Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

How Do You Heal Loneliness?

HP meditate:loneliness 2.jpgIf I had to name the most common complaint I hear among depressives, it is that they are lonely. Just five minutes ago, I replied on a thread within Group Beyond Blue to a woman who started a thread called “Who Do I Turn To?” She wants so badly to connect with another woman–as the anchors in her life, her mother and friends, have either passed on or moved.

So many of us are lonely. It is at the core of so many disorders and illnesses. Not just the imaginary ones made up in our psyches (or so many think), but heart disease and immunity functions and nervous system disorders. Many of our health issues in this country stem from loneliness.


In his PsychCentral blog, “Loneliness Is Not a DSM-5 Disorder, But It Still Hurts,” Psychiatrist Ron Pies reports on what loneliness does to the body. He writes:

It’s easy to assume that loneliness is simply a matter of mind and mood. Yet recent evidence suggests that loneliness may injure the body in surprising ways. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine studied the risk of coronary heart disease over a 19-year period, in a community sample of men and women. The study found that among women, high degrees of loneliness were associated with increased risk of heart disease, even after controlling for age, race, marital status, depression and several other confounding variables. (In an email message to me, the lead author, Dr. Rebecca C. Thurston, PhD, speculated that the male subjects might have been more reluctant to acknowledge their feelings of loneliness).


Similarly, Dr. Dara Sorkin and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, found that for every increase in the level of loneliness in a sample of 180 older adults, there was a threefold increase in the odds of having heart disease. Conversely, among individuals who felt they had companionship or social support, the likelihood of having heart disease decreased.

And lest there be any doubt that loneliness has far ranging effects on the health of the body, consider the intriguing findings from Dr. S.W. Cole and colleagues, at the UCLA School of Medicine. These researchers looked at levels of gene activity in the white blood cells of individuals with either high or low levels of loneliness. Subjects with high levels of subjective social isolation — basically, loneliness — showed evidence of an over-active inflammatory response. These same lonely subjects showed reduced activity in genes that normally suppress inflammation. Such gene effects could explain reports of higher rates of inflammatory disease in those experiencing loneliness.


What to do about it?

Dr. Pies suggests support groups, especially those for particular medical conditions, like cancer, depression, or addiction. Nurturing friends certainly fill in the hole … if we can keep our expectations in check.For some ideas on how to make friends, check out “13 Ways to Make Friends.”

And finally, just stay with it. Feel it.  Accept it, even as you want to run from it. Because it’s part of being human. I’ve always found great solace in the words of Henri Nouwen:


When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing–to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

It is not easy to stay with your loneliness. The temptation is to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for healing.


Illustration by Anya Getter.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Cindy

    Four years ago I was in the midst of a serious depression. Hardly able to work, I felt trapped in a darkness and confusion I could hardly bear. I clung to Therese’s words as I slogged through each day. I was deeply lonely. I had lost my sister, my mother and my best friend in quick succession. I knew part of my problem was that I had lost the supportive women in my life and, even in my paralyzing depression, began to build bridges with women. I FORCED myself to make phone calls, lunch invitations, and attend parties. I became a regular at a good 12-Step meeting and attended church. It was horribly hard.
    Today I am well. I take my medicine religiously, practice meditation, and attend a wonderful yoga class. But one of the best things in my life are my friends. I have dear friends now from age 24 to 82 and all the decades in between. It takes time and patience, especially if you are an introvert like me. But it is so worth the effort. You may find yourself lonely, but you don’t have to stay lonely. Blessings.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jeanette

    Depressives???? We are not our disease. We are peoplr who suffer from depression!!!!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment SunLuver

    I’m so horribly lonely but I’m afraid of new people . I can’t ” make myself do it ” like the other commentator could . I know what a huge difference even a little social support can bring . Is there any hope for me ?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Richard

    I couldn’t agree more with your quote from Henri Nouwen, ‘acknowledging and accepting our own inner feelings opens our hearts & souls to healing’. As a depressive, who has struggled with my condition during my lifetime, I would like to make you and your readers aware of an organization that has helped me immensely in this area. The non-profit spiritual community and education corporation is It’s founder, Beth Green, has written an extraordinary book called LIVING WITH REALITY. It’s a textbook for higher consciousness that leads to new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It’s powerful! offers many programs including Consciousness Boot Camp which is an internet-based program. I encourage you and your readers to examine these resources to see how they might assist our healing. Thank you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Melissa

    very good article…there are supplments we can take to help combat the inflammatory response in our bodies. Loneliness is real but we always have a friend in Jesus.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pixie

    I also have trouble making friends but sometimes the littlest effort makes a big difference, like attending a support group. You don’t have to participate unless you are comfortable with it. Don’t make it too hard.

    I am also finding that I shouldn’t hang on to people who are toxic to me, like some of my family. I get wonderful support from my dad but other members put me down and refuse to even try to understand. Everything I do is wrong. I have been struggling with the fact that these people see nothing good about me. That hurts. They have made horrible accusations and twisted around my words to say something that I never said. They treat me like I am absolutely worthless

    I have to remind myself that nobody else sees me that way. I do not need to seek my family’s approval. In fact the more I try the more they believe I am lying to them.

    Anyway I have been telling myself that I am a Child of God and I don’t have to listen to people who don’t appreciate me.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Strange to Others

    When I left my alcoholic aggressor husband, failed school, fall into poverty and despair, I found myself having NOTHING and NOBODY- not a single friend remained with me… at least to talk to. Well, I still have Jesus… Yet, even he doesn’t respond. I used to be loyal and supportive to my friends and family – until became the one who asked for loyalty and support.The reality is very simple – nobody needs sick and poor. Nothing works.

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