Life Alone

Finding a Healthy Space Between Solitude and Isolation

A quiet plague grows acute at this time of year – social isolation. It can trigger a host of chronic health problems, including obesity. Writing in the New York Times, physician Dhruv Khullar explains:

Social isolation is a growing epidemic — one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.

Loneliness is an especially tricky problem because accepting and declaring our loneliness carries profound stigma. Admitting we’re lonely can feel as if we’re admitting we’ve failed in life’s most fundamental domains: belonging, love, attachment.

But the good news is that every one of us has the capacity to reduce the burden of isolation. The only necessary tools are care and respect. Respect for individual differences helps to distinguish between solitude and isolation.

While solitude is something that people seek, isolation is something imposed on people. Solitude provides healthy time for reflection. Some people need more solitude than others. Isolation comes from losses and situations beyond a person’s control. No one seeks loneliness.

Caring about a neighbor, friend, or relative does not require curing their problems. It requires only the time that it takes to listen and earn a person’s trust. It requires setting aside your own concerns and beliefs to hear and understand someone else’s. Genuine caring is not visible, but it is unmistakeable. Don’t bother trying to fake it.

Can you think of someone who might not know that you care about them? Think about investing time to show them.

“Give me solitude, sweet solitude, but in my solitude, give me still one friend to whom I may murmur, solitude is sweet.” – Elbert Hubbard

Click here for Khullar’s essay. Here, here, and here you can find more about social isolation.

Life Alone, photograph by Geir Tønnessen, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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December 24, 2016