The Loneliness Epidemic Got You? How to Find Peace and Connection

You can feel lonely in a crowd or a friendship or a marriage, and you can feel perfectly happy and filled up when you’re alone. Loneliness has much more to do with the state of your soul than with whether you’re with someone or not. The people around you (or not) impact how you feel, but there’s a lot you can do to impact the epidemic of loneliness.

The fact that many people are lonely Is not news. It’s just that this reality has become even more glaringly problematic in our current culture.

  • The US Surgeon General’s 2023 advisory raises alarm about the devastating impact the epidemic of loneliness and isolation has on health in our society. In part, this has resulted in 1 in 3 young people and 1 in 5 adults experiencing a mental illness.
  • Data from a large study commissioned by Cigna showed that more than half, 58%, of Americans are lonely. And the health implications are significant.
  • The American Perspectives Survey reported that nearly half of Americans, 49%, reported having fewer than three close friends. 12% of interviewees claimed to have zero friends today.

And being married does not vaccinate you from loneliness. While statistically more unmarried people are lonely, large surveys by organizations such as AARP and Gallup show that 20-30% of married people report feeling lonely too. And feeling lonely in marriage may be among the most painful of all.

We could blame the pace of modern life, technology, or the breakdown of the family, all of which play a role. But cursing the darkness never helps. So let’s turn on the light about how you can impact the epidemic of loneliness, especially if you’re “infected” yourself.

The State of Your Soul

As a young person I remember often coming home from an evening with friends or some other gathering and feeling isolated and empty inside. I had just been with people; why did I feel so lonely? Even my prayers seemed useless. I learned that it wasn’t the presence or absence of people that mattered most; it was the walls around my heart that I was hiding behind.

It took time, energy, and courage to address the state of my soul and tear down those inner walls brick by brick. I learned that others couldn’t fix me. And I also learned that I couldn’t become whole without people. I had to learn how to choose reasonably healthy people, develop skills of relating, and embrace my own agency in letting some people closer.

You too may be feeling lonely in a crowd, or perhaps when you’re with your friend or spouse. The physical presence of someone can help. But much more, your soul is seeking to be seen and known. Your heart is longing for intimacy. (And that doesn’t equal sex.)

So, embrace your agency over the state of your soul. That doesn’t mean one decision, one act, or one prayer will instantly zap you to a state of contentment, but it does mean you have a choice. What does your soul need? That might be:

  • Doing intentional work to heal from past trauma
  • Discovering how to be an invitation for people to come closer
  • Developing skills of listening, of being fully present
  • Investing in the hard work to find your people
  • Learning to be a friend to your own self

Make the decision to act, even if it’s hard.

Steps With People

Having someone who sees and knows you changes your very neurobiology. But what if you’re one of the roughly half of adults who feel lonely? It doesn’t work to wait for someone to come to you. It’s great if someone does, but that doesn’t always happen. So you take the initiative to connect.

I’ve heard all the excuses: Nobody cares. I can’t drive. My church is full of self-righteous hypocrites. I’m too embarrassed or ashamed. I’ve tried that and it didn’t work. You can stay miserable if you choose. Or you can do something different.

Who are you acquainted with who might be safe. Ask if they’re willing to listen, and share a piece of your story. If you don’t know anyone, find a 12-step group; they’re free, and you can start today! Can’t drive or can’t get there? Many such groups are meeting online now.

Find a place where you can begin practicing taking the walls down around your heart, piece by piece. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. And it’s OK to go as slow as you wish. But I can also tell you that you won’t find wholeness any other way. As I did that work myself I finally became capable of feeling whole and present whether with others or alone.

Just as important is what you can offer to others. I can 100% guarantee that you know someone, or perhaps a number of people, who need you to be with them. Meeting in person is awesome if you can; invite someone for coffee, or to join you for a run, or something similar. And if in person isn’t an option, call them on the phone. Do it as a gift to them, and your own heart will become more whole also.

Just do it. And keep doing it.

Steps with God

If you’ve been hiding from people behind your inner walls, you’ve been hiding from God too. How often I hear from people who feel God doesn’t hear them or that He doesn’t care. As you do the work to let down the walls around your heart in appropriate places with people, you will become able to let down those same walls in God’s presence also.

Learning to be with Jesus, or more correctly learning to allow Him to be with you, changes everything. He truly sees and knows you. His shoulders are big enough to carry all your angst, anger, pain, or whatever the “stuff” is. You may have to address your unhealthy internal picture of God in the process. As you come to feel felt by God, your very internal neurobiology changes.

Doing this will help you in coming to embrace solitude. Choosing to befriend your own soul and allowing God to befriend you makes time alone valuable, even priceless. And as you do that work you will have so much more to offer to others as well.

Your Turn: Have you been affected by the epidemic of loneliness? Can you see how the walls in your own heart are part of the issue? Where are you going to begin taking those walls down?  I’d love to hear from you; leave a comment below.

Want more? In this week’s podcast episode I talk with Jorge and Danisa Suarez about loneliness in marriage, and what it looks like to rebuild connection if it’s been broken. You can listen or watch here.

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