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Is Loneliness Killing You – Probably

Have you noticed that it’s no longer necessary to acknowledge another human being no matter how close you encounter them. Whether on the sidewalk, in an elevator, the grocery line, it’s no longer common courtesy to crack a smile, or nod.

We can just glance down at our iPhone, or look away – doesn’t matter. Does anyone see a problem with this? I’m serious. I’m not being rhetorical.

We think we’re connected (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messages), but are we really? Do we really “know” even our friends. Are we on the journey of life together, or just skimming the surface? Based on some recent studies it would seem we’ve outsourced our connectedness – our human care for one another.

Take a look. The following comes from a well-researched article entitled, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers. As Ronald Dworkin pointed out in a 2010 paper for the Hoover Institution, in the late ’40s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists. As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.

The article goes on to suggest just how unhealthy this loneliness is.

It notes:

Being lonely is extremely bad for your health. If you’re lonely, you’re more likely to be put in a geriatric home at an earlier age than a similar person who isn’t lonely. You’re less likely to exercise. You’re more likely to be obese. You’re 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.

Yikes!

Humans are social creatures. We crave it. I have a close friend that when we miss one of our weekly meetings we both feel it. We feel disconnected, cut off. Our time together allows us to bounce ideas off one another – to reflect back to one another – to encourage one another – to laugh – provide validation – an ear – the list is long. It’s all critical not only to our mental health, but physically as well.

More from the article…

…loneliness is affecting the basic functions of human physiology. He found higher levels of epinephrine, the stress hormone, in the morning urine of lonely people. Loneliness burrows deep: “When we drew blood from our older adults and analyzed their white cells,” he writes, “we found that loneliness somehow penetrated the deepest recesses of the cell to alter the way genes were being expressed.” Loneliness affects not only the brain, then, but the basic process of DNA transcription. When you are lonely, your whole body is lonely.

None of this is to suggest that technology is bad, the article notes. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We need to ensure we’re using technology to enhance face time, rather than replace it. I think we know this intuitively, but fail to practice it.

All this great research and scientific study reminds us that God wants us connected. He wants us connected to him every minute of every day. But he also wants us connected in community. A community centered around God is powerful. It’s alive. It’s contagious.

Are you connected?

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson

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