I get a monthly acupuncture treatment as a “tune up” for my body. After my last treatment, my therapist pulled up a chair and said, “Can I ask you something personal?”
I said yes while my body tensed up, gearing for the inquest.
“Are you lonely?” he asked.
“How could I be lonely?” I answered. I quickly ran off a list of all the people I connect with around the world by phone or Skype and recounted the last three lunches with friends. I reassured him my primary relationship was fine.
He set his hand on mine. “I didn’t ask you if you had people in your life. I sensed a loss of connection in your body. You may talk to people, but do they really see you? Do they know what you really need when you talk? And what about the earth? When did you last connect with the trees, the earth and the sky?”
I hunched over, knowing exactly what he meant.
When I first started my business, I owned a 24-foot camper trailer that I took out every summer, exploring a different part of the Rockies and Pacific coast. Most times, I had a friend to travel with.
Since then, my business has grown every year. I am so blessed I had to sell the camper because I didn’t have time to use it. I haven’t had a chance to smell the caramel-scented bark of a Ponderosa pine, marvel at the perfect reflection of the sky on a glacier lake, and watch the sun go down as I lie with a friend or my lover in a field of tall grass.
Do I spend time with my friends? A few times a year I make sure we have a meal together to keep up the “friendship.” Do they really see and know me right now? I am afraid the intimacy has been lost.
I can sit at my desk and give thanks for my success. It is not the same as feeling at peace with my life.
Loneliness can happen even when you have many social contacts. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center assessed levels of loneliness in 823 senior citizens over a 4-year period. They found people who described themselves as feeling most lonely were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as the ones who described themselves as least lonely. However, feeling lonely did not necessarily equate with a lack of social contacts. Feeling alone or empty relates to the quality of relationships, not the quantity.
When people feel disconnected and separated, they are more susceptible to age-related declines in neural pathways. The researchers concluded that loneliness is not a reaction to dementia, but actually a cause of it.
So even if your life is full of people, if you don’t regularly spend hours with a friend talking and listening about your concerns and hopes for life, if you don’t take time to let your feet touch the earth, breathe in fresh air in a beautiful environment, and fully feel gratitude and love throughout your body, your loneliness can be physically as well as mentally damaging.
Ask yourself these questions:
- “What would it hurt to stop what I am doing and go somewhere where I can enjoy the outside world?” The sights and sounds of nature remind us that we are a part of the life force working in all living things.
- “Who would I be if I didn’t define myself by how much I accomplished today?” You don’t need to care less about your work to care more about your mental and physical health.
- “What friend can I plan to visit or invite for an afternoon of true sharing?”
You may not be alone, but do you feel empty? You can’t fill this emptiness with food. Feed your heart by being seen and heard, by giving others the gift of your full attention and by appreciating the beauty in the world around you.
Read more tips on how to reconnect with your life force at Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction and Outsmart Your Brain.