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Protecting Your Health By Fighting Loneliness

On last week’s “Wellness Wednesday,” we introduced a topic that surprised some of our readers.

As I’ve often said here, even though my diploma says, “chiropractor,” my work with patients extends beyond the spine and nervous system. We take a holistic view of wellness that includes nutrition, movement, hydration, sleep, and mental, emotional, and spiritual health. If any area of your life is out of whack, it will pull the rest out of balance as well.

Now, I’m not a counselor, pastor, or psychiatrist. I can’t diagnose your phobias or neuroses, but if you are eating right, moving right, staying hydrated, adjusted, and rested, and you’re still constantly sick, it doesn’t take a prophet to recognize that something deeper is still wrong.

Loneliness: The Deeper Health Problem

One issue I see frequently in my practice is loneliness. Honestly, I was in practice for a number of years before I really began to identify what it was and how it was affecting people. I started to recognize it first among the widows I treated. I remember one sweet older lady who came to see me almost every week for an adjustment. After her husband died, I noticed that she began to complain about more symptoms, and they never seemed to get better. She was lonely. Even though she was surrounded by friends and had some family in the area, there was an empty place in her soul that wasn’t being filled, and it was manifesting in her physical body. This is something I’m watching in my mom’s life right now.

As people live longer, widowhood is on the rise; and as more people in our culture live alone, dependence on mood-altering drugs is on the rise again.

Your body is not just the house for your mind and spirit — they are interwoven until you die. Neurotransmitters are biochemical signals that originate in your brain and other glands at the direction of your emotions. You’ve probably noticed that stress is not just a thought you think—you can feel stress in your chest, stomach, head, and muscles. Your heart pounds harder and faster, your stomach hurts, headaches form, and your muscles ache. When you are in love, you don’t just think about it, you experience it in your chest, stomach, and…(can I just be real for a minute here?)…your reproductive organs.

So it should come as no surprise that the biochemical manifestation of emotions can have a massive positive or negative effect on your cells and, by extension, your physical health. Volumes of research among surgery patients demonstrate that patients with healthy spiritual lives and social networks have a significantly higher recovery rate than patients who do not. The same results show up in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well.

There is such a thing as a broken heart, and it can be just as destructive as if your physical blood pump were damaged.

It Gets More Intense Around The Holidays

As we head into the holidays, when loneliness seems to be most intense, it is most important that we finally get victory over it—not just for our emotional well-being, but for our physical well-being as well.

Last week, I mentioned a couple of basic tips for addressing feelings of loneliness, and they all had to do with establishing or reestablishing relationships with others. Reconnect with old friends, visit a church, or join a networking group.

This week, I want to go one step deeper to address some root issues.

Warning: You might not like me when I’m done.

You might not want to answer the questions I’m going to ask.

But if you will go with me on this, it could change your future.

The Tough Questions

If you are struggling with chronic loneliness, let me ask you a couple of questions. You don’t need to share your answers with me or anyone else, but you have to be totally honest with yourself, or this will be a waste of time.

Why are you lonely?

Are you lonely because you are physically isolated and alone, or are you lonely even when you are surrounded by people?

If you are physically alone, is it because you are physically unable to leave your home and no-one comes to visit you? What can you do to remedy that situation?

Chances are, you are reading this article online, so I’m going to guess that you have access to social media. While online interaction is no substitute for in-person interaction, social media can provide a way for you to find people or groups in your area that you could visit in person. Maybe that thought never occurred to you, and maybe you know you could find people to be around and you just don’t want to.

The question then becomes, why are you keeping yourself isolated and lonely? Did someone hurt your feelings, so now you are closing yourself off from others, so they can’t hurt you, too? Were you betrayed? Lied about? Ostracized? Rejected? Go back to the original source of your pain. The walls we build around ourselves are always built to shield us from pain. What pain are you protecting yourself from? Go back to the source. Remember the moment the pain first came. Don’t block it. Put yourself back in that moment and let the wound feel fresh again. Let the anger flow. Go back to that moment in your mind.

Now…choose to forgive.

You are lonely because you chose to separate yourself from others. “But you don’t know what they did to me!” you might protest. You’re right—I don’t know. But I don’t need to know. I know that your choice NOT to forgive is hurting you, not them. In an effort to protect yourself from pain, you are blocking new relationships with others. You need to forgive the people who have hurt you, release them from any debt you have against them, and bless them. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Totally.

If you are uncomfortable being alone…why?

While it is unhealthy to be totally alone for long periods of time, taking some alone time is very healthy for your soul. If you can’t handle even short periods of being alone, it’s time to ask yourself why. Do you measure your entire self-worth by your interactions with others? Do you become more aware of how much you dislike yourself when you are alone? I had a patient tell me once that he can’t handle being alone because his mind taunts him by reminding him of his (perceived) inadequacies. He doesn’t like himself, so he masks his low self-esteem by keeping himself busy with people he wants to believe are his friends. It makes him feel valuable.

In a way, it doesn’t matter what I do to align his spine, his unhealthy self-thoughts will flood his body with toxic, negative neurotransmitters, which will slowly poison him, raise his blood pressure, constrict his arteries, and may lead him to try to pacify himself with unhealthy habits.

The only solution for a poor self-esteem is to renew your thinking. For some people, knowing that someone they care about loves them in return is enough. That’s not a very stable foundation for self-esteem, but it gets some people through. Others draw positive value from pets.

The Secret Super-power of Pets

Dr. Joseph Mercola shared some powerful research on the health benefits of caring for a pet:

“A dog or cat can provide unconditional love and comfort, and studies show that owning a pet can help protect against loneliness, depression and anxiety. In fact, dogs are often brought to nursing homes, hospice settings and hospitals for this very reason.

The bond that forms between a person and a companion pet can be incredibly fulfilling, and serves, in many ways, as an important and rewarding relationship. As the American Veterinary Medical Association states:

“The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment.”

The research on this is really quite profound. For instance, having a dog as a companion could add years to your life, as studies have shown that owning a dog played a significant role on survival rates in heart attack victims.

Studies have also revealed that people on Medicaid or Medicare who own a pet make fewer visits to the doctor. The unconditional acceptance and love a dog gives to their owner positively impacts their owner’s emotional health in ways such as:

  • Boosting self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Promoting communication between elderly residents and neighbors
  • Helping people cope with illness, loss and depression.
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Helping to meet new friends
  • Providing a source of touch and affiliation

Along with companionship, dogs and cats satisfy our human need for close physical contact and touching. This actually works on a hormonal level, as well as an emotional one.

Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders. An example of this is spending a few minutes petting your dog — this simple act prompts the release of a number of “feel good” hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.”

Finding Your Self-worth In The Source

Finally, some people draw their personal self-esteem from the belief that God loves them. If the All-powerful, All-knowing Creator God of the Universe knows everything about you, created you with a purpose, and desires to maintain a constant friendly relationship with you to help you achieve your destiny, then you must be pretty special, right? This is a core of my personal value system. I don’t always believe it or let it affect my thinking about myself, but I have accepted that it is true, and part of my daily walk of faith is to let that revelation affect my thinking.

If I am loved by the Creator, and if I have a purpose and destiny in His Kingdom, then I will think differently about myself, respond differently to situations, and freely extend love to others. My self-worth is not built on my performance or the acceptance of other but on the never-changing love of a permanent, Holy God. Again, I don’t always see myself that way, but as I spend time with Him in prayer and Bible study, His perception of me is gradually reshaping my perception of myself.

If I am OK with me, and I know I am loved, I can be alone without feeling lonely.

If you are lonely in groups of people, what is it that keeps you from connecting with the people around you?

I’ve always been a gregarious guy, but there have been plenty of times when I felt alone in groups—in school, at conferences, in networking groups. The problem was not my proximity to humans, but my ability (or willingness) to engage them in conversation. When I got over it, I found a new richness to my life. But as long as I kept to myself, I was lonely. The choice was mine to make. I’m glad I learned to connect. Had I not, I would have stayed just as isolated and lonely as if there had been no-one in the room.

Can you see that, in both cases, the choice is ours how we will respond? And in both cases, we need to identify a root issue that is keeping us alone.

That’s why I asked the hard questions. The limitations on our relationships are often within our own minds. We need to recognize the blockages in our lives and deal with them, and that sometimes means asking some unpleasant questions and making some difficult decisions. Forgiving is never easy when it counts the most. But if you don’t like the fruit in your life, you have to trace back to the root and identify the pain and unforgiveness at the root of your loneliness.

Let’s Take This Further

I want to challenge you this week to address the root issues that shape the way you see yourself and others. You might be surprised to find that most of your adult personality was formed by events that happened in your life before your sixth birthday. A toddler doesn’t have the most precise understanding of the world, so you might find that some of the things that hurt you the most are based on misunderstandings of things that were said or done to you when you were little. You might have to forgive some things and let them go. Let God deal with them on His terms. They will not go unpunished, and you don’t have to waste another second meeting out the punishment. Let it go.

As we close this week, I want to remind you that our Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinners have been so powerful, and the one we’re lining up for December is no exception. Watch for more information in the coming weeks. I’m really excited about it and I think you will be, too. In the meantime, take a few seconds to share this article on your favorite social channel. I’m going to guess that there is someone in your circle of friends who is struggling with loneliness right now, especially as we get closer to the holidays. You never know whose life you change just by sharing information with them.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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