Let’s Talk About Loneliness (Designed: Emotions)

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Unknown.  Unwanted.  Unseen.  Unheard.  Untouched.  Undesired.  Unchosen.  Unwanted.  Unneeded.  LONELY!

“It doesn’t matter if I am in a dark room all alone, or in a crowd of strangers, or even in the company of people who are supposed to love me….loneliness is there.  I feel empty.  Completely drained.  I long for relationship, for connection; yet I have no energy to put into any relationships.  All day long I paste on a smile and pretend to be happy so no one will know that I am dying inside.”

According to Elizabeth Bernstein’s article in the Wall Street Journal, Alone or Lonely, the rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled over the past thirty years.  At the present time about 40% of Americans report being lonely.

Currently loneliness is an epidemic, and quickly becoming health crises.  Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.  (https://newrepublic.com/article/113176/science-loneliness-how-isolation-can-kill-you)

So, exactly what is loneliness?  Loneliness is a feeling of social disconnectedness in which a person wishes that he or she had better social relationships.   It is also defined as being isolated or unfrequented by friends.  Based on this definition it is clear that a person doesn’t need to be alone to feel lonely.  One can also feel lonely while still desiring and needing time of solitude.  The difference is this:  loneliness feels draining, distracting and upsetting; while solitude feels restorative, creative and peaceful.

Types of Loneliness.  There are many types of loneliness that are generated from a variety of unique situations, experiences, and thoughts.

  • I don’t have a romantic partner.
  • Others don’t have time for me.
  • I just want someone around when I am home.
  • I want someone to do things with.
  • There is no one who really knows me.
  • I’m in a new situation/job/location/school and don’t really know anyone.
  • I’m different from everyone else.  I can’t find anyone who shares my beliefs, values, or interests.
  • I don’t know anyone I can really trust.

As you can see from the list about it is much more than simply having a romantic attachment.  Many people need BOTH a social circle of friends and an intimate attachment to one specific person.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE POTENTIAL INDICATORS:

Physical response:  Depression.  Crying.  Numbness. Lack of pleasure.  Lack of interest. Decreased immunity.  Inflammation.  Decreased pain tolerance.  Increased risk for disease.  Poor sleep.  Increased engagement in dangerous or illicit behaviors.  Isolation.  Feeling empty.

Thoughts about self: I am unwanted.  I am all alone.  I am empty.  I am unworthy.  There is something wrong with me.  I am not enough.

Thoughts about God: God doesn’t care.  God made me this way.

Our action/tendency/response:   Ironically, when we are lonely our tendency is to isolate, withdraw and hide.

Communication: Loneliness says:  I cannot make friends.  No one wants to be with me.  I am not worthy of others time.  

Loneliness indicates a need to connect with others on a more personal or intimate level.   It will involve risk.  It may feel uncomfortable, but is needed.  Loneliness is killing us!  We were never designed to do life alone.  So it is vital to your health that you make and maintain some close connections with others.  Sadly, people who are lonely crave human contact and intimacy, but their state of mind makes it difficult to connect with others.  So, in order to get this need met you will have to battle your instincts and thoughts and press into relationships.

So what can I do? 

Practice small talk with people you encounter throughout your day.  I admit I was never a huge fan of small talk.  That is until I moved into an area where I knew no one.  I longed for those deeper connections and long conversations, but there was no one with whom I could have those conversations.  In the absence of those deep connections I quickly learned to LOVE the people who were willing to take the risk and work to engage me in small talk.

If you are a self identified introvert and not currently a fan of small talk let me tickle your intellect with this reminder…LONELINESS IS KILLING OUR SOCIETY!  Your attempts at small talk, no matter how awkward, might be the avenue that helps another human being feel connection and warmth.  In addition, it may be the door way through which you have to pass to make that one friend you desire to have.  It is a skill you can develop to use which will help you grow as a person while making the world a friendlier place to live.

So since it is a skill, here are a few tips and suggestions:

  • Eye contact-Moderate eye contact:  Somewhere between total avoidance and a death stare.
  • Smile-One that comes naturally or where you gently lift the corners of your mouth with your facial muscles:  Wide forced smiles with all your teeth showing look creepy.
  • Handshakes-Somewhere in the middle of a wet fish and a bone crushing death grip.
  • Proximity-About an adult arm length away.  If an infant child can stick her fingers in your mouth YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!
  • Volume: Medium inside voice.  If you are too quite, they will ask what you said and thus prolong the torture of having to engage in the small talk.

Small Talk Progression and Topics:

  • Start with a pleasant greeting and acknowledgement (Ex. “Hi” “It’s good to see you.”  “I’m glad you could come.” “What is your name?”
  • Discuss the weather
  • Give a compliment
  • Share an observation about the surrounding environment or situation
  • Ask an open ended questions:  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  “How’s your day going?”,   “How do you like or what do you think about  (XYZ) so far?”  etc.
  • End with a good-bye and eye contact: “Bye”, “Stay safe”, “Take care”, “Nice meeting you”, “Have a blessed day.”

You don’t need to carry on a long conversation.  You are just working on talking for a couple of seconds…maybe it will lead to a friendship down the road, or maybe you will just be a bright spot in someone’s day helping them feel a little less lonely.

Invest in nurturing others.  Another way to grow your community and help alliveate loneliness is to care for other people or animals.  Help out at an animal shelter, serve with people to promote a cause, take care of an elderly person or child.  This will foster altruistic feelings in you, will help someone else, and will help fill some of the emptiness.

Proximity and repetition are fundamental when establishing relationships.  It has been proven that as long as you are mutually kind you will become friends with the people you see most often.  So, one way to increase your friendship circle is to be kind and put yourself in situations where you will see the same people over and over again; join a class or committee, go to the same store or hairdresser, attend a church, join a gym, go the same park or venue often, etc.

Time. Relationships take time to form.  You will have to have at least 6-8 conversations with a person before they begin to consider you a friend.  From there you will be able to decide if this is a person you want to develop a deeper level of connection with versus someone you would like to keep as an acquaintance.

Real Life Relationships (RLR).  If there is one thing that social media has taught us is that it is that social media is not a substitute for having real life friends.  Having many friends on social media who hardly know you is NOT a protective factor against loneliness.  If I have 700 Facebook friends and Instagram followers, but no one who interacts with me regularly in a close and intimate way, then chances are I will still feel incredibly lonely.  The only way to combat loneliness is to engage in real life relationships.  There are 3 keys to developing RLR:

  • 1.) Take the risk of being vulnerable, sharing my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • 2.) Invest my most valuable resource (time).  All RLR will take time to develop.
  • 3.) Learn to be trustworthy with other people’s secrets, faults, and failures.  To have a good friend, you must practice being a good friend.

Quality versus Quantity.   When combating loneliness it is important to develop a few high quality relationships.  These are the people who you will invest your life in and those who you will allow to invest in you.  It is not important to have many friends, just a few select friends that you will allow to know the real you, the messy you, the you that you don’t show to everyone else.

(For more on this topic see Developing Your Tribe:  (https://confidenthope.blog/2018/04/10/developing-your-tribe/ )

Dealing with LONELINESS?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Identify which type or types of loneliness are you currently suffering from?

2.) Reflect on if there was ever a time you were not suffering from this type of loneliness.  What did it look like?  How were you involved in the relationship?

3.) Identify one way in which you could begin to counter act they type of loneliness you are experiencing.

4.)  Challenge yourself to engage in that activity at least once this week.

5.)  Document and reflect on how it went and how you felt.

6.)  Challenge yourself to combat loneliness for others by reaching out to them at least once this week.

7.)  Make an effort to get to know the people in the community you are a part of:  where you live, where you work, where you shop, and where you play.

MEDITATION:

We were never designed to live in isolation.  God created us for relationship.  We are created in the very image of God who himself is a model of relationship in the attribute of the trinity.  We serve one God, who is triune in nature.  Meaning he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All acting in accordance and unity together.  We as humans are created in that very same relational manner.  In fact, in Genesis it talks about this very topic.  After each thing that God created he commented “and it was good.”  However, after he created man He said “it is not good for man to be alone.”  At that point he created Eve.  Right from the beginning in paradise it was necessary for people to have relationship!  All through out scripture it talks about the dangers of being alone and the commands to engage in relationships; along with the principles for living successfully in those relationships.

Loneliness can feel like a slow death.  Some of the saddest moments in scripture are when individuals felt alone or abandoned.  I believe that is why God reminds us so often that He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us.  While you may experience moments or seasons of loneliness, it is never His will that you do life alone.  Those moments are to serve as reminders of our need for community.  God will meet that need for intimacy through other people as we reach out and risk being known and knowing others.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

I feel so alone.  I long for community.  I long for close friends that I can laugh with and share with and do things with.  I miss having someone to call my own.  I can feel the ache for companionship deep inside me.  Yet I have to confess there is also a part of me that doesn’t want to risk being hurt again.  I don’t want to invest all the time and energy into someone else just to be let down and beaten up.  I don’t want to go through all the small talk, all the getting to know you phases……but I do want the closeness, the familiarity, the comfortableness.  Will I ever have the energy to build those types of relationships again?  Will anyone even want to build that kind of relationship with me?  Sometimes I just feel like all the good friends and partners are already taken. 

Do you even care that I feel lonely?  That I long for companionship?  That I miss the warmth of being loved and cared for?  Is that even something that I can pray for?  I know that you love me, but sometimes I just long for love that comes in human form.

I am asking that you please bring people into my life.  Allow me the chance to love others.  Give me courage to share who I am and to seek out the treasures of who they are.  Show me how to love and how to connect.  You are the perfect example of relationship and love.  Help me to live and love as you have called me to do.  Help disspel my loneliness as I give my love to others.  It is a mystery how giving love away could actually fill me up….but I trust that you do actually work in those mysterious ways.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families,he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (Psalm 68:5-6)

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (Psalm 25:16)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)

 

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Let’s Talk About Grief and Depression (Designed: Emotions)

FB_IMG_1542070397682There she sat, staring at the floor with her shoulders slouched.  Her voice was small and shaky.  “How do you feel?” I asked.

“I feel fine, I guess.”  Weighted silence filled the room, before she took a deep breath and continued, “Honestly, I guess I feel kind of numb.  I’m really not sure how I feel.  I cry every time I step into the shower, or am driving my car, or if someone I love asks me how I am doing.  I don’t know what it is.  I just break out into tears.”  Her eyes began to water, and then her breathing changed and made way for sobs.

“Do you think you might be depressed?”  I asked.

“I don’t think so.  I have so many good things.  I can’t be depressed.  I mean life is hard for everyone……” and she continued on with her list of reasons why she couldn’t possibly be depressed.

Sometimes the depression is so deep and long standing, and you have tolerated it for so long that you no longer even recognize it as depression.   But there it lingers, causing havoc and chaos where you once had peace, contentment, and joy….now those things seem like a million light years away, a fantasy that was maybe never even real to begin with.

No one likes to admit to feeling depressed.  It is such a powerless, hopeless feeling.  Yet, all of us at times will feel the weight of depression in varying degrees and for various lengths of time.

Let’s take a closer look at that heavy feeling that causes you to feel like you are dragging around a 100 pound weight.  What exactly are the differences between sadness and depression?

According to Miriam-Webster dictionary; GRIEF is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” where as DEPRESSION is defined as “a state of feeling sad”.  Both involve degrees of sadness. Both grief and depression have many similarities in how they present, but the course they take and how they are treated is often quite different.  So let’s take a moment and examine each one separately before we look at the similarities.

GRIEF:  Grief can be caused by almost any type of loss, the most obvious being  a death.  However, one can also experience grief at the loss of a marriage, relationship, job, home, dream, ability etc.  Grief is a normal reaction to loss.  Typically, the grieving process includes five different stages:  1.) Denial 2.)Anger 3.)Bargaining 4.)Depression 5.)Acceptance.  Through the grieving process you will go through each of these stages at some point.  However, the stages aren’t linear; you do not go from stage 1, to 2, to 3, to completion.  It is far more common that you you will vacillate between different stages at different points until finally the intensity of your grief begins to subside. There is no designated amount of time for grieving.  The process will take varying amounts of time depending on the individual and the type of loss or losses that were experienced.  The treatment for grieving is simply time to work through the grieving process and a strong support system that will be patient and loving while you do the hard work of grieving.

DEPRESSION:  Depression can be a  normal response to a life situation, such as a loss or set back.  Or it can be a response to hormones, such as during a woman’s menstrual cycle or menopause.  Lastly, it can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The cause of the depression will dictate which type of treatment and interventions will work.

Here are some potential indicators of grief and/or depression:

Physical Responses: Crying, fatigue, aches and pains, increased sensitivity to stress and pain, forgetfulness, inability to focus, decreased appetite, lack of energy, decreased immunity, lack of pleasure, excessive sleeping, restlessness, stomach aches, digestive issues, loneliness, letting responsibilities slide, poor hygiene.

Thoughts about Self: I am hopeless.  I will never change.  I am alone.  Things will never get better.  I would be better off dead.  Others would be better off without me.

Thoughts about God:  God is punishing me.  God doesn’t care about how I feel.  God has abandoned me.

Our action/tendency/response: Slow down. Withdraw. Isolate.

Men and women tend to manage their emotions differently especially when it comes to grief and depression.  Here are some of the distinguishing factors  in how the expression of depression may differ between women vs. men:

  • Women feel anxious and scared; men feel guarded
  • Women blame themselves for the depression; men blame others
  • Women commonly feel sad, worthless, and apathetic when depressed; men tend to feel irritable and angry
  • Women are more likely to avoid conflicts when depressed; men are more likely to create conflicts
  • Women turn to food and friends to self-medicate; men turn to alcohol, TV, sex, or sports to self-medicate
  • Women feel lethargic and nervous; men feel agitated and restless
  • Women easily talk about their feelings of self-doubt and despair; men hide feelings of self-doubt and despair-considering it a sign of weakness

*(https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.women.html)

Communication: There has been a loss. Things are not as they should be.

NEEDS. If there has been a loss of any type, big or small, there is a need to grieve and there will likely be some feeling of depression.   If the depression is stemming from a chemical or hormonal imbalance, medication may be needed.  It is always possible that working through the grieving process, in addition to lifestyle modifications and medication may be needed.

Reminder. While it would be great if you could just “cheer up and be happy” it doesn’t always work like that.   Changing the feelings associated with depression and grieving are a lot like trying to turn the Titanic around.  It’s a big job! A good place to begin, as you embark on the task of improving how you feel, is to take some control of your actions and thoughts.  This is where you have some power!  You have the right to all of your emotions.  Including your sadness, grief, and depression.  Honestly, sometimes it is healthy to sit with the sadness for a moment, to honor a memory, a loved one, or a dream.  Eventually, you will have a responsibility that will require you to move on and re-enter the world. At that point it is your responsibility to seek out whatever you need to improve those heavy emotions; it might be socialization, skills, lifestyle change, or medication.  Whatever it is you have a responsibility to get what you need to not be controlled by those emotions.  Remember, emotions are there to serve you, to help point out your needs, to allow you to have empathy for others.  They are not meant to crush or control you.

So, what can I do?

1.)  Here are some ideas if you are grieving a loss:  A.) Journal your loss, your feelings, and your process B.) Pray or meditate C.) Make a scrap book of memories D.) Visit with friends and family that love you, be open about what you are feeling and needing

2.)  Get a physical examination to determine if your depression has a physical cause such as a chemical or hormonal imbalance

3.) Get some physical exercise EVERY DAY!  Physical exercise releases the endorphins (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in your brain which are natural mood regulators.  A daily dose of sunshine will increase those positive benefits.

4.)  Maintain a regular daily routine for meals and sleeping.   This will help restore balance to your system which will help regulate your emotions.

5.)  Be sure to create some small, measurable goals each day that you can achieve.  This will create a sense of accomplishment.

6.)  Do some thing that you used to enjoy.  Read a book, take a walk, play with a pet, watch a funny show or movie, listen to music, take a bubble bath, or create something.  Sometimes your emotions will change once you start engaging in the activity.

7.)  Challenge your thoughts.  Depression has a way of making everything look negative.  Saturate your mind with truth.  When you are facing negative self talk and negative thoughts; ask yourself, what would you say to a friend who was having those kinds of thoughts.

8.)  Depression breeds in isolation.  Talk with trusted friends or a counselor about things that are going on in your life.  Talking with people you trust can bring new insights and fuel hope.

9.)  If necessary take medication.  Some depression is from a chemical imbalance and truly needs medication.  For this type of depression the best results come from a combination of medication, lifestyle change, and talk therapy.  There is no shame in reaching out to get the help that you need.

Dealing with GRIEF AND DEPRESSION?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Don’t let despair dictate your decisions.  I am reminded of the story of the Battle of Jericho.  Read the story in Joshua 5:13-6:27.  This is the second time the Israelites have come to the walls of Jericho.  The city is fortified and closed up, there is no way of getting in; but God has promised them victory.  God sets forth his plan.  They are to march around the city one time for six days in a row making no noise.  On the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times and then blow the trumpets and shout.  When they did that the walls came crashing down and the Israelites were able to go right in and take the victory that belonged to them.  Imagine if the Israelites gave up on the sixth lap around the city.  What if they had allowed what looked like a waste of time and energy, fuel their hopelessness and feed their despair?  They would have have walked away dejected and  never seen the victory, the would have never gotten the blessing that God wanted to give them.  They would have walked back to their homes defeated.  Instead in this moment they chose to trust God, obey his commands, and believe that things would be better in the future just as He had promised.

Question:  What feels hopeless?  What dreams and desires feel like they will never come to fruition? What has God asked you to do?

Are you willing to continue taking laps until your victory?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

2.)  Build and alter.  Remember the things God has already done for you.  By remembering what God has already done, you will be increase your faith and your mood will not need to be dependent on your current circumstances.  Throughout the old testament God instructed his people to build alters as a reminder of what he had done.  In Joshua 4, after God parted the Jordan river for the Israelites, He instructed them to build an alter of remembrance.  He had them do this so that they would remember his might and power.  Whenever the Israelites would come into hard times that could look back at that visual representation and remember God’s ability to provide and rescue them.

Question:  What are some miracles God has done in your life?  How has He come through for you in the past?

Do you have things in your home that remind you of those victories (journals, notes, pictures)?  Rehearse how God has shown his faithfulness, goodness and mercy to you in the past.

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

3.) Remember God is in the resurrection business.  Scripture is laced with a theme of resurrection.  For something to be resurrected it must first die.  There is pain in the process of dying…whether it be the death of a career, a dream, a marriage or a loved one.  There is a sacredness in that space where God chooses to work.  When we have lost everything.  When we are desperate.  That is a space where we can relinquish our control, submit our will and allow God the freedom to work.  Once we release what has died, there is room for God to move in and work his miracles.  God is always taking something that was dead and breathing in new life.  He takes situations that seem hopeless and turns them into miraculous victories.  God promises that pain will only last for a moment.  In Isaiah 61:3 it says “He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of despair”.

Question:  What have you lost that you need to bury?  What is hurting that needs healing?

Are you willing to allow God to create His masterpiece from the rubble of what was?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

4.)  God is never late, He’s never early, He’s always on time.  This is a tough one for me personally.  In the middle of my pain I often feel like God is late.   I long for God to arrive early, for him to comfort me with the plan of what lies ahead as a reward for going through the suffering, but that is simply not how God works.  I imagine that Lazurus’s sisters Martha and Mary were struggling with Jesus’ timing.  In John 11, John tells the story of Lazurus.  Martha and Mary had sent word that their brother was ill and that they needed Jesus to heal him.  These were people who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved.  Yet, from a human perspective it seems that Jesus stalled.  He didn’t even get to them until days after their brother had died.  Hope was gone.  Jesus didn’t arrive early enough to heal Lazurus.  Right when people were convinced that all hope was lost, this is where Jesus enters the scene and does a the miracle.  He raises Lazurus from the dead.  His timing was perfect for allowing a miracle that couldn’t have been preformed if he had arrived on the scene early.

QUESTION:  What are you waiting on God for?  What do you need him to do?

Are you willing to trust His timing?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

My heart is so heavy sometimes.  I can barely see through my tears.  My chest actually hurts as I feel my heartbreaking.  I want to move forward but I feel paralyzed by my circumstances.  I am uncertain how to get out of this deep pit that I have fallen into.

I know that you are a God who sees me and who loves me, but I feel alone, small, and abandoned.  I am scared.  Please help me to trust you.  I want to believe that you will create a way out…that you will do a miracle for me.  Remind me that you are still in control and are able to handle all that I am experiencing.  Remind me that no problem is too big for you to solve.  Remind me that you have a plan and a purpose for all of this pain that I am experiencing. 

I can remember times when you have done good things for me.  Thank you for the good things you have given me.  Thank you for the obstacles that I have already overcome.  Thank you for your promise that you never leave me, no matter what I’ve done or have not done.  Thank you for the promise that you are an ever present help in my time of trouble.  I ask that you once again come through on my behalf.

In Jesus Name- Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Story of the Jordan River:  Joshua 4

Story of Jericho: Joshua 6

Story of Lazurus: John 11

The Year of The Lord’s Favor: Isaiah 61

2 Peter 3:8 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”