SO MANY PEOPLE ARE LONELY these days. Thanks to technology, we live in an increasingly interconnected world, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Forty percent of Americans report that their social relationships are “not meaningful.” One-fifth of people say they’re “lonely or socially isolated.” Nearly a third of older adults live alone.
Loneliness is a physical as well as a mental health problem. Research links prolonged social isolation to higher risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and even death.
I don’t mean to frighten you. But I think it’s important to recognize the costs of our individualistic, on-the-go, screen-hypnotized culture. I speak from personal experience. I’m married to a wonderful husband who works as a chaplain at a military college. We have two children, and we live in a medium-size town where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Yet I’ve spent long periods of my life feeling lonely.
Growing up in a Navy family presented unique social challenges. I moved three times during my three years in middle school, a social agony that still lingers. I was lonely through two miscarriages and an infertility diagnosis. And I was lonely as a young mom trying my best to be what I thought a good chaplain’s wife should be at my husband’s college chapel. That pretty much meant me in the foyer shushing the kids while church happened in the sanctuary.
I’ve thought a lot about loneliness over the years. I’ve written about it too: online and in my most recent book, Loving Well in a Broken World. While periods of loneliness are inevitable, they don’t have to be permanent. Overcoming loneliness is hard, but it can be done. It takes courage, perseverance and empathy. That last quality, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, might be the most important. It’s definitely part of seeing the world through God’s eyes, not just your own.
Even people who seem totally put together feel insecure and lonely sometimes. Realizing that made it a lot easier for me to reach out and make social connections. Here are some strategies that have worked for me. I hope they help you too.
1. Join a faith community.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer for me. I’m married to a chaplain!
My husband, John, began serving as a chaplain for the Virginia Military Institute six years ago. At the time, our children were just three and one and a half. It was one of the loneliest times of my life.
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