by Lila Lazarus
This feeling comes on every year just before Thanksgiving. It’s a big, empty feeling. There’s a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat. As discussions turn to holiday plans and family dinners, I can feel my eyes start to water.
If you’re blessed with a big family living close by, you may not understand the pain. But for those of us with small families or families living across the country— or, in my case, around the world — it’s sometimes unbearable. Being without family or a tight, core group of friends can leave you feeling disconnected and depressed. This is the time of year when we count on our tribe. It’s priceless. And if you don’t have a tribe readily available, well…it’s tough. It’s hard to accept that Thanksgiving isn’t going to look like that Norman Rockwell image of the perfect family dinner we grew up with or hoped to have some day.
Having a tribe is a normal human craving. We’re biologically driven to connect. And it’s not just a craving. Having a tribe is good for your health. Studies prove it. A Harvard study showed people who gather together for dinner, card games, movies, church, sporting events and vacations outlive loners by more than two years. And while public health efforts this time of year focus more on the importance of flu shots, loneliness is the real epidemic. Despite all our connecting technologies, rates of loneliness keep going up. Social media helps us appear connected, but it doesn’t give us the same feeling as real human interaction.
Public health experts will tell you social isolation and feelings of loneliness are as much a public health hazard as obesity and smoking. If you’re feeling even slightly lonely, it’s likely a sign your connection levels are running low. And you’re not alone. An AARP study showed 1 in 3 people over 45 feel lonely. So how do we reduce that gnawing feeling of loneliness?
Just as hospitals offer smoking cessation programs, maybe we should be offering seminars on how to get unlonely and build a tribe. In my case, without children or siblings living nearby, I have to make an extra effort this time of year to connect with people. And if you’re still reading this, you probably are interested in building your tribe, too. Here are 5 ways to attract your clan and get through loneliness this holiday season:
Workout with others: I make a concerted effort to work out twice a week in a group. I attend yoga classes every day. Sure I’m working on myself, but I’m also taking the opportunity to connect with others.
Watch what you’re telling yourself: In my case, I have to stop thinking about loneliness and start thinking about connecting. What we focus on expands.
Make an announcement: Let people know you’re creating a posse. This morning I told the girls I work out with that I’m working on building my tribe. Amazingly, they all offered to join!
Take classes: Learn something new. Take an art class or a dance class or enroll in any class you’re passionate about. Focus on what you’re learning and the new people crossing your path.
Stop thinking you’re the only one: The truth is, everyone craves connection. If you put yourself out there, you’ll find people to connect with.
Engage with work colleagues: Rather than conference calls, or virtual meetings, set up meetings in person — eye to eye, face to face. Find human interaction.
Make the effort to reach out: It’s important to schedule time in the day to call or reach out to someone. The only way to be included in someone’s holiday plans is to let them know you’re interested. Take a risk. Make more phone calls, send more emails. It’s not that I have a shortage of friends and acquaintances, but my friends aren’t friends with one another so I have to work to create circles of friends. What’s lacking is that group I can count on when others are with their families. I need to make that extra call and make it happen. Create a girls’ night out or a guys’ night out.
Volunteer: Maybe it’s no coincidence that rates of loneliness are going up and numbers of people volunteering are going down. Our focus seems to be off. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to build your tribe and establish strong bonds. I’m guessing that’s why volunteers live longer and are healthier. Having an impact on someone else’s life has an even bigger impact on yours — giving you a deeper sense of purpose. I just spent two weeks volunteering at orphanages in Romania and teaching yoga to the children. My life will never be the same. The kids grabbed my hand at every opportunity and didn’t want to let go. They, too, crave that connection. That experience will stay with me for months to come.
Be Brave: If you meet someone you want to connect with, tell them. You can’t just think it, you have to act. And once you have that feeling of connection, it truly changes the quality of your life. You’ll have someone to laugh with, someone to cry with and someone to high-five at just the right moment. It’s preventative medicine— better than most diets or exercise plans.
Get help: If you don’t think you can conquer this feeling of loneliness on your own, get a therapist, doctor or psychologist to help. Just know that you are not alone.
You can contact St. Joe’s Ann Arbor Outpatient Behavioral Health Services by calling 800-289-0014.
Lila’s Health Report:
In order to stay healthy, you need to stay active and engaged. In addition to exercise, good nutrition and sleep, you also need a good dose of adventure. So each month I’ll share ways to boost the excitement and passion in your life with adventurous ways to create more wellness in your body, mind and your spirit.