Search the web and you will find that such studies about the impact of isolation and loneliness on the body abound, and most point to the importance of perceived loneliness rather than specifics about actual social interaction. Most of us have had at least some experience with feeling lonely even while in a crowd. You can’t gauge loneliness by how many people with whom you surround yourself.
How many “friends” do you have on Facebook and other online networking platforms? Do these people meet your need for companionship? The social networking available online can help ease the sense of isolation, especially for people with mobility problems, but only to a point.
Getting out of the house and into social situations can help us to feel like active participants in the world, but it is still not enough. What we need, and what is increasingly lacking, is face time with people we feel comfortable with, people we trust, people with whom we can let our hair down and be ourselves. In my book, face time means turning off the trappings of technological distractions. No texting while visiting, please.
When I was raising young children as an “at home mom,” my life was the perfect storm for isolation and loneliness. Most mothers in my neighborhood were working and I lived 1,000 miles away from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other assorted family members who would otherwise enrich my daily life.
Fortunately, I made a couple of friends who, although we now are also geographically separated, remain part of my most cherished memories of that period.
One was a fellow at home mom. Living in the same neighborhood, we saw each other often, but set aside some “coffee time” every other week or so, alternating in each other’s homes. While our children played, we sipped coffee and shared our lives, our hopes, and our dreams. Our simple cup of coffee generally lasted two or three hours.
The other was a working mom, a teacher, who every so often would drop by for afternoon tea before going home to prepare dinner for her family. The children played while we laughed and cried and supported one another through all manner of good times and bad. Sometimes talk was serious, sometimes silly. Always enriching.
Those associations have remained with me as some of the most valuable friendships of my life because I knew that I could (and still can) count on these women for support and mutual respect. I didn’t need a lot of friends to stave off the feeling of isolation, just a few solid friendships. There was no way that I could have felt the pang of loneliness while these women were in my close circle, and it did us all a world of good.
It always comes back to that old mind/body connection. We all need to feel part of something meaningful, and we owe it to ourselves to make an effort to connect and reconnect with our fellow human beings. Our health and well-being depends on it.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo