Are you feeling lonely? How isolation and loneliness prevents healing

Are you feeling lonely? How isolation and loneliness prevents healing.

Isolation and loneliness is never pleasant and can affect everyone. I’ve been there myself, even though I live in the middle of a major city and am surrounded by lots of like-minded people.

Loneliness can create a sense of perceived isolation when the connections you do have with others don’t go to the depths you desire. And this state of being over the long-term is enough to affect your own health on many levels.

Do you experience moments of loneliness, isolation and struggle to experience the depth of connection you’re craving? Do you also suffer from stress, anxiety and/or other health issues and find this sense of isolation exacerbates your condition?

Perhaps you haven’t even thought about it or drawn a link between loneliness and health. It’s not like we’re ever asked “Hi, are you feeling lonely today?” Instead we are mostly communicating with one another with superficial interactions and niceties as we get on with our busy day. Rarely do we take the time to have deep connection and vulnerable conversations with strangers, let alone people we actually know.

Me, I’m in a slightly different situation. I do ask my clients this question, but worded in a much more empathic way of course. What I observe is this. Around 9 out of 10 clients experience stress of varying degrees of severity. Interestingly, about half of these people also mention this vague sense of loneliness and disconnection they feel. They can’t quite put their finger on it but they explain they just don’t ‘connect’ with many people. Perhaps their family don’t understand them or they’ve outgrown many of their old friends for various reasons. They feel isolated in their health condition and don’t have many people to talk about it with – which often requires vulnerability on both parts. This isolation then makes them feel as if they don’t have the support they need to get better, and therefore keeps them stuck with ongoing health issues.

I kept thinking, is this ‘vague loneliness’ a contributing factor to health issues and healing, and not many people are talking about it? What actually happens to us psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and even physically when we experience loneliness and isolation?

John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago is a psychologist and neuroscience researcher who has been studying loneliness for 30 years. Here’s some of his findings on how loneliness affects health:

  • Those that experience loneliness report higher levels of perceived stress compared to non-lonely people exposed to the same stressor.
  • Lonely people don’t have the same positive social interactions. As a result, stress isn’t buffered the same way that would occur in normal relationships.
  • Loneliness increases levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, and raises blood pressure.
  • Sleep quality is reduced in those experiencing loneliness, by not being restorative and waking more frequently.

This also explains that chronic loneliness stifles the healing process when it keeps our bodies in a chronically stressed “fight or flight” state. Our bodies don’t switch over into a state of calm – the parasympathetic “rest & digest” nervous system state, in which we heal and rejuvenate. Instead, we’re in a perceived ‘threatened’ survival state, desperately searching for connection or possibly even fearing the connection.

So what to do if you are feeling isolated and lonely? And what to do if this is affecting your health? Where do you start?

Let me tell you upfront that I won’t be suggesting to “get out there and meet people.” That would be akin to telling someone experiencing depression to “you just gotta cheer up and move on”. I’ve had that happen to me and I can say that would have to be the most unhelpful comment known to mankind.

According to psychology research, the following four interventions for addressing loneliness include: 1. improving social skills, 2. enhancing social support, 3. increase opportunities for social contact, and 4. address social cognition (such as CBT).

I think these sound like a great start – however everyone understands how or what to do to improve their social skills, especially if there’s fear and anxiety involved, which contributes to the isolation in the first place.

From a holistic healing perspective I would like to add in the following for addressing loneliness, so that you can heal other health/life issues:

  1. Firstly, know that you are worthy of connection with others and that it is a normal human emotional need. If you struggle to believe this due to confidence/ self-esteem issues or an uncomfortable situation in your past, please consider EFT (emotional freedom technique) and/or counselling. When you use tools to heal past events, you improve your sense of self-worth, feel safer to connect with others and you’re in a much less resistant state to heal those chronic health issues. To read more about EFT and tapping click here –
  2. Begin a mindfulness meditation program which helps to calm the central nervous system and help you strengthen your intuition for guidance. Mindfulness meditation also helps us build emotional resilience during times of stress and isolation. It’s such a great tool you can do at home – refer to my article on depression for tips.
  3. Try Australian bush flower essences. I’ve been working with flower essences very closely for over 10 years and find they work so well to help shift some long-standing negative emotional patterns. Here are some of my favourites I’ve prescribed for client’s when addressing their sense of loneliness:  
    1. Bush Gardenia – Suitable for feeling loneliness within your intimate relationship. It helps to create a connection again with your partner, especially when you’re both preoccupied with your own lives.
    2. Five Corners – Great for feeling confident about yourself again especially when feeling flat/lifeless and/or not worthy of deepening connections with others. It helps you to celebrate your inner strengths and beauty.
    3. Pink Mulla Mulla – This is for the person who feels lonely due to not allowing anyone in or keeping a ‘guard up’ because of past hurts. It helps you to trust and open up to others again.
    4. Tall Mulla Mulla – is more for loneliness due to being fearful of socialising with others or confrontation. It helps to feel relaxed and secure with the company of others again.

Tall Yellow Top – Specific to feeling isolated and lonely. It helps create a sense of belonging to others and your community, and feel safe to reach out.

We are built for social contact, we require it for survival. The concept that we only need material needs to live is totally outdated. We actually need deep connection with others, be that family, friends or community. If we don’t have these connections we compromise our mental and physical health and therefore our recovery from health issues.

But there are always tools to explore why you are feeling the way you are. Try the steps I mentioned above and if you’d like to include include personalised flower essences, EFT/tapping and naturopathic coaching as part of your healing plan, read more about my naturopathic and healing sessions here to get started!

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