By: Frank McKinley
“Sometimes I feel so – I don’t know – lonely. The kind of helpless feeling when everything you’re used to has been ripped away. Like there’s no more gravity, and I’m left to drift in outer space with no idea where I’m going’
Like a little lost Sputnik?’
I guess so.”
Will Life Ever Get Back to Normal?
As I write this, we’re slowly and carefully reopening the world so we can do business again.
Where I live, there isn’t a lot of sicknesses. But when I travel to work, the death rate from Covid19 is 100 times higher than the infection rate at home.
People are wearing masks everywhere. We’re so scared we assume everyone could have the disease. And with that in mind, caution is warranted.
We all want this pandemic to be over so we can go back to the way things were.
It won’t happen overnight.
We might as well make the best of it, right?
A Deadly Side Effect
There’s another plague that is infecting lots of people right now – whether or not they have the virus.
This plague reached epidemic proportions two years before Covid-19 grabbed everyone’s attention.
In 2018, Cigna interviewed 20,000 people for their well-being survey. Here’s some of what they found:
- One in two Americans reports feeling lonely most of the time.
- Two in five Americans feel isolated.
- One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people.
- 18% don’t think there are people they can talk to about themselves.
- Only half of Americans have daily in-person interaction with someone they care about.
- Generation Z is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than their elders.
Social Media is Not the Answer for Your Lonely Heart
Here’s something else that might shock you. People who spend hours daily on social media are as lonely as people who never use it.
And what’s worse than that?
Loneliness is literally killing you.
WebMD reports loneliness causes heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system.
“Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,” says Douglas Nemecek, MD, chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna.
Loneliness can actually break your heart. The American Heart Association studied 1600 people who had heart disease and reported feeling lonely. Loneliness increased the death rate four times.
A New Lease on Life
Most of us can’t escape the real isolation of sheltering in place. Let’s work on getting past loneliness. What feeds loneliness? The Cigna survey reveals some telling causes:
- Feeling alone
- Feeling misunderstood
- No meaningful relationships
- A lack of intimacy in relationships
- No one to trust
- Limited conversations
- An inaccurate view of reality
Are You Alone or Feeling Alone?
There’s a big difference between feeling alone and being alone. You can feel alone in a crowd though people surround you. You can feel alone when you’re with a small group if no one talks or listens to you.
Being misunderstood is frustrating. You feel like you always have to explain yourself.
Having no close friends is worse than being at home alone. A phone call, a text message, or a video chat with someone who cares can chase loneliness away, which gives you hope for today and tomorrow.
Did you notice what most of these survey responses have in common?
Breaking the Chains
Perceptions feed feelings. You take what you see and suit it to fit your beliefs. It may not really be true, but that doesn’t matter. As long as something is black and white in your mind, nobody will ever convince you otherwise.
Don’t let your feelings keep you bound to lies.
Your reality today can change tomorrow. You just have to be willing to challenge what you believe.
It’s simple to do, but it may not be easy. You might feel vulnerable and even get hurt. But if you’re hurting already anyway, why not risk a little pain to move you to a better place?
- Don’t wait for people to care.
- Give them a reason to care about your well-being.
- Be vulnerable.
- Serve people’s needs.
- Make them feel important.
Do you know what will happen?
You’ll feel better about yourself. You’ll matter to someone. And you’ll know you’ve done your part to make the world a little better than it was yesterday.
With that in mind, let’s apply this to your writing.
Share your struggles
Social media can be a great tool. Too often, though, it turns into a comparison game.
● Here’s what I had for dinner. How about you?
● Look at these highlights from my dream vacation. Aren’t you jealous?
● My baby just got her Ph. D. from Harvard. Mind if I gloat?
Of course, we want to cheer our friends on when something great happens to them. But when our entire Facebook feed is a highlight reel, it can make our ordinary lives seem pathetic in comparison.
So why not use these platforms as a chance to have conversations? Why not write something that helps people instead of just publishing flowery words that only invite flattery?
Show people that you’re not living in some ivory tower. Use your words to invite people to gather and work out a better way to live.
We may both be lonely sometimes. But let’s take a minute to trade loneliness for connection.
Lift others, and you’ll lift yourself.
Ask better questions
We have enough people telling us how. Why not ask “Why” instead?
Tips, techniques, and hacks won’t work if you don’t use them. And if you do, they work better if you know why.
Asking why digs into purpose. Why do I want to feel better? Maybe I don’t want to die. That’s a pretty powerful motivator. It’s also why I started this post with all the stats about loneliness.
Yes, it is dangerous.
No, it’s not impossible to overcome. If other people have done it, what did they do? Why did it work? What motivated them to change?
Knowing why and how is like having all the ingredients you need to bake a cake. If you leave out the eggs, it will fall apart. If you don’t frost it, it won’t taste the same. Put everything in, and your success is assured.
When you answer why and how, your writing will be more delicious to hungry readers.
Expand your horizons
If you’re stuck at home, and you have more time than ever to write, why not go where you’ve never been before?
- Write a story if you usually write nonfiction.
- Write poetry if you usually write articles.
- Although you care deeply about a topic, write about the opposite side.
Sure, it will be awkward. But you’re used to using words to express yourself; this is just a different format or a challenging assignment. You’ll get through this.
And no, you don’t have to share it if you don’t want to.
You might never try it again.
There is one thing I can guarantee. You’ll have a greater appreciation for what other writers do. And you’ll approach your own work with renewed enthusiasm.
Stretch your creative muscles. It’ll do your body of work good.
Now Do This
Don’t settle for being lonely.
- Reach out to someone who shares your interests and have a conversation.
- Write something that helps someone, even if you don’t make a penny for your efforts.
- See the world as a community, even if our physical walls are standing between us all right now.
We’ll get through this eventually.
Until then, add significance to yourself by giving it to others.
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