WHAT LONELINESS CAN COST YOU
People closest to you may be in pain without you knowing it. Loneliness hurts. Suffering in silence isn't a solution, but a dog might be the answer.
Did you know loneliness can kill? According to University of Chicago social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, social isolation or rejection is as real a threat to our well-being 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,” said Cacioppo. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Medical Correspondent concurs. He estimates sixty million Americans suffer from loneliness. Outwardly, people you meet seem happy and social, but that may not be the case.
Psychiatrist Richard S. Schwartz, MD, states, “The brain goes into a self-preservation state that brings with it a lot of unwanted effects. What starts out as situational loneliness can quickly become chronic when people are unable to rebuild after suffering a loss, relationship change, or retirement.”
Author Emily White, who chronicled her own experience in Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude, states “loneliness promotes secrecy and distrust.” It’s a retreat from social connections and living in a negative state that pushes people from situational loneliness to chronic isolation.
Carla Perissinotto is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She reports it’s not just living alone, but having actual feelings of loneliness and isolation that matters. Many of the elderly in her study who said they felt lonely were married or living with family members.
The elderly are not the only group to suffer loneliness. Middle-aged men suffer by being silent. Men are raised in a society where showing emotions or crying is considered “weak.” This is a different kind of isolation. When the urge to talk is resisted, bottled up emotions create isolation and loneliness so devastating, some believe suicide is the only solution. Simon Jack wrote in the BBC News Magazine, “What I didn’t realise [sic] until recently was that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50. A hundred men die a week. It is more prevalent than at any time in the last 14 years and men are four times more likely to end their own lives than women.”
Is there a practical solution? The World of Psychology reports having a dog can end loneliness. Therese Borchard is the host of “Project Beyond Blue,” an online community for persons with treatment-resistant depression and other chronic mood disorders. She wrote, “I was astounded that [my dog] was capable of the empathy that I so craved in my closest friends and relatives. It was like she could read the pathetic and sad thoughts that disabled me and wanted me to know I was lovable in the midst of my suffering.” She continues by saying, “every week I hear tales of four-legged creatures becoming angels in times of terrifying darkness. Indeed, a substantial body of research indicates that pets improve our mental health.”
How can we help? Look into your heart and reflect upon what true loneliness and solitude means to the person suffering from this condition. Don’t text; talk. Spend quality time with your loved ones. Ask questions. Empathize. If you or someone you love needs help and is looking for a compassionate listener, consider a dog. This canine companion will allow you to express your feelings without judgment. The companionship, unconditional love, and support you are yearning for is there in abundance. You will discover the human-canine bond can light up your life and rejuvenate your soul. Together, your dreams can become a reality.
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key.
— Lyrics from Already Gone, performed by the Eagles for their 1974 On the Border album
You will always have a partner down this lonely challenging road. Your dog will share your burden and be the glimmer of light you need when you find it difficult to go on.