December 25th many people around the United States and the world will be celebrating Christmas with family and friends. Those celebrating and those not, may also be suffering mentally or physically. Stress, depression, hopelessness, and illness appear to be becoming more prevalent.
In November the LA Times published a very depressing article about the decline of life expectancy in the United States. Yes, you read that right. Life expectancy in what used to be considered a major world power, is now declining. More concerning to me is why there is a decline. The article described how chronic stress is the root cause of the increase in illness and premature death.
Unfortunately, I don’t have suggestions to fix the employment and healthcare challenges which often lead to this stress. Instead I would like to explore how connection and service can help lessen our stress and improve our health.
As our tools for communication – internet, social media – increase, our ability to connect with others often decreases. One reason is that we are having monologues versus dialogues. Our posts are desperate cries for someone to see and notice us. The result is not connection, but more isolation brought about by comparison, jealously, and self-pity. When the posts do appear to be dialogues, they are usually still monologues spouting us-vs-them diatribes.
The result is loneliness. We have 500 Facebook friends, and no real-world friends. All of our personal facts and figures, data to describe us, are available online, but no one knows or can see what is in our heart. We are in constant communication but have no real connection.
To reconnect with those around you, turn off your computer and meet someone face-to-face. Use your telephone as the verbal tool it was initially created for, instead of as an isolating computer game. Next, listen more than you talk. Ask questions and really hear the answers. When you do talk, talk from the heart. Share your whole truth, not a censored truth projecting what you think others will be impressed by or what you think is the acceptable norm. True connection is found in our fears and foibles, more than a sanitized version of the truth.
Loneliness and hopelessness grow when we isolate and detach. Instead, get out of yourself and help another. Maybe that means volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, a soup kitchen, or a women’s shelter. Maybe it means simply talking to the lonely widow in your building. The service you do is not as important as getting out of yourself and thinking of others.
When we feel poorly, we often reach for comfort food, a glass of wine, or an illicit substance to make the pain go away. Those may help for a little while, but they don’t last – and they often have lasting negative side effects or repercussions. Helping another has more positive effects and results for others and us. It helps us get out of ourselves and our own self-pity. In supporting another, we gain hope as we often see solutions for others we could not see for ourselves. Giving to others is not only charity, but is also one of the most selfish things we can do because it always makes us feel better.
We may not have power to change the economy, our employer, or the healthcare system. We do, however, always have the power to change our reaction to our circumstances. Focusing on pain, fear and worries only increases pain, fear and worry. When we choose instead to get out of our self by making true connections and giving freely in service, we find real happiness, hope and joy returning to us.
Wishing you all a happy, hopefully, and healthy 2020!