Loneliness Kills

November 08, 2017

When it comes to factors that prematurely kill Americans, studies show that loneliness is more dangerous than obesity.  Social isolation may contribute to increased depression and anxiety, which can lead to a host of serious health issues, and impede brain development in children.

Mary Cassatt – ‘The Child’s Caress’, oil on canvas, c. 1890

As social creatures who experience reality through our bodies, our well-being is dependent upon interaction with others. There is no substitution for the soothing bodily resonance created through face-to-face contact as our nervous systems are designed to interact and engage. When our communications are mitigated by technology we miss all kinds of non-verbal, precognitive cues, which account for the vast majority of information exchanged.  (It is interesting to note that 10 times more information goes from the gut -where we tend to locate intuitive perceptions and “gut feelings”- to the brain than the brain to the body.) Social intelligence and empathy can suffer when we isolate ourselves for a prolonged period from embodied, flesh-and-blood human contact.

We are literally made for one another. When faced with a potentially overwhelming situation our first instinct, if we have healthy attachment bonds, is to reach out for social contact. This regulates our nervous system, thus reducing the chance a stressful situation will develop into trauma. When faced with a challenge it may indeed be helpful to reach out to friends on Facebook for words of support, but as far as your nervous system goes there is no substitute for the nourishment of embodied interaction.

Our ancestors understood this need for connection in a way that we seem to have lost sight of.  Far from being a mere diversion or entertainment, music-making, singing, and dancing together served a healing role for the community and the created resiliency. In some tribal societies even today it is expected that every member of the community participates in music and dance together as a way to maintain social cohesion and reduce conflict. Traditional and tribal cultures may feel confining to modern people who place so much emphasis on independence, yet the instinctual, tribal layer of our humanity is still fundamental and must be tended. We still need one another.  Despite the materialism and technology that comprise the distractions of our modern world, we are still motivated by love.