There are too many of us feeling isolated. And, unfortunately, loneliness can be unhealthy.
The conclusion from a study by the University of California, San Francisco, supports this: “Among participants who were older than 60 years old, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.”
Since a majority of the baby-boomer generation is more than 60 year old, there is a great focus on elder health care. However, you don’t have to be 60 or older to experience the influence loneliness can have on emotional and physical health. Sadly, we all can suffer.
If loneliness is a health risk, shouldn’t the easy answer be to get a friend? Apparently, it’s not that simple.
Often, people suffering from loneliness keep to themselves if they feel rejected rather than accepted by others. It's hard for these solitary individuals to make acquaintances or cultivate friendships, especially when they are feeling unwanted, uncared for or estranged.
You’d have to assume this mental detachment compounds the problem, for it promotes an even greater sense of loneliness. Because of this, the unhealthy cycles of isolation keep spinning.
An Associated Press article recently stated, “Having a positive attitude about getting older affects how long you will live. In a study of 660 Ohioans by professors at Yale University, people with more positive perceptions of their own aging lived an average of seven-and-a-half years longer.”
This is good news for the confident and assured, but just more bad news for the isolated souls who are suffering.
Having others interested in your well-being can be helpful. However, might there be a possible connection between the healthy outcomes of those who identify themselves as having friends and those who regularly attend religious services?
Dr. Jeff Levin, in a 2002 noteworthy publication, shared data from a wide variety of studies regarding the physical health benefits of attending faith-based services. He wrote, “Attending services at least weekly reduced by almost 50 percent the risk of death the following year. …[One] study found that …frequent religious attendance in 1965 was still reducing the risk of dying in 1994.”
Having friends contributes to health, and, apparently, attending religious services does too, so what’s the connection?
Some feel it’s the support found in church fellowship that promotes health. In other words, noticing and acting on another’s emotional, physical or financial needs leads to positive health benefits for both parties.
However, more than psychological coping mechanisms are in operation. Studies also show embracing love, forgiveness and patience can contribute to healthier outcomes.
Therefore, it’s not just friendships or the time spent at religious services that are the answer for the loneliness that undermines health and longevity. I believe, there is something more impacting health.
As we cultivate a greater spiritual sense of life, the heavy burden of loneliness can be thrown off.
If you and I took a deep dive into what affects mankind the most, we would soon discover there is a fundamental spiritual principle or divine being responsible for happiness and health.
Perhaps this is why the most common type of complementary and alternative medicine treatment that mid-life women in the United States use to maintain their health is prayer.
Not long ago, Dr. Graham, president and C.E.O. of the Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, told me about the 3,000 or more randomized controlled trial studies in medical literature that show a 66 percent positive correlation between spirituality and health. The institute's purpose is to educate health care professionals about the role of spirituality in health care.
So, when evidence reveals loneliness as a health risk, and when some of us struggle to cultivate human friendships, it’s important each of us learn that we have access to - and are worthy of - the love and care of a divine being who never leaves us alone.
Keith Wommack is a syndicated columnist, Christian Science practitioner, teacher, husband and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com