in healthy ways, planning and organizing tasks, controlling our impulses, making thoughtful decisions, and interpreting others’ behavior.
Mentally, the chronic fight or flight has us looking out for threats and
finding them in ordinary situations. We start to feel left out and believe that
other people are rejecting us. This causes us to self-isolate more and makes it
harder to step into socialization the next time. Feeling left out ultimately makes
us more aggressive and self-defeating. It causes us to quit tasks sooner and
makes us apathetic about our own best interests and our own care. We see people
as critical, unwelcoming, and judgmental, and because we are so challenging to
live with, we really do end up alone more often when we are chronically lonely,
with more divorce, interpersonal violence, and family estrangement in our
history. It’s a vicious cycle that goes nowhere good.
God designed us for group support and science has proven conclusively that our well-being is threatened by chronic loneliness. It’s so much more than just a bad feeling. Here is a link to the UCLA Loneliness Scale. I encourage you to take a minute and take the test. Are you one of the 40% of Americans struggling with this problem?
August 1, 2019
Lonely in a Hyperconnected World, Part 1 of 8
The Centers for Disease Control recently labeled loneliness as the next American epidemic. In my work life with those facing aging or serious illness I saw profound loneliness all the time, and as a survivor of spousal suicide, my family was on the receiving end of its gravest consequences. Fighting loneliness is my passion. I will describe American loneliness in this series of articles, and I encourage you to share them with others. During the series, you will have a chance to take the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a self-assessment tool. And this Fall I will lead a Writing to Reconnect small group gathering on Thursday mornings as a place to have fun with creative writing and make new connections here at church. So, join me on the journey to awareness. Church can be such a healer in our hyperconnected world.
Almost 43 million adults are chronically lonely, and Cigna Healthcare conducted a study last year and found that 18-22-year olds are the loneliest age group. That study also found that almost half of us sometimes or always feel alone or left out and don’t have meaningful in-person interactions on a daily basis. 30% of us feel like people don’t really understand us and 40% of us sometimes or always feel isolated and believe that our relationships aren’t meaningful. These are stunning statistics, if you think about them, and says that something is genuinely wrong.
Census data tells us that our lifestyles are contributing
because more and more we are physically alone. 25% of households have only one
person, 50% of the population is unmarried, marriage rates and number of
children per household have declined and divorce is up among those 50 and older.
Unfortunately, suicide is also up in this age group, 30% since 1999. Among
middle aged men, it is up a staggering 50%.
There are powerful, but silent, social forces driving all this isolation and distress and we will explore them together. It’s my hope to get you motivated to action, then to work beside you to build a sanctuary against loneliness here at church, a place where we understand and respect our biological need for connection, choose to fight against the cultural influences that isolate us from each other, bring the lonely among us back into the loving arms of community, and enrich the social fabric of each parishioner’s life.