The Pain of Loneliness – The Health Risks of Feeling Isolated are Physical, Not Just Emotional. This was the title of an article that appeared in the Charlotte Observer newspaper the other day. It was written by Jane Brody, health columnist for the New York Times. The title of her original article as it appeared in the NY Times was Shaking Off Loneliness.
Brody writes, “I filled my lonely nights with food – Anything I could get my hands on, especially candy, cookies and ice cream. Food fulled the hole in my soul, at least temporarily”
What the Research Says About Loneliness and Health
Her article referenced one study where researchers noted that those who scored high on a loneliness scale ate substantially more fatty foods than those who scored low. “Is it any wonder that we turn to ice cream or other fatty foods when we’re sitting at home feeling all alone in the world?” says psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago. He also indicates that lonely individuals tend to do whatever they can to make themselves feel better, if only for the moment. He says that they may overeat, drink too much, smoke, speed or engage in indiscriminate sex.
The article indicates that a review of the research showed that “social isolation is on par with high blood pressure, obesity, inactivity or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.”
These following statements were included in Brody’s article:
Loneliness can impair health by raising levels of stress hormones and increasing inflammation. The damage can be widespread, affecting every bodily system and brain function.
In one study, lonely people had higher levels of inflammation-inducing substances in the blood of lonely people. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and even suicide attempts. People who are lonely also react more strongly to negative events and perceive daily life as being more stressful, which can depress the immune system.
According to Dr. Cacioppo, having many friends and family members around does not guarantee immunity from loneliness if the relationships are missing a strong emotional connection. The quality of these relationships — how meaningful they are to the individual — counts more than numbers in predicting loneliness, his studies and others have shown.
Loneliness is more deadly than obesity. See the infographic at the link to the left.
The Bible on Loneliness
God gives us insight and instruction with some very helpful scriptures in the Bible on loneliness.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles,some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen,while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Why are you so farfrom saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?My God, I cry out by day.. Psalm 22;1-2
The Lord is my shepherd,I lack nothing.He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,he refreshes my soul… Psalm 23:1-3
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. Isaiah 58:10
(God), Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Psalm 25:16
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. John 16:7
You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise you with songs of joy. Psalm 63:5
Loneliness – What You Can Do
Brody writes that Dr. Cacioppo suggests the following as a means to reduce feelings of loneliness:
- Reach out to others with “random acts of kindness”
- Do something that helps them physically or emotionally, maybe something as simple as complimenting a stranger’s outfit, leaving behind the change in a coffee machine, or helping an old person carry groceries or cross the street.
- Try to seek out social activities that help others while fostering social contacts, like volunteering in a soup kitchen, reading to the blind or assisting in a classroom.
The above scriptures in the Bible give us insight into God’s perspective and instructions on this issue of loneliness. If you are lonely, this is what God would want you to do:
- Cry out to God and ask him to comfort you.
- Pray to God that he will help you sense his presence and strength and peace.
- Believe and trust that He alone can satisfy the deepest needs of your soul.
- Praise God.
- Allow the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, to be your companion and comfort you.
- Be connected to other believers who will support and encourage you.
- Serve and give to those in need.
When you feel lonely, God desires that you turn to him and to others believers as a prescription. Times when you are lonely are opportunities in which you can develop a more intimate relationship with God.