And why we can feel lonely in a crowded room.
In 2002 after my son Jonah was born, I sent an email out to a handful of friends from my prenatal yoga class and invited them to meet me at our local park on the following Wednesday. We sat on blankets under big oak trees nursing our newborns. I pulled out some inspirational self-care cards and attempted to ignite a conversation around how my brand new mama friends were “really” doing. It went nowhere. I left the gathering deflated, sad and feeling lonelier than I had in quite a while. I now know why.
“Loneliness,” says Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions in his new book, “isn’t the physical absence of other people,—it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. If you have lots of people around you—perhaps even a husband or wife, or a family, or a busy workplace—but you don’t share anything that matters with them, then you’ll still be lonely.”
The good news is that the experience I had with the new mothers became a catalyst for the creation of our RTA-Certified Facilitator Program and our women’s self-renewal groups–rich, sacred, soulful, authentic gatherings that are now meeting in 10 countries around the globe and offer regular opportunities for women to be seen, heard, connect and belong. The bad news is, as a nation, we’re lonelier than ever.
Not only are our digital lives luring us into “empty connections” but we’re isolating in all kinds of ways. A complaint I regularly hear from working women when I lead stress management and resiliency workshops is, “I am so busy, I just don’t have time for girlfriends anymore. Our lunches, coffees and walks have become a thing of the past.”
Brigham Young University conducted an influential meta-analysis of scientific literature on loneliness and found that social isolation increases your risk of death by an astounding 30%; some estimates have it as high as 60%. To put it another way, loneliness might be a more significant health factor than obesity, smoking, exercise or nutrition. Many are saying loneliness may be the next big public health issues (pick up a copy of this month’s Psychology Today on loneliness and read my post Why We Need Each Other for more on this thread).
This week I challenge you to sit with the following three questions (and share this post with your friends/family):
Which relationships, communities or groups in my life really feed me (i.e. I feel happier and more connected after these encounters)?
Which relationships, communities or groups in my life leave me feeling isolated or lonely and am I willing to let these go?
What is one thing I could do to take my current relationships to a deeper level and initiate more conversations that matter?
Last week I was in New York City. There were moments during my trip that I found myself swimming in a sea of people feeling incredibly lonely. I noticed this and made an effort to start connecting with my drivers. One particular encounter with a beautiful, soulful Lyft driver from Jamaica unfolded over an hour as we sat in traffic and discussed why so many people in the city seemed to be cranky. We laughed, shared about our families and birth order, and 20 blocks later, I bounced out of the car feeling alive and more connected–to myself and everyone around me. It doesn’t take much to make the shift-we just have to stay awake.
Written by Renee Peterson Trudeau for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.