Overcoming Isolation: How to Survive a Lonely World.

Over the last hard hitting and heavy week, I have discussed, pondered, lost sleep, and discussed some more the concept of surviving in times that feels so hard and so dark. I have tried to wrap my mind around the desperation and brokenness that people must feel before they submit themselves to a story that ends in suicide. Maybe it’s my perfectionism, need for control, or possibly just the INFP in me that wants to find a path towards healing for those broken and isolated souls. I find myself fixated on gaining understanding surrounding the proliferating rate of suicide in our world today. Perhaps the concept of preventing continued suicide is beyond my capacity and reach; however, I firmly and passionately believe that initiating a conversation might be THE answer to just one person’s plight towards healing.

Did you know the rate of suicide increased 25% from 1999-2016? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide was double the rate of homicide in 2016. A New York Times article from 2016 says:

“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. . .

The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study.”

Personally, I think there is no coincidence that our consumption of all things internet, social media, etc. rampantly increased at about the same time. I created my Facebook in 2004. About when did you create your social media platform for identity, communication, and entertainment? I was not nearly as obsessed with social media until it was at my fingertips each moment of the day, how many hours a day to you spend mindlessly scrolling, comparing, judging, etc? Let me briefly step off of my soap box to say that I use social media to promote my blog, my side business, to share memories with friends and family…I value the ease and simplicity of communication within this format; however, it cannot be our only source of socialization. Our desire to be constantly connected, I argue, has led to a lack of genuine human connection. I talk about this more in my post Constantly Connected. Despite our ability to be “constantly connected,’ isolation and social isolation seem to be on the rise.

Quick fact about suicide rates, the states with the historically highest suicide rates are Montana and Alaska. Social isolation in Montana is a problem. Due to geographical realities and cultural norms, people are disconnected from one another.  While I recognize that social isolation is not a problem for every community in these  states, I cannot deny the reality that rural communities (typically) provide increased opportunity for isolation.

The fascinating reality of our world today however, is that we can be in a room with 700 people in a city buzzing with activity and have our minds and hearts elsewhere. We are rarely mindfully present in the space we exist. We are engaged in multiple conversations over various platforms at any given moment. We no longer have to be literally isolated by our geography to exist in a state of isolation.

“Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.

A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.”

We are replacing our previous inclination to engage in community in our cities and neighborhoods with online interaction. When we go to dinner or to a party with friends, we spend a fair chunk of time staring at our phones. Our comfort in communicating with a keyboard is exceeding our ability to have face to face, meaningful dialogue fueled with nonverbal communication and all the delightful feels that cannot be adequately expressed without eye contact. I love my emojis people, but there is not an emoji or GIF that can fully impress the depth of love, the elation of joy, or the desperation of grief. We need human connection. We need vulnerable interactions to truly understand love, joy, grief, and every other exquisite emotion that makes up our human experience.

Not only does our infatuation with social media lead to less face to face interaction, it creates a breeding ground for comparison. The comparison trap leads to either feelings of inadequacy or judgment.  I am either not good enough or at least I am doing better than that guy.   If you follow my blog at all, you know I love Brene Brown – a shame researcher. She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Humans are built for and called to community. We are meant for connection. However, we find ourselves avoiding genuine connection, getting lost in the trap of comparison and wondering why we feel overcome with shame and loneliness.

I am not attempting to solicit support for a ban on social media. As I stated previously, I think our digital connection and access to social media equips us with resourcefulness and allows a different type of engagement. However, I think we MUST recognize the value of human connection and find a balance in our lives that leads to feelings of connectedness. I am also not making a claim that digital connection is the sole cause of isolation and suicide in our world today. However, recognizing the shift in culture, the decline in face to face interaction, and the crumbling of community as we once knew it is relevant in this conversation.

As a mental health professional I recognize that mental illness can be a terminal diagnosis. Despite lifelong battles, medication regimen adjustments, years of therapy…some people do not survive. But what if a willingness and opportunity to connect boosted the brain functionality of even a small percentage of those that are at risk for completing suicide, would reaching out make it worth it? Would promoting a conversation about the beauty of human connection be valuable? I think so.

Make an effort to engage in raw, vulnerable, and real interaction with someone today. Rather than comment on a post or stalk their profile, reach out to a friend that you haven’t connected with recently. Plan to spend valuable time in person. Plan to be genuinely present and mindful during your time with loved ones.

Check on your people. I love the post circulating that encourages us to “check on our strong friends,” we know that suffering does not discriminate.  If you know someone that struggles with shame, comparison, loneliness, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety or any other human experience that is hard to overcome alone…reach out. Help them recognize their worthiness.  If you are struggling with those realities, release your fears and step into a moment that provides connection. This world is way easier to survive if we are in this together.

Check out the websites listed here:

https://www.crisistextline.org/

http://www.suicideispreventable.org/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

These are great resources for suicide awareness and prevention. If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, know that there are so many places to turn for support. We are increasingly capable of overcoming the pain of mental illness with support. Talking about this stuff is hard, but I will leave you with the quote I keep on my email signature. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brene Brown. Fostering human connection in our lives might just help us survive.

silhouette of people during sunset
Photo by Belle Co on Pexels.com

Understanding Our True Self

I am currently participating in a 21 guided meditation through The Chopra Center. This particular meditation, “Shedding the Weight: Mind, Body, and Spirit” is a collaboration between Deepak Chopra and Oprah. I am on day 7 and loving it. Oprah and Deepak talk through the concept of balance, lightness, and shedding the heaviness that interrupts our joy, self-kindness, self-awareness, and wakefulness on a day to day basis. Today they spoke specifically about the role of self-care in the pursuit of balance and lightness. The most beautiful parts of my journey with mindfulness have been the moments that allow me to acknowledge (with kindness) parts of me that previously led to insecurity or discomfort. In today’s words, Deepak shares that self-care must be about “inclusion rather than denial or rejection.” Self-kindness is not about pretending we are perfect or allowing ourselves to continue on unhealthy or inappropriate paths. Self-kindness is wrapped up in loving ourselves enough to grow and acknowledging our areas needing growth without judgment. The Centering Thought for today is “My true self leads me to an inspired life.”

Let’s explore ways to understand our true selves. The first step is awareness. Awareness of our bodies and minds helps to guide us to a deeper level of understanding about who we are, what needs we have, and what speaks to our souls. Clearly…mindfulness and meditative practices are a key step to achieving a heightened level of awareness. Implementing practices that encourage us to press pause on our hectic and fully consumed lives to come into a moment of stillness and peace in effort to acknowledge where we ARE in the MOMENT helps us find presence and understanding. There will not necessarily be an AH-HA moment when it all clicks and your questions about who you really are will finally be answered. It is more visceral than logical in my opinion. The questions, fears, experiences, trauma, heartache, failures, etc. all muddy the waters that separate us from remembering who we are outside of our habits and experiences. I think Deepak says it best:

We are the thinker behind the thought, the observer behind the observation, the flow of attention, the flow of awareness, the unbounded ocean of consciousness. We spontaneously realize that we have choices, and that we can exercise these choices, not through some sheer will power but spontaneously. Through meditation, we gradually bring harmony, laughter, and love back into our soul and, in the process, rediscover our unconditioned self, which can never really be lost.

Life can leave us feeling lost. The busyness of the day can leave us feeling numb. Our habits, addictions, and fixations can lead us to a place of shame and discontentment. We so easily exist in a place of unbalance. When we quiet the noise and distractions both literally and figuratively…we get closer to rediscovering the parts of us that get lost though our worldly experiences. I encourage you (with everything in me) to pursue a practice that encourages these moments. There are so many methods, outlets, and guiding points to get you there. From The Stop Method I previously introduced, to the Body Scan Meditation, Yin Yoga, to The Chopra Center Guided Meditation and a million other resources…find a mindfulness practice that fits your lifestyle and personality. The benefits are uncanny. Not only do you achieve increased balance emotionally and spiritually…your body can achieve a greater sense of balance. The impacts of chronic stress can be relieved. Studies have shown that mindfulness slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, provides relief for chronic pain, lowers cholesterol, reduces the level of stress hormones and toxins in your system, enhances immunity, and so much more. I had multiple influences in my life’s journey that encouraged this practice. I was resistant and stubborn. I told myself I was “bad” at meditating and got stuck in a place of judgement rather than opening my mind to this opportunity. Now that I have been able to reap the benefits of practicing mindfulness, my only wish is that I had been open to this lifestyle sooner. I was craving the stillness. I needed to get back in touch with who I was underneath the baggage of my past and fears of the future.

When I think about the idea of TRUE SELF, I think about children. I am surrounded by my own dynamic and vibrant children so often that they are often on my frontal lobe and in my thoughts. Children are brave, joyful, excited, non-judgmental, and decisive. They are inspired. They are hungry for life experiences. I want to not only get back to the parts of me that laugh out loud and dance without hesitation; I want to inspire my children to cling tightly to their true selves. I want them to be less jaded and influenced by the outside world. When I struggle with committing to my self-care and mindfulness practices, I remember the inherent value that this journey has provided me and my family.

Outside of mindfulness, there are some other fun ways that I have gotten to know myself more and obtained a deeper understanding of what makes me tick. One of my favorite practices (in my personal life and in my counseling practice) is the Meyers Briggs Type Inventory. I was able to take the full version of this inventory in graduate school and taking this test was such a meaningful moment for me. Not everyone wants to invest in the cost associated with the official inventory, so the alternative is the 16personalites.com. This is a brief quiz that will let break down different components of your personality and provide you with 5 letters that make up your personality type: Mind (how we interact with our surroundings,) Energy (how we see the world and process information,) Nature (how we make decisions and cope with emotions,) Tactics (our approach to work, planning and decision-making,) and Identity (how confident we are in our abilities and decisions.) Taking this test provided me with a great deal of insight into how I engaged with others, where I get my energy from, why I view the world the way I do. I definitely recommend taking some moments to head over to 16personalities.com and giving this test a go! I think you will find it both affirming and encouraging. It is nice to recognize the unique components of your personality in the type you fulfill and it helps you feel connected and understood. Clients always ask, “Did I get a BAD personality type?” And I always respond, “There is not a negative type. The world goes around with all kind of kinds. Our purposes, preferences, and personalities are unique and suited to our purpose. We can always grow and learn to engage our strengths in a purposeful way, but there is no BAD personality.” I happened to be an INFP and have been each and every time I take the quiz. The accuracy is mind-blowing. I LOVE to search INFP on Pinterest to find new quotes, articles, and comparisons that speak to me or make me laugh. Try it out and tell me your thoughts.

I encourage you to take the time to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your personality, your values, and your true self. Self-care is dependent on inclusion. To obtain balance, live out self-compassion, and live our best lives…it is necessary to have self-awareness. Be inspired by your truest self today. Life out your dreams and pursue your goals with the inspiration of knowing your inner self. Release the expectations of others, fears for tomorrow, and shame from yesterday…actively pursue an understanding of who you are in the truest version of yourself.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan