When you imagine what could cause you premature death, you probably think of cancer, obesity, perhaps something random like a car accident…
(Sidenote: for me, I suspected it would be from choking, ever since I threw back too many Skittles while at the movies in college and had to get the Heimlich maneuver from a friend.)
But do you think of loneliness?
Probably not. Yet it can be deadly.
One comprehensive study found that the impact of social isolation, living alone and loneliness can lead to risk of early mortality, on par with factors like obesity and smoking.
There’s social isolation — literally being cut off from others due to factors like geography, disability, stigma, but inner feelings of loneliness are less obvious; you could have thousands of social media followers and still feel estranged, heavy with feelings of separateness.
And this phenomenon is on the rise; research shows people are lonelier than ever.
What’s happening here?
Sure more people are independent and living alone, or choosing to not live with their partner, but also more people are busy, scattered, and disconnected from their own self-care, which can include not tending to important relationships.
Trends I see:
Those partnered with children prioritize the kids over their relationship (with their partner AND friends) more today compared to past generations. So although they’re technically “together,” they feel more like distant roommates.
Those who are un-partnered are caught in the multitude of online dating choices a swipe away, but have learned to reside in a place called stable ambiguity, because this allows them to stay connected *just enough* to be in touch (giving them options), but still maintain their freedom (and limit their vulnerability).
Where is the depth?
These are complicated topics which each deserve their own book, but for now I will say:
The truth is we are all alone, in the existential sense of the word.
The truth is also that we are profoundly interdependent people.
Ultimately, the quality of our relationships determine the quality of our life.
This goes beyond liking someone’s post on social media to actually letting yourself be known, and wanting to know another more deeply. In the book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World's Happiest People, Dan Beuttner found that the happiest people on the planet have at least a few cherished friends, the kind they can call in the middle of the night from jail. (Ok, so he didn’t say the jail part, but you get the point.)
These are the people you keep it real with. They’re the real 100.
For me, loneliness shows up from time to time like a dull ache in my gut or a little hole in my heart. This felt experience informs my work helping people feel supported, to feel like they’re not the only one. I’m particularly interested in helping individuals and couple's be acknowledged and supported in what feels most taboo or shameful within.
It may be easier to stay home and distract from the difficulties you have in a relationship because it keeps you feeling “safe” in the moment but sooner or later it catches up with you.
Which is why I have so much respect for my clients and event participants, and really anyone who engages in personal growth to work on their relationships— whether it be with themselves, their family, their partner or the partner they wish they had. It takes strength to confront your relationship patterns and courage to engage with it.
Beyond mere survival, the connection that comes from genuine relationships can be a tool to reach a higher potential within. They offer you a channel for spiritual growth in your everyday life, without requiring you to trek to Tibet and live with the monks.
Invest in your relationships.
I’m here to help.
After all, your life depends on it.