Loneliness by many statistics has been growing to be one of the most life threatening, if not the most life threatening situations today.
The last two years has deepened this epidemic.
We heard someone say recently, “Why would I want to talk to a complete stranger?” Is that stranger a non-person? Should we imagine that they are invisible unless they serve a purpose for us? What should our response be to the people in our lives? What should our response be to those who live in our space regularly, like neighbors or someone we do business with regularly? If I ignore someone because speaking to them will take time or effort, what does that say about their value? What does that say about how I value myself above them? Do you like people? Do you not like people? What is my responsibility as a fellow human being?
The growing types of loneliness are resulting in suicide, physical and emotional problems like depression, anxiety, heart disease, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, road rage and a range of violent outbursts.
Some of the most impactful statistics that I read came from Scientific American July 27,2020
61% of Americans feel lonely regularly.
Alarmingly, self reported loneliness is highest among young adults. Equally alarming is that loneliness literally shrinks the size of our brains.
So, what should we do about this epidemic of loneliness? Open your eyes. Look for people who are sad, alone or struggling.
Who are the lonely people? A few indicators are:
- Broken relationship
- Transition to a new school or job
- Moving to a new city or home
- Death of someone close
- Isolated (If you think of someone and you have not seen them for a long time, you might want to check on them with a call, lunch or a visit.)
What lonely people do and say?
What are the symptoms?
- Say that people don’t understand them
- Say they feel left out
- Say that no one invites them
- Make excuses not to attend social situations
- Spend time primarily alone
- When people are over attached to things over people
- Blowing things out of proportion
- Interacting with people virtually instead of in person
What can you do if you have a family member or friend that you sense is lonely?
What can you do if you are lonely?
- Invite them to go outside with you. Nature can be invigorating.
- Encourage them to do physical activity several times a week
- Take a road trip
- Do something they would enjoy
- Plan a coffee or meal together
- Take them a thoughtful gift.
- Regularly check in on them with a text, a card, time together face to face, a call
- Help them find groups to connect with regularly
- Encourage them to say “yes”
- Do something kind for others.
What can we do to combat the epidemic of loneliness overall?
- Make eye contact with people and smile! Show acknowledgement.
- Remember people’s names. Know the names of people who are helping you on the phone. Know the names of people you see regularly at the post office, bank, grocery store or anywhere you do business.
- Know the names of your neighbors. Find ways to live in community with them. How can you help? Can you do something kind and thoughtful like bringing food or sharing flowers? Do they know they can call you if they are concerned or if they just need a missing ingredient in a recipe?
- When someone seems embarrassed or hesitant, give them the gift of a welcoming smile.
- When you talk with a child, get down on their level and listen.
- When someone is talking to us, prioritize the person right in front of you instead of the phone in your hand or near you.
- Be generous when you hear of a need.
- Help when you see a situation.
- Listen. Acknowledge the person even if you do not agree. Say “I hear what you are saying.” “You must be very passionate about this issue.””I am very sorry.” For more ideas, listen to the Conversation podcast on Embrace Your Everyday.
While people of all ages are lonely, but sometimes I think that people assume that children are not affected by this problem. It is critical that we look for the children that are lonely. Today’s children have limited “face-to-face” interaction. So many children are failing to attach to their family members or their peers. The physical results of this epidemic for children are obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high risk for addictive behaviors and sadly, suicide.
If we are parents the best way we can counter this behavior is model healthy relationships. Identify what is healthy and what is not. A recent article proposed that parents use of cell phones is the new second hand smoke. 95% say their tech use interferes with daily opportunities for talking, playing and interacting with their child without distraction at least a little. 82% are at least a little concerned that their own use of technology might impact their child’s communication health and development. Ironically, half would not want their child to develop their screen-time or tech habits, now or in the future. If you are a parent, steward your phone so that your children have a positive role model to follow and more importantly, they feel seen by you.
As we respond to this epidemic of loneliness, remember what a Christ follower can offer as a solution. At the core of each human, we know that God has created on God-size hole. Many are frustrated because they are chasing money, fame, relationships, influence and other things. The intense loneliness that so many feel can be changed when they recognize God’s great love for them. When we grasp the truth of the gospel and embrace the life of a Christ follower, we have a relationship with God. He lives with us as a constant friend throughout our everyday. Personally, I was intrigued and then inspired by the personal relationship that my parents had with Jesus Christ. This relationship literally changed their lives and determined the trajectory of their life’s work.
Truth is something engaging, real and life-changing.
The Gospel is engaging, real and life-changing.
So, my interaction with real live humans in my daily path must be engaging, real and life-changing if they are to hear the TRUTH of the GOSPEL through me.
In responding to this epidemic of loneliness, the most consistent response we can have is to communicate “I see you” with our actions and our words.