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Share your stories; Feel inspired to appreciate times of solitude
On July 9, we're launching our inaugural group therapy sessions with BetterHelp. Our program is called: Becoming Us. The idea is to articulate our emotions to better understand how to become better people as we navigate through this journey toward the new normal - whatever that even means - because every day is a new challenge.
Group sessions are a great way to share stories about how we're dealing with certain struggles. Think about the success of AA.
REGISTER HERE: Becoming Us
For these sessions, I will open up by interviewing a therapist, selected by BetterHelp. I hope to cover many questions in case there are those who are shy in the group. But again, this is about you sharing your stories as a cathartic way to understand your situation and as a way to help others as they can relate to your story, and maybe even be inspired by what you share.
For the July sessions, we'll have Christian Lamb as our BetterHelp therapist facilitating the conversation. So I thought it might be nice to hear a little bit about Christian.
Here's some of his thoughts on the topic of fear and anxiety, keeping in mind that the root cause of fear is losing our life, someone dear to us or an opportunity. In other words, we fear being alone. So this conversation will largely be around how we can learn to appreciate our time alone.
BF: How did you look at your time in solitude and do something with it?
CL: I’ve had a few extended periods of isolation in my life that I would really consider life changing. The first was in the military. I was in the military for 5 years and there were many changes in scenery that landed me in new situations where I had no friends. This was also the first time I had left home when I was 18 so this was a big growing up process for me that helped me to mature and learn to stand on my own.
The second period of loneliness that I had was after I was honorably discharged from the military and ended up in prison for conspiracy to distribute illegal substances. I obviously had more maturing to do and these three years of my life ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences I could have ever had. Throughout this time I was incarcerated I had many periods of complete isolation and times where I just felt lost and alone. I found that the first year of my time locked away was the most challenging. And this was because I was still trying to stay connected to people outside of prison while not truly accepting what my new life behind bars held for me. Once I finally said yes to the experience, accepted the things I didn’t have and found gratitude for the things I did still have then I found myself thriving instead of just surviving. I could then enjoy my new bunk mates stories and personality instead of longing for a conversation with my old friends. Meaningful interactions and relationships became easy once I settled in to my environment and current set of circumstances... I made a choice to make the best of it and I found beauty and meaning all around me, which really came from inside, from my perspective.
The last situation I had that allowed me to be isolated was when I moved to Hawaii in July of 2018. I did this on my own while my wife and four-year-old son stayed behind in FL to ensure our house sold. This ended up taking almost four months and during this time I missed them terribly. We of course made the most of how we could connect and we utilized video chats, texts and phone calls to stay connected. What was just as important though was that I kept in touch with myself and my inner sense of compassion, peace and inspiration. I used this time again for personal growth, which of course has been something I’ve become accustomed to after my military career and prison time. These four months were incredibly inspiring for me and led me to dedicate myself more fully to martial arts and to becoming an entrepreneur which is a word I still struggle to even spell. I was only able to do this because I was connected with my own worth and my own compassion for myself and others. Of course I also found a balance of solitude and physical connection during this time and met some amazing people at a martial arts school here.
BF: What is loneliness?
CL: A literal or perceived sense of being alone or isolated. We can be alone physically yet feel secure and at ease inside and we can be surrounded by friends and family in our life and feel utterly lonely. Our perception creates our reality.
BF: With SIP policies, COVID seems to have made more people lonely. Is that the impact you’re seeing?
CL: I work a lot with couples and during this time of physical distancing and more people working from home, I’ve seen couples having more unresolved conflict with little understanding how to work through it. I’ve found that more conflict is arising due to having much more time together that leads to more opportunity for closeness as well as conflict. The closeness and conflict are opportunities to connect and to find more meaning. I find this is a key topic that I try to pass on to couples so that they don’t feel lonely when their partner doesn’t agree with them, when their partner wants some alone time or when they can’t find a compromise.
BF: On the flip side, has COVID made us discover areas in our life where we might feel lonely?
CL: Of course, I’m a big mindfulness practitioner and proponent and I know how automatic our lives can become. We are creatures of habit and these habits, positive or negative, can be huge distractors from thought patterns that aren’t settling or compassionate. Inevitably when we allow our bodies and our selves to rest for a moment then our inner voice can finally be heard. That would be fine if our self-talk was predominantly positive, grateful and compassionate, but unfortunately many of us can be our own worst enemy instead of a best friend.
BF: Who typically struggles with loneliness? Demographically?
Adolescents and young adults have been found to have the most loneliness. In a report from 2019 63% of men said they were lonely vs. 58% of women. Also 73% of heavy social media users considered themselves to be lonely vs. 52% of light users. 18 - 22 yr olds when surveyed had the highest average loneliness score on an 80 point scale (50) and 56 - 76 yr olds had lowest score (43). Very similar numbers were found in a study done by Cigna in 2019.
BF: What are some of the best evidence-based practices to cope with loneliness?
CL: Routinely utilize video calls for greater connection; Social Skills Training; Engage consistently in a hobby of interest or group activity of interest; Mindfulness Based interventions can be very helpful for reducing stress, acknowledging negative thought patterns and creating a deeper sense of calm. Additionally, they encourage us to become okay with being present for our inner world as well as what is happening in the outer world without having to fill every moment with excitement or productivity. Exercise regularly and get out in nature. Schedule regular calls or meet-ups with family/friends. Obtain a pet or emotional support animal. Journaling to understand our self-talk and process challenging thinking and experiences. Psychotherapy, CBT and DBT are effective for so many mental health issues and loneliness is no different.
BF: What is social media’s impact? [comparing to others, self-isolation]
CL: Easy to feel like we don’t measure up to others when seeing other people’s highlight reels on social media. This has been recognized on social media in recent years and more creators are posting about struggles and more real video and photo that isn’t highly edited or glamorized. This can lead to more meaningful connection and less feelings of not measuring up, however the motivation for posting content also needs to be inspected. If people are posting content on social media to get external reward from others in the form of likes and positive comments then the intrinsic value from experience can be tainted or lost which can also create more loneliness. it’s important to also point out that social media isn’t the issue, but the user of it and how they are using it that can become a problem and can lead to more challenging feelings of apathy and loneliness. It is easy to get caught in always being connected to our social media life since we can now always have the internet with us on our phones and tablets. There are social needs that we have that can not be fulfilled from social media, needs that we only get from more meaningful face to face connection where we feel in tune and present with someone. When we limit ourselves to real connection because we have our face in our phone or tablet during a dull moment this is an issue. Typically these moments would have been an opportunity to connect with someone new, but now we have the option of filling that dull moment with something more exciting that our Facebook friend did last week or with a humorous short clip that was just posted on IG or Twitter.
BF: Should you limit yourself to social media?
CL: Certain social media activity can be helpful for creating a feeling of being connected, however social media becomes a problem when it is being used as the main way for people to try and connect with others and receive recognition.
BF: How do you recognize if someone is lonely?
CL: They may be buying material things, they are absent from reaching out, they have more physical illnesses, unhealthy eating habits, disheveled appearance, looking tired and/or unfocused, complaints about sleep, difficulty with anxiety, self-isolation, lacking social skills or lack of confidence in social skills, sadness, apathy, crying, depression. There are scales for measuring loneliness such as the UCLA Loneliness Scale, but we can also just genuinely ask the question of how someone is doing and if they are feeling disconnected, especially during these current times.
BF: How do you help someone discover that in themselves and what can you do as a friend or family member?
CL: Show up for your friends and loved ones, reach out and make an effort to connect on more than just a surface level with them and really with anyone that you come into contact with. Genuinely asking someone how they are doing and responding with compassionate listening is something we as a country, and perhaps as a world, need to do better. Also encourage friends or family that are feeling lonely to seek therapy. Suicide is a real concern for people who feel lonely. And talking to someone about these concerns is not going to cause the suicide to happen. Some may think this, thinking that they don’t want to put this thought in someone's head, they don’t want to plant the seed of suicide as an option. It’s the other way around though actually, that if you don’t talk to them about suicide then this can serve to plant the seed that you don’t care and the thought of suicide that is already there may become a reality. Educate about the mental and physical health difficulties that can result from loneliness, serves to provide a safe space for people to talk about their feelings, which creates meaningful connection and addresses loneliness at its roots.
BF: How valuable is sharing stories with others?
CL: This is tremendously important and something I’m still learning how to be comfortable with. Sharing our stories allows people to connect with us on a deeper level and gives others a sort of permission to share more and be vulnerable, because we ourselves have taken the risk to be vulnerable with them. I heard this phrased as being an act of generosity and I love this. There of course is an art to this, as it is easy to come off as grandiose. It is just as easy to feel we don’t have anything of worth to share. So there is a bit of a leap of faith in sharing our stories so having that deep and meaningful connection with ourselves is paramount. You never know where these connections to others might lead and keeping this kind of mindset is a fantastic mindful practice I have found that helps me to drop expectations and judgement and be present for whatever arises.
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