Susan Harrow

The Body Blog

Epidemic Impacts Hormones, Muffin Top, Cognitive Function

Loneliness (and what we can do about it)

Posted Oct 07, 2014

The New York Times reports that 1 in 3 people over the age of 45 would describe themselves as “chronically lonely.” 

Other reports paint an even bleaker picture. The Globe states that in the United States, 40% of people say they’re “lonely” — a figure that has doubled over the past 30 years. 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “lonely” as “sad from being apart from other people,” “being without company,” and “cut off from others.” 

Most of us already know what it means — and we’re all too aware of what it feels like.

But what are the deeper effects of “chronic loneliness?”

How is this modern epidemic impacting our lives, our bodies... even our genetic coding?

As The Atlantic reports, the impact is real. It’s significant. And it’s bad.

“Being lonely is extremely bad for your health. If youre lonely, youre more likely to be put in a geriatric home at an earlier age than a similar person who isnt lonely. Youre less likely to exercise. Youre more likely to be obese. Youre less likely to survive a serious operation and more likely to have hormonal imbalances. You are at greater risk of inflammation. Your memory may be worse. You are more likely to be depressed, to sleep badly, and to suffer dementia and general cognitive decline.”

Even more disturbing, new evidence suggests that being chronically lonely impacts more than your mood, your memory and your waist line. It can actually alter your DNA.

John Cacioppo, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, explains it best:

“Loneliness affects not only the brain [...] but the basic process of DNA transcription. When you are lonely, your whole body is lonely.” 

The evidence is crystal-clear:

Loneliness is dangerous to our health, and it’s a rising epidemic. 

So, what can we do about it? 

A lot. While the stats are grim, this epidemic can actually be perceived as a huge opportunity.

People are hungry for meaningful conversations and real, face-to-face connection. Live events. Group gatherings. Intimate workshops, retreats and experiences. Whether you’re a small business owner, a yoga teacher, or even a stay-at-home mom or dad, there are so many ways to serve this growing need. You can start today.

5 ways to lose loneliness. 

1. Throw a “salon.”

During the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, throwing a “salon” — an intimate gathering of like-minded people, coming together to eat, drink, listen to music and discuss the important issues of the day — was commonplace.

Whatever happened to this tradition? It’s time for a revival.

Throwing a salon, a dinner party, a block party, or even hosting a weekly co-working date in your living room can create a tremendously positive ripple effect.

It feels good to do, and you create a beautiful experience for others, too.

2. Teach a class.

You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert in order to teach a class. You just need to know something valuable — and be willing to share what you know.

EXCO, an experimental community-driven college based in Minneapolis, offers free classes taught by ordinary people on topics ranging from bicycle repair to creative writing.

Organizations like EXCO are fantastic.But you don’t necessarily need an organization like that in order to teach. It’s totally possible to throw your own workshop, seminar, retreat, conference or class... and make money, doing it!

Just like event production expert Callan Rush, whose clients have raked in millions, leading high-impact workshops around the world. “Live events are NOT dead,” Rush says. Quite the opposite. 

As Rush says:

“Something magical happens with the live group experience; bonding, connection, multiple perspectives, learning from one another, sharing, making friends, community building… not feeling like you are alone in the world. […] Live events transform people at the cellular level.”

Rush’s latest free guidebook offers step-by-step tips on how to plan powerful events and sell tickets — even with little-to-no previous experience.

 3.  Just go... out!

Take a walk... without your smartphone. Sit in a coffee shop... without your computer. Strike up a conversation... with your grocery bagger. 

I recently started chatting with a guy who practices at my Aikido dojo. We’ve been training together for months, but hardly ever spoke. Finally, we did! Turns out, our careers are very complementary. We’ve found a way to collaborate. All just because I started a conversation.

4. Create tech-free time. 

Take a digital sabbatical. Unplug your Internet router after 8pm. Or just commit to being present with friends and family around the dinner table — no texting during mealtime.

The irony is that all of the social media that supposedly brings is together can often drive us apart. We all need to unplug more. 

5. Examine your relationship with social media.

I know a successful author and business owner who recently cut all ties with social media. She said it was making her feel distracted and disconnected.

Since dropping away, her business hasn’t suffered at all. In fact, she’s writing a lot more, her audience size is growing, and people are fascinated by her Facebook-free lifestyle. She gets requests from the media, just to talk about it!

People have survived — and thrived — for thousands of years without social media. Falling in love. Raising children. Building cities. Running businesses.

It’s a tool, and like any tool, it has pros and cons. If you feel like your quality of life is suffering because of it… examine that. And maybe downshift your usage. Or, like my colleague, just quit it.

For many people, the strongest forms of community are still the traditional ones— the kind forged by shared genes, shared memory, shared geography,” says one New York Times reporter. 

Face time, not Facebook. Live events, not virtual ones. Workshops. Seminar. Salons. Gatherings. Dinner parties. Or just a cup of coffee, shared between friends.

The cure to the loneliness epidemic? It’s simple.

Be with humans. No “interface.” Face to face.

Want to host your own workshop, seminar, or retreat? You don’t have to be a “master.” You just need to have the desire to connect and a bit of knowledge and passion.

Here are 3 (free) resources to create and fill your workshops, seminars and retreats. (Which also work for webinars/teleseminars)

Wealth through Workshops PDF & video training

Event Filling Blueprint PDF

Fill Your Workshops With Ease: 3 Massive Mistakes Workshops Leaders Make that Keep Their Event Rooms Empty (Webinar)