My Dear Friends and Readers,
I know what its like to wake up in the wee hours of the morning filled with the fear and anxiety of loneliness; that sense of feeling all alone in a dark and dangerous world where I am incapable of meeting its challenges. In an ideal world I would turn to my sleeping significant other and feel the reassurance of another body sleeping next to mine. However, when alone and in those moments of emotional and physical paralysis for a few moments I feel it would easier to die than fight the enormity of loneliness. In the past, when those moments occurred, when I did not have the skill to talk myself out of this blackness and simply turn on a light-literally and metaphorically, I suffered.
I have since learned that the human species was designed to be communal. In primitive times, as a species we could only survive in groups. Because we are neurologically engineered for survival, chemicals in our brains begin to fire off warnings telling our bodies you better be ready to fight or flee. This high level of hyper- arousal is taxing on the human body.
According to University of Chicago social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, the effects of social isolation or rejection are as real as thirst, hunger, or pain. “For a social species, to be on the edge of the social perimeter is to be in a dangerous position,” says Cacioppo, who co-authored Loneliness:
Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. “The brain goes into a self-preservation state that brings with it a lot of unwanted effects.”
Cacioppo’s research suggests loneliness actually alters gene expressions, or “what genes are turned on and off in ways that help prepare the body for assaults, but that also increase the stress and aging on the body.” Animal studies have shown that social isolation alters levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that determines impulsive behavior.
The combination of toxic effects can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory, and heart disease. Studies show that loneliness increases the risk for early death by 45 percent and the chance of developing dementia in later life by 64 percent.
I have described the emotional pain of loneliness and listed some of its consequences, but what is there to do?
The obvious answer is make friends and create a community. This may be difficult for a lot of people, especially those who have isolated themselves for long periods.
But all it takes is reaching out. Yes, not everyone will want to be your friend. Keep reaching out anyway.
Fifteen days ago, I reconnected with the two women in this photo. It’s a beginning, and I will continue to make new friends wherever I go.
I close by saying reach out and touch somebody. In the end all we really have are our relationships.
Brianna S Clark
The Addict Writes