The Deadliness of Loneliness

August 26, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Loneliness is killing us – literally.  This is what a lengthy article in the National Post argues:

Studies suggest loneliness is more detrimental to health than obesity, physical inactivity or polluted air. Chronic loneliness, and not the transient kind that comes with a significant life disruption, such as moving cities for work, or the death of a partner, has been linked with an increased risk of developing or dying from coronary artery disease, stroke, elevated blood pressure, dementia and depressed immunity.

 A study published in May found lonely people have shorter telomeres, which are found at the end of chromosomes, like the tip of a shoelace. Telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides, and shorter telomeres are considered a sign of accelerated aging.

This is serious stuff.  So, what is the solution?  Some are arguing that the solution may be pharmacological:

Studies in animals suggest that a single injection of pregnenolone can reduce or “normalize” an exaggerated threat response in socially isolated lab mice, similar to the kind of hyper vigilance lonely people feel that makes them poor at reading other people’s intentions and feelings.

 The researchers have every hope the drug will work in lonely human brains, too…

 Loneliness increases both a desire to connect with others, and a gut instinct for self-preservation (“if I let you get close to me, you’ll only hurt me, too”). People become more wary, cautious and self-centered.  The idea is to help people see things as they are, “rather than being afraid of everyone,” [neuroscientist Stephanie] Cacioppo said.

This is all very interesting.  But I’m not sure that masking a problem medicinally is going to cure an ill socially.  The problem is not just that many of us are lonely – although that certainly is concerning.  The deeper problem, though, is that many of us are, quite literally, alone:

“Nearly 30 million Americans live alone, many not out of preference,” said Christophe Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. In Canada, the proportion of the population living in one-person households has quadrupled over the past three generations in Canada to 28 percent in 2016, from seven percent in 1951.

 Life expectancy is growing, fertility rates are falling and the population is aging. We’re marrying later and having fewer children, if any at all. Technology means we can do almost all we need to do from home without physically interacting with a single human soul.

Solutions to problems like these cannot be solved by a pill. They can only be solved by other people.

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God once said of the first man He had created (Genesis 2:18). So, God made for him a companion in Eve. And He’s been making companions ever since. We are called both to find companions and to be a companion. We simply cannot live – at least not well – any other way.

Community is critical for so many things. It is critical to hold us accountable in sin. It is critical to encourage us in dark times. It is critical to celebrate with us good times. It is critical to help us in tough times. There are too many things in life that we simply cannot face alone.

A feeling of loneliness may be able to be helped along by picking up a prescription. A state of aloneness, however, can only be solved by reaching out to another person. So, reach out and help wipe out aloneness. Together, we’re better.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sharon Devora  |  August 26, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Such an insightful blog today. I have never had the kind of loneliness I felt and still feel after losing my husband. And sometimes social situations even provoke the loneliness as everyone seems to be coupled. Of course that’s not true, but your feelings are undeniable. It’s a feeling I doubt I will ever get over after 4 years of being alone. My joy is in my Jesus now.

  • 2. WillNeverBeShaken  |  August 27, 2019 at 4:47 am

    It is not just alone from people. First, people need God in their hearts. Reaching out to people is good, but doing so in the absence of God, thinking that merely connecting with humans will cure that loneliness, just makes things worse. Not sure the biblical way of saying that (I am sure there is something in Proverbs or Ecclesiastes), but I have got about a decade of experience that tells me it must be true. We need God deep in our hearts so that we may rely on His wisdom and guidance when choosing people for companionship. I know it goes without saying, but I also think it must always be said.

  • 3. Jon Trautman  |  August 28, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    For me solitude can be pleasant and reflective, but loneliness is a whole other ugly matter. I looked for this quote I had in the back of my mind from a long ago read of CS Lewis. I found it! ”Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage ruin and decay. Look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him everything else thrown in.


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