Every week people go to work surrounded by people. Unbeknownst to many, they are dealing with loneliness. They might cover it over with busyness, jokes, activity, and work, but hiding beneath the surface is the monster of loneliness.
Loneliness is the most desolate word in the world. It’s no one’s friend but everyone’s acquaintance. Loneliness eats at one’s inside, bringing a vacuum of emptiness. It causes a gnawing hunger of wanting to belong, to be understood, and to be loved.
Max Lucado defined loneliness as “not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”
Americans are lonely. Health insurer Cigna’s 2018 US Loneliness Index found that 46% of Americans report feeling lonely sometimes or always, and 47% report feeling left out sometimes or always. A little less, 43 % report feeling isolated from others, and the same number report feeling they lack companionship and their relationships lack meaning.
Putting those statistics into perspective, look at the person next to you: Statistically, one of you is lonely. Now, if almost 50% of the US population suffered from the flu, we would call that a pandemic. Loneliness in America is a pandemic with the health consequences of the flu.
Researchers contend that social isolation and loneliness may represent a more significant public health hazard than obesity. Some researchers argue that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Other studies reveal that loneliness is involved in everything from depression, alcoholism, strokes, decreased immune system, and early death.
If you are feeling the pangs of loneliness, let me offer you a few suggestions to deal with loneliness. In my work as a workplace chaplain, I’ve found the following actions invaluable in helping people deal with loneliness.
Socially—Invest in a few high priority relationships. You don’t need a lot of close connections to overcome loneliness, but you do need a few contacts. I call these folks your “2 am friends.” People you can call in the middle of the night, and they will come to your aid. Focus on quality over quantity. Make it several, so you are not always leaning on the same person.
Physically—Practice continuous self-care. Loneliness causes you to withdraw from others and to ignore your physical self. When lonely, the tendency is not to eat healthily, exercise correctly, or sleep adequately. Refuse to do this. Find a buddy or a partner, someone that will hold you accountable to stay physically healthy.
Mentally—Engage your mind. Stimulate your mind. Find outlets from reading to studying to discussion groups that will keep you mentally alert.
Vocationally—Utilize your time. When lonely, resist the temptation to do nothing. Loneliness tends to paralyze you if you sit around and do nothing. Do you realize that many great works have been accomplished in the lonely moments of life because that person utilized their time? Paul Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in a prison cell. Beethoven and Mozart wrote many of their great musical pieces while fighting off periods of intense loneliness. Abraham Lincoln experienced loneliness as President, but led America through a bleak period in its history, emerging as one of the great presidents of all time.
Emotionally—Minimize the hurt. Loneliness is painful. It’s often brought on by rejection from people closest to you. People who once accepted you, but now have rejected you. Sometimes loneliness rears its ugly head because of circumstances, often beyond your control, others that blindside you, others that you know are coming—like death—but there’s so little you can do to prepare for it. What do you do then? Refuse to dwell on the hurt. Don’t allow loneliness to make you bitter or allow resentment to build up in your life.
Relationally—Focus on other people’s needs. When lonely, it’s easy to focus on your needs. Instead of looking at yourself, look to others. Look for ways to help, to serve, to give to others. Volunteer in a worthy cause. Serve in a homeless shelter. Visit people in nursing homes.
Personally—Learn to enjoy your own company. Boredom adds weight to loneliness. I define boredom as the inability to have fun with yourself. It’s not true that you can only be happy if you’re with others. There’s a lot of worth to enjoying your own company. Experiment with ways of having a good time alone. Walk in a park, create something, exercise, take a day trip, treat yourself to your favorite meal, visit a museum. Find a hobby.
Spiritually—Keep your soul intact. Scripture reading and devotional literature are a great source of strength and comfort when dealing with loneliness. When reading the Bible, take special note of the Psalms. David, the author of many of the Psalms, had bouts of loneliness. His meditations can help you.
The monster of loneliness does not have to win. Take the proactive steps today to destroy the beast and get on with your life. If your company has a workplace chaplain, seek him or her out to talk about this matter. Visit with your pastor or see a counselor. Take action today.