LONELINESS IS DEADLY
We all know that things like smoking, drugs and alcohol are dangerous for our health, but there is something we may have suspected, but which has now been proven to be much more hazardous.
It is hard to imagine that when the world population is nudging 7 Billion people, that anyone could be lonely, and yet I can attest to on occasions feeling lonely in a room full of people, that I share little in common with. In America it is estimated that “42.6 Million Americans over the age of 45, suffer from chronic loneliness and census data reveals more than 25% of the US population lives alone.” (Dr Mercola, 24/8/2017) The 2017 Convention of The American Psychological Association, found from 2 meta analyses, that loneliness and social isolation raises your risk for premature death by as much as 50%! (Medical News Today)
Apparently loneliness can raise your blood pressure up 14 points and higher the longer you are lonely. This in turn can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia as well as higher levels of stress, poor sleep, increased inflammation and decreased immunity. In fact over 70 studies carried out on more than 3.4 Million people, showed that you have an increased risk of mortality of 29% if you suffer from social isolation, 26% if you are lonely and 32% if you live alone.
So when there are so many of us in the world, what contributes to us feeling lonely? Well things like long working hours and our obsession with social media, as opposed to face to face interactions. We also spend a lot of time travelling to and from work, sitting for hours in a car alone in traffic, as we also often live long distances from our employment. Some people may even live in different countries, from their family and even their spouses for employment, while others either are delaying or never getting married and so never form families of their own.
I have felt for a long time, that the lack of community is an ever increasing problem that we need to address. The fluidity of the workforce, means that many people will change jobs more frequently than in the past, and as a result will have to move their homes and find a new community. This movement of the population, means that we need to be more proficient at making new connections and friendships at work and in our local community, as we often have to leave behind important social support networks from long term friends and family. With people moving overseas, migrating more frequently and the refugee crisis throughout the world, it means that this issue is exacerbated.
Just one generation ago, people commonly lived in the same town they grew up in, went to the local school, knew familiar people in the community, places, shop owners, pharmacist and doctors; as well as the history of the community, its strengths and challenges which they had collectively participated in. They were an intrinsic part of that history, as was their family, friends and home, something people rarely experience today. Currently in Sydney, there are thousands of new houses being built in brand new suburbs or developments, which are being made from scratch, so whole new communities have to start from the beginning.
I am pleased to see that my concern about a lack of community, is also being felt by others. I have noticed that groups like Meet Up and Stitch (for the over 50’s) have emerged in all areas doing a variety of different fun activities, and are filling a big void in many peoples lives. Our need for a sense of belonging and socialising seems to have been recognised, as there has been a conscious shift from the dating to socialising. These groups have allowed people to select an area of interest and to meet others with similar interests, with no agenda other than to make new friends and get out of the house, that for many has become their social prison.
A further area which has contributed greatly to peoples sense of loneliness and social isolation is as a result of the financial stress that many billions of people are feeling today. The obscenely rich just continue to get richer, while the middle and lower classes are rapidly plunging into poverty, struggling to pay their power bills. Having people over for a dinner party, for many is simply just not affordable. To go out to a concert or dinner, will often set a person back by $100 plus, so it isn’t it any wonder our children are suffering from financial stress, at younger and younger ages.
The cost of property has skyrocketed in Sydney, with the average house over 1 Millions dollars and rents in many areas averaging around $700 a week. Electricity, gas, water, health funds, car green slips, insurance and rego costs, all increase by huge percentages every year without fail, while wages remain fixed, which means there is just not enough money at the end of the week for socialising.
I wrote a blog last year called “Good Old Fashioned Family Fun” where I tried to encourage people to remember that having fun does not need to involve going out, or cost an arm or a leg. Teach your friends some games and encourage them to come over for a fun night of playing cards, board games, charades, karaoke. This has little cost, but would be encouraging friendship, laughter, social connection and fun.
Instead of going out for dinner to an expensive restaurant, consider having a dinner party at your home, where everyone brings a plate to share. The host can organise who brings something for each course, drinks and snacks while playing. That way the cost and work load is minimal for everyone. Don’t forget picnics, or camping weekends away, where the cost is relatively low and the social interactions are high.
Finally we need to think about our elderly. As the baby boomers are now in or approaching retirement, we are faced with a large group of our population who are disconnected from their workplace and friends, with some having lost their spouse, possibly with family moving away for work or more affordable housing. Some may not be able to continue driving and with a dwindling income, or worse still trying to live off an inadequate pension. The pension does not reflect the increases in the cost of living and can barely if at all cover the bills, let alone socialising costs. This has left many of our elderly worried, lonely and suffering. Many elderly becoming isolated and depressed in their homes, at a time in their lives when they should be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of a life well lived.
Finally we need to consciously pry the devises from our own and our children’s hands, so we can look up and see a smiling face as it passes us by, say hello and show interest in others as we walk through our local shops or streets. We need to join clubs with people who share common interests, and realise that we all need each other in order to be happy and healthy; not likes from social media, where friends gives them out mindlessly and in reality they mean very little. Life continues to go on if you put your mobile or device down and walk away for some people time.
Your life may even become more interesting and authentic, when we remember how to read other peoples body language, and identify if something is real of not by the look in someone’s eyes or that niggling feeling in our stomach. If we take a real interest in someone else life, we may rediscovered the life spark that many of us are missing.