Loneliness: The Other Pandemic



loneliness:  an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation


In my last post, I explored the universal need to belong… to be claimed by someone or a group of someones who value us.  The feeling that we do not belong at a level that satisfies us is, at its core, an expression of loneliness.


To be lonely is to feel a sense of isolation from other humans whose presence we believe could nurture and fulfill us.  To feel lonely is an intensely unpleasant state. 


To be alone is not necessarily to feel loneliness.


We all need to be alone sometimes.  It can be calming, refreshing, rejuvenating or spiritually fulfilling.  But to feel lonely is to feel a sense of isolation from others whose company we seek.


Covid-19 has challenged us all to deal with the physical and emotional isolation imposed by this devastating pandemic.  Loneliness became a way of life for so many of us.  But the challenges of loneliness are much more universal… much more common than we would like throughout our lives.


In fact, I contend that loneliness is, itself, a pandemic.


Modern culture has made it pervasive in all our lives.   We have never been as connected as we are today, yet we have never felt more lonely.  The consequences in the quality of our lives and in our relationships have been profound.  We see those consequences clearly in the turbulent social lives of young people.  But our aging population is affected just as much, or more.


Aging can intensify the sense of isolation.


Children grow up and move away – emotionally and/or geographically.  Others in their lives become more important.  We find ourselves competing for attention, longing for acknowledgement of our importance… confirmation that our children still value us and love us.


The same is true of friends, colleagues or extended family members.  In today’s complex, mobile world, relationships change – often and sometimes profoundly – and we find ourselves feeling isolated from others whose company we cherished.


When feelings of loneliness exceed unpleasant, and reach a level of intensity that negatively affects the way we think and live, we must look inward and assess what we can do to make some changes.  Extended periods of intense loneliness can lead to depression and severe anxiety that are a danger to our well-being.  We cannot let that happen.


Loneliness is as dangerous to our health as smoking.


The physical toll on our bodies from the stress of loneliness is as powerful as smoking.  In fact, loneliness affects longevity as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.  That stress undermines our immune system.  It’s as unhealthy as it is unpleasant.


Not all loneliness is deadly, but it must be addressed before it develops into a chronic state of life.


The Broadway Play Dear Evan Hansen is about loneliness – not feeling like you belong – not having others who claim you, accept you and value you.  The play is about teenagers and their parents, but the theme is universal.  If you can just hold up your head, look around and reach out… you will be found.  The play’s iconic anthem “You Will Be Found” makes me cry every time I hear it with tears of hope and redemption.


Overcoming loneliness begins with proactive movement up and forward, however slight.  “Every time you call out, you’re a little less alone.” The world will find you.  “Your voice will be heard.”


The play has been made into a movie with Ben Platt reprising his Broadway role as Evan Hansen.  It’s scheduled for release in September 2021, and I will not miss it.  I highly recommend it – guaranteed to move you.  I included a link to the movie trailer below.


I’m also including here the lyrics of “You Will Be Found” – well worth reading.  And I’ve included below the lyrics a link to my favorite version of the song on You Tube. 


You Will Be Found


Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?


Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there's a reason to believe you'll be okay
'Cause when you don't feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand


And oh, someone will coming running
And I know, they'll take you home


Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you're broken on the ground
You will be found


So let the sun come streaming in
'Cause you'll reach up and you'll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found

There's a place where we don't have to feel unknown
And every time that you call out
You're a little less alone
If you only say the word
From across the silence your voice is heard


Out of the shadows
The morning is breaking
And all is new, all is new
It's filling up the empty
And suddenly I see that
All is new, all is new

So when the sun comes streaming in
'Cause you'll reach up and you'll rise again
If you only look around
You will be found


Source: Musixmatch  Songwriters: Benj Pasek / Justin Noble Paul | You Will Be Found lyrics © Pick In A Pinch Music, Breathelike Music


Here is a link to my favorite You Tube video of“You Will Be Found” (Love the energy of the young people).  Also a link to the trailer for the Dear Evan Hansen movie.


And here is a link to an interesting 60 Minutes Australia segment on loneliness. At the end William Shatner, when asked what is the one piece of advice he would give to those fighting loneliness, says...

“Do something for somebody.”

Couldn’t agree more.  Reaching outside yourself to help others is perhaps the single most powerful anti-loneliness medicine.  See for yourself.