1 MORE WAY TO QUIET THE NEGATIVE VOICES INSIDE YOU
It’s Sunday, and I want to remind you of another effective
method for quieting that negative inner voice of yours. But first, let’s
examine a super-common mistake negative people make…
Negative people are often proud to describe themselves as
“realists.” Of course, anyone who holds a strong belief thinks they
are being “realistic” by holding it, whether it involves UFO
encounters or perfectly truthful politicians.
The “being more realistic” declaration is a
favorite of cynics everywhere. And in a way they are correct. But only because
negative thinking causes us not to try – or if we do try, to do it
half-heartedly and give up sooner – so the negativity itself influences our
outcomes. Self-fulfilling predictions like this really do happen. Research has
even found that in some cases what we believe about our health can have more
bearing on how long we live than our actual health.
What makes all of this so scary is the fact that it means
negative thoughts can plague us even when things seem to be going relatively
well. For instance, the thought “It’s too good to last!” quickly wrecks havoc
on a positive situation. Thus, my tip today has to do with how negative
thinking can distort your perception…
Stop yourself from over-generalizing the negative (and
minimizing the positive).
Ask yourself: “If something negative unexpectedly happens, do
I over-generalize it? Do I view it as applying to everything and being
permanent rather than compartmentalizing it to one place and time?”
For example, if someone turns you down for a date, do you
spread the negativity beyond that person, time, and place by telling yourself:
“Relationships never work out for me, ever”? If you fail an exam do you say to
yourself, “Well, I failed that exam; I’m not happy about it, but I’ll study
harder next time”? Or do you over-generalize it by telling yourself you’re “not
smart enough” or “incapable of learning”?
Remember, negative thinking stops us from seeing and
experiencing positive outcomes, even when they happen often. It’s as if there’s
a special mental block filtering out all the positives and only letting in data
that confirms the ‘negative bias.’ So, do your best to catch yourself today.
Being able to distinguish between the negativity you imagine
and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards living
a happier life.
And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know
that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to
feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track.
A FRESH 60-SECOND REMINDER THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR MINDSET (AND SPARE SOME PAIN)
As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment
and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or
slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale
and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe,
without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine
letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let
them be, without having to tense them or control them.
Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects
around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room
with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or
buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.
When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let
them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them,
or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as
they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing
At our annual conference, Think Better, Live Better, Marc and I guide
attendees through this process of letting go—and breathing steadily
through life’s twists and turns (you should get an HD recording of the event).
Truth be told, inner peace begins the moment you take a new
breath and choose not to allow an uncontrollable event to dominate you in the
long-term. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become
in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again…
Though your body might be ready to return to sex after a
miscarriage, are you?
How soon can you have sex after experiencing a pregnancy loss?
It’s a common question among women of childbearing age, considering that up to
20 percent of pregnancies result in miscarriage and approximately 1 in 100 in stillbirth. There’s not a standard — or
straightforward — answer. Generally, physicians counsel patients to wait until
they feel ready. But readiness for a woman and her partner can depend on a
number of physical, and emotional, factors.
“From a medical
and practical perspective, the primary thing is to ensure that the pregnancy
has passed completely, the cervix has closed, and that there isn’t an increased
risk of causing infection in the uterus,” explained Zev Williams, M.D., Ph.D.,
chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility and an
associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Irving
Medical Center. “The timing for this depends on how far along the pregnancy was
at the time of the loss and how quickly the woman’s body recovers.”
romantic readiness is another question altogether.
roadblocks are a big factor: Women may feel reluctant to engage in sexual
intimacy while still grieving their loss. Miscarriage can also change a woman’s
relationship with her body, and what sex represents to a couple might shift. If
this seems hard to understand, it is: I am a psychologist specializing in women’s
reproductive and maternal mental health, and I didn’t fully comprehend how
complex returning to sex could be until I experienced a second trimester miscarriage
firsthand. Then I understood all too well: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
“There are no
guidelines with regard to telling patients what to expect about returning to
sex after miscarriage. Routinely, we don’t discuss sex after loss unless patients
bring it up,” said Jessica Schneider, M.D., an ob-gyn at Cedars Sinai Medical
Center in Los Angeles. “There’s research about how safe it is to get pregnant
again after a loss, but not about sexual function or satisfaction.” And the
fact is, sexual function and satisfaction can, and do, change.
I talked to
several women about their experiences around sex after pregnancy loss to find
out how they approached returning to intimacy. (The women preferred their last
names not be used due to privacy concerns.)
Some women, like
Ash, 36, felt ready to have sex right away. After experiencing a stillbirth,
she turned to sex for healing. “It was a way to feel powerful in my body,” she
said. “I felt like my body had failed me, and sex was a way to get that back.”
There was one caveat though: She didn’t want to risk another pregnancy. “It
felt better to engage in sexual acts that couldn’t result in one.”
Trying to get
pregnant again is a sensitive topic medically and emotionally. The World Health
Organization’s official stance is to wait six months before attempting another
pregnancy. Recent research, however, suggests that having
sex sooner doesn’t have a negative effect on future pregnancies and could actually help success rates.
“The doctor told
us to wait until we were comfortable,” said Maria, 26, who has had four
miscarriages. “It was nerve-wracking to return to sex. I think because I was
terrified of getting pregnant again and losing it or not getting pregnant
again. It was challenging mentally.”
self-blame can enter the bedroom after pregnancy loss and create trouble where
there previously was none. Hanan, 27, thought she was ready to have sex again
immediately after a stillbirth, though her doctor told her to wait six weeks.
She said she felt arousal and the desire to have sex, and engaged with her
husband in everything other than penetrative sex, while waiting for medical
clearance. But the first time they had intercourse, she wasn’t prepared for her
emotional reaction. “I cried so much after the first time. I felt very guilty,”
she said. “My body wanted to, but my brain didn’t. It felt selfish and immoral
— like I should have been celibate while grieving.”
are especially challenging for women who are actively trying to conceive again.
“I did not want to initiate sex after my loss, but at the same time, I did want
to get pregnant again,” said Maggie, 32. “My vagina became a constant reminder
of the loss.”
Some women said
they resented their bodies for a perceived failure. “After my miscarriage, I
couldn’t be with anyone for over a year,” Zachi, 27, told me. “The fact that my
body failed impacted the way I felt sexually afterward. I carried the baby
emotionally, long after physically.”
While a 2015
survey found that 47 percent of respondents who had experienced a miscarriage reported feeling guilty about it — and
nearly three-quarters thought their actions may have caused it — the reality is
that chromosomal abnormalities are the explanation in about 60 percent of
miscarriages. Pregnancy loss cannot be prevented.
If you’ve been
trying to conceive for a long time, sex following a pregnancy loss can become
especially fraught — even unappealing.
“After my first
miscarriage, we only had sex to conceive. It started to feel like a task,” said
Gina, 30, who has experienced infant loss and two miscarriages. “That mentality
compounded after my second miscarriage and killed all sexual desire for me.”
Sonali, 33, who
has lost four pregnancies, had difficulty returning to the very place she got
pregnant. “Sex with your other half in the bed where you conceived the babies
you lost is so triggering,” she said.
thinking about where I’d be in my pregnancy now; how I wouldn’t be able to have
sex in this position,” Maria said. “It makes me feel guilty to feel great, when
I should be seven months pregnant and uncomfortable.”
can have unintended positive impacts on a woman’s sexuality, too. Zachi said
that she is more assertive in her sex life because of her miscarriage. “I have
to listen to my body now,” she said. “It becomes painful not to. I am a lot
more sure in what I want.” A miscarriage ultimately brought Maggie and her
husband closer together, she said. “During the loss, I felt like I was on an
island,” she remembered. “The first time my husband and I had penetrative sex,
I cried from relief, because I felt so re-connected to him.”
enjoying sex again is really about one thing — personal readiness — which is
what I tell my patients. It’s O.K. to feel grief and sexual desire
simultaneously. “Moving on” is not a prerequisite for pleasure.
said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV
Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent
him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after
curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said,
“Take it to the jailhouse.”
Al was terrified.
“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,.
‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door,
and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do
to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only
five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot
that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him
the rest of his life.
“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest
of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed
to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred
Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from
Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)
True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some
children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others
are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative
that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not
discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love.
Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to
do the same with our children.
God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me
and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it
always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering
my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”
If you feel like you’re completely stuck in life right now with nowhere to go, realize you are lying to yourself. You have imprisoned yourself in your own mind by telling self-defeating stories — stories about what your life should be like, what should or should not have happened, and so on and so forth. By doing this you’ve created a tiny space in your mind and you’ve begun to believe you are actually living in it.
But you are NOT. You are alive in a vast world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this. Go outside. Look at the sky and the clouds. THIS is the space in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.
When someone younger than me (or someone who simply has far less life experience) asks me about how to overcome the pain and frustration associated with life’s unexpected setbacks, this is how I explain it to them (Please note that I’m not suggesting YOU are younger than me or have less life experience. This is just an example.):
Look at the circles above. The black circles represent our relative life experiences. Mine is larger because I am older than you and have experienced more in my lifetime. The smaller red circles represent a negative event that has taken place in our lives. Assume we both experienced the same exact event, whatever the nature. Notice that the negative event circles are the same size for each of us; but also notice what percentage of the area they occupy in each of the black circles. Your negative event seems much larger to you because it is a greater percentage of your total life experiences. I am not diminishing the importance of this event; I simply have a different perspective on it.
What you need to understand is that an overwhelmingly painful and frustrating event in your life right now will one day be part of your much larger past (and pool of experience) and not nearly as significant as it seems in this moment.
Hopefully knowing this changes your perspective and gives you a good reason to NOT give up. And truthfully, this is just one small example of how you can shift your thinking and renew your sense of hope. The bottom line is that you can make many small, internal adjustments starting today that will help you feel better, think more clearly, and grow beyond life’s painful setbacks when they happen.
I had a miscarriage in between my two girls. I went in for an
ultrasound at around seven weeks, and there was no heartbeat. My period is so
irregular that I had to wait two additional weeks to confirm that the pregnancy
was not progressing properly. My obstetrician couldn’t definitively date the
pregnancy because he couldn’t definitively date the ovulation, so I trudged to
multiple radiologists for multiple disappointing ultrasounds over 14 days.
I expected to feel sad during this painful two-week wait, and
after — and I absolutely did. A guttural sadness that would take months to
What I didn’t anticipate was that I would feel a lot of other
things, and that the emotional ground would continue to shift under my feet. I
felt relief when I was able to take a new job right around when I would have
been due to give birth; I knew I wouldn’t have been able to take it had I
carried that pregnancy to term. Then I felt guilty about feeling relieved. I
felt anger — spiky and random, popping up unexpectedly and without apparent
trigger. And most appalling to me was the envy I felt toward women who were
pregnant, successfully. An acquaintance of mine was due around when I would
have been, and I could not stand to be around her during her pregnancy. When
she tried to make plans, I made excuses.
a myriad of responses to loss, said Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist and the
author of “The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage.” “There may
well not be any grief,” Bueno said, and the grief some women feel is
“exquisitely nuanced, powerful and profound.” If the miscarriage is in the
first trimester, it may also be hidden, Bueno said, because you don’t always
look pregnant to the outside world, and it’s not customary to reveal a
pregnancy until you’re past 12 weeks.
of pregnant women may also feel a range of emotions. As technology allows us to
know we’re pregnant just after a missed period, it allows partners to become
bonded to babies far earlier than they might have been in previous generations.
There’s a case study in Bueno’s book about a woman who miscarried twice, whose
husband was grieving deeply. “He bought the pregnancy test. He saw that test
emerge — he was drawn into it,” Bueno said. He was already forging a
relationship with the baby that he had to mourn, too.
five years after my loss, I don’t think about the miscarriage much anymore. I
was lucky to have a second child, which is what I desperately wanted, and that
helped me. But lots of families still feel complicated grief even after having
additional children. Bueno lost twin girls, Florence and Matilda, at 22 weeks,
and she had three miscarriages as well. She went on to have two boys, and for
her, “the nourishment and joy runs alongside the grief.” Bueno told me about an
oral history she had read from a woman with nine children. That woman had a
miscarriage, too, and though she was in her 80s at the time of the oral
history, she still felt the loss acutely despite her sizable brood.
you know someone who has experienced a loss, Bueno said, “err on the side of
compassionate curiosity.” This could mean saying you’re sorry for a loss, and
then asking something open-ended, like, “Tell me what it meant to you,” as it
allows for the many kinds of emotion someone might feel. Be prepared for any
response — a woman may not want to talk about it at all, or she may want to
talk about the gory viscera. I recall making extremely dark jokes about what
came out of me in the aftermath. Those physical side effects, “that stuff needs
to be talked about,” Bueno said. Otherwise we run the risk of women feeling
“icky and shameful and abnormal” about what they’ve experienced.
need to make cultural space for every single kind of reaction to loss — there
will always be a gamut of responses. And sharing these stories is a good place
IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!
This is a vulnerable story –
about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out
of bad toxic relationships.
About a decade and
a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named
‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I
should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”
I remember I was
once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.
I explained how
every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song
to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black
Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.
Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a
particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.
Let’s call this ex
of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.
Today I want to
share something I never told you about Bruce.
“dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.
Yep, right out of
the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous
behaviors, products of paranoia.
Yet I continued to
I even went away with Bruce for a
weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.
I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my
shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was
flirting with this Turkish waiter.
Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this
Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond
a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.
I kept reassuring Bruce I was
not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to
talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!
When I came home
from vacation, I sought out therapy.
I found a nice older psychotherapist,
named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another
great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.
believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch
into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!
“Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
“Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
“Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.“
“Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”
“You know what your
problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session. “You’re so smart, you’re
I laughed. “What’s
that supposed to mean?”
“You are able to
over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you
“So you think I
should break up with Bruce?” I asked.
Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist.
I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I
can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”
“Wow! I can’t
believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an
“Actually, I didn’t
call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If
you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”
“What? I’m not the
a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”
“At this point,
Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the
“I’m the a**hole?”
I repeated this
word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but
alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.
This word “a**hole”
became my wakeup call!
Sid was right. If I
stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing – then I became
the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching
relationship to continue!
Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking
about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using
stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the
important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the
white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded
inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.”
Although this story
about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it
think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit
might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.
I feel if we’re not
careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time
complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.
If you’re dealing
with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…
“Why is this person treating me
“Why did this person do that
crappy thing to me?”
“What is wrong with this
“Are they an a**hole?”
“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”
important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…
“What did I miss in the vetting
process that I allowed this person into my life?”
“What is wounded inside me that
I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”
“How can I grow from this
experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”
“Do I want to make this a story
about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”
“Do I want to waste my time,
thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”
“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better
people and live better days?”
If you’re presently caught up in
telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to
stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.
The time has come
to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and
Yep, the more you
stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely
delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds,
expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.
All of this time
expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!
Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.
One of the most important moments in life is the moment you
finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed.
Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to
change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.
Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human
tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the
same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a
smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good
times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them
go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more
pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical,
self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said,
what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty
lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on
justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.
But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that
life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a
passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is:
where are your present steps taking you?
It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters
is what YOU DO from here.
Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by
finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.
Don’t be one of them!
Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about
something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you
really have control over is yourself, in this moment.
The best action you can take right now is changing your
thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.
And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path
ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several
significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing
my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial
unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is
guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches
can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.
The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can
choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next.
Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is
your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to
make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than
Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you
can master a new way to be.
film produced for the UnLonely Film Festival and Conference last month
featured a young woman who, as a college freshman, felt painfully alone.
She desperately missed her familiar haunts and high school buddies who seemed,
on Facebook at least, to be having the time of their lives.
It reminded me of a distressing time I had as an 18-year-old
college sophomore — feeling friendless, unhappy and desperate to get out of
I visited the university health clinic where an astute psychologist examined my
high school records, including a long list of extracurricular activities, and
noted that I had done only schoolwork during my first year in college.
nothing the matter with you that wouldn’t be fixed by your becoming more
integrated into the college community,” she said. She urged me to get involved
with something that would connect me to students with similar interests.
I protested that as a biochemistry major with classes six
mornings a week and four afternoon labs, I had no time for extracurricular
activities. And she countered: “You have to find time. It’s essential to your
health and a successful college experience.”
better option, I joined a monthly student-run magazine that fit into my
demanding academic schedule. I soon fell in love with interviewing researchers
and writing up their work. I also befriended a faculty adviser to the magazine,
a grandfatherly professor who encouraged me to expand my horizons and follow my
Two years later as a college senior and the magazine’s editor, I
traded courses in physical chemistry and advanced biochemistry for news
reporting and magazine writing.
rest is history. Armed with a master’s degree in science writing and two years
as a general assignment reporter, at 24 I was hired by The New York Times as a
science writer, a job I have loved for 53 years. In making rewarding social
connections in college, I not only conquered loneliness, I found a path to a
connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health,” noted Dr.
Jeremy Nobel, founder of the UnLonely Project and faculty member in primary
care at Harvard Medical School. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe written with
Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these
experts stated that loneliness and social isolation play “an outsized role” in
preventable deaths by suicide.
They urged that social relationships be considered a national
public health priority “to roll back those heartbreaking, preventable deaths of
But it’s not just young people who are lonely. “More than a
third of adults are chronically lonely, and 65 percent of people are seriously
lonely some of the time,” Dr. Nobel said in an interview. Among the groups with
especially high rates of loneliness are veterans, 20 of whom take their own
lives each day on average. Even half of chief executives experience loneliness (it
can be lonely at the top), a state that can adversely affect job performance.
The rate of persistent loneliness is also high among older
adults, who, in addition to limitations imposed by chronic illness, may suffer
the isolating effects of mobility issues, lack of transportation and untreated
However, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at
Brigham Young University, told the UnLonely conference that no one is immune to
the toxic effects of social isolation. “It’s so distressing, it’s been used as
a form of punishment and torture,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said.
“Loneliness saps vitality, impairs productivity and diminishes
enjoyment of life,” Drs. Nobel and Williams wrote. Its effects on health match
that of obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the
risk of an early death by 30 percent.
The aim of the UnLonely Project, Dr. Nobel said, is to raise
awareness of its increasing incidence and harmful effects and reduce the stigma
— the feelings of embarrassment — related to it.
“We want people
to know that loneliness is not their fault and to encourage them to become
engaged in programs that can diminish it,” he said. One program featured in the
film festival depicts a group of older women in the Harlem neighborhood in New
York who participate in synchronized swimming. One of the women
said she didn’t even know how to swim when she joined the group but now
wouldn’t miss a session.
In Augusta, Ga., in partnership with AARP, a program of painting
together, as well as music and dance, was created for caregivers who often have
little opportunity to connect with others and reap the benefits of mutual
support and friendship.
Doing something creative and nurturing helps both caregivers and
people struggling with serious chronic illness get outside themselves and feel
more connected, Dr. Ruth Oratz, medical oncologist at New York University
Langone Medical Center, told the conference, convened by the Foundation for Art
The foundation’s goal, Dr. Nobel said, is to promote the use of
creative arts to bring people together and foster health and healing through
activities like writing, music, visual arts, gardening, textile arts like
knitting, crocheting and needlework, and even culinary arts.
“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable — it will kill you,”
Dr. Nobel said. “Creative arts expression has the power to connect you to
yourself and others. How about a monthly potluck supper? It’s so simple, such a
great way to be connected as well as eat good food.”
Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has
had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts
say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement
exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”
rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather,
social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack
them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often
replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress
and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.
So consider making a date this week to meet a
friend for coffee, dinner, a visit to a museum or simply a walk. Online
communities like Meetup.com can be a good source for finding others with common
interests. If nothing else, pick up the phone and have a conversation with
someone. Chances are, you will both be better off for it.
Last fall, I made a viral video about having trouble making friends. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Being known as “the girl with no friends” wasn’t my favorite part about having made a video that went viral — but you take what you can get.
About a year ago, as a college freshman at Cornell, I was assigned a short video project for my Intro to Digital Media course.
I decided to focus on my disappointment with the early weeks of college: How I couldn’t get past superficial conversation, how I couldn’t seem to enjoy parties, feel comfortable on campus, or just meet people who I wanted to spend more time around. I felt so lost and beyond confused.
I had been a pretty social person in high school and I fully expected to make great friends right away when I got to college. It’s supposed to be the time of your life, right?
I had been looking forward to college for years. I started studying for standardized tests in 10th, hammering out extracurricular activities and A.P. courses all through 11th, and spent senior year typing applications till my fingers practically bled. I got into a great school, pleasing myself and my family. This was not the payoff I expected.
The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely. I’d see all these freshmen walk in packs — just massive groups of friends already formed in the first two weeks of school. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask people to get lunch. It was so frustrating. I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.
I spent a ton of time on social media, constantly checking in on my high school friends and seeing how they were getting along at their colleges. They’d post more and text me less. I really tried to put myself out there, but the more people I met, the more defeated I felt. I wasn’t interested in forging fake relationships out of necessity, I wanted genuine friendships that I could treasure. Why couldn’t I find them in my first month on campus?
I poured my loneliness into the four-and-a-half-minute film I made, called “My College Transition.” I posted it on YouTube expecting only my professor and a couple friends to see it.
It now has over 275,000 views and hundreds of comments. I had students from all over the country reach out to me and express their experiences, thanking me for making them feel less alone. Administrators from various universities wrote to me asking for permission to show the video to their freshman class. I even landed a few freelance video design jobs. I spoke on panels, gave tons of interviews and won an award at a film festival.
It was overwhelming in the most beautiful way, and was further proof that I wasn’t alone in my experience. It also showed how necessary it was for people to be open about isolation on college campuses.
Now a sophomore, I see how ridiculous my expectations were for my first year. To assume I could instantly meet my New Best Friends while also getting used to a new place, starting a new academic career, and learning how to adjust to life away from home — that’s a full plate already. Some of the high school friends I was missing had been my friends for my whole life.
Expecting close relationships like the ones that had taken years to develop was unfair to myself and the people around me. Going to college is a massive change — so many students are being uprooted from the familiar comforts of their homes and thrust into a completely new place. It was beyond unrealistic for me to anticipate a seamless transition.
After I posted the video I had people of all ages and genders reaching out to me, explaining how they felt the same way when they started a new job, when they moved to a new place, even when they started retirement.
Loneliness is too often paired with self-blame and self criticism: “I can’t find my place among these people, so it must be my fault.” My social life became a big game of trial and error, slowly learning in which groups I felt welcome and included. It was hard! It was draining! But by putting myself out there, I found so many communities on campus to invest myself in, and where I knew I would be happily received.
The video was definitely a conversation starter, and it made people more likely to open up to me about their struggles as a freshman. But I don’t think the video was any sort of motivator for people to actually become my friend.
Now, a year after making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better. But I see the new batch of freshmen around me and imagine many of them are going through the same transition. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have told my younger self.
You can’t clone your high school friends
The notion that my college friends should be stand-ins for my close relationships from home: impossible. One of the great things about going away to college is the chance to meet people who are not the same. I learned to cherish each relationship for its uniqueness, for the different perspective and ideas it brought into my life. At first I searched for people who reminded me of my friends from home, who would play a similar role in my life that they do. But I began to realize that no one can stand in for or replace them — which was oddly comforting, and a relief to acknowledge.
Social media is not reality
I had to minimize my time on social media. It became a platform for comparison. I evaluated every picture my friends posted, determining whether their college looked like more fun than mine, if they had made more friends than I had, just meaningless justifications for my unhappiness. It was comforting when old friends reached out to me to say that they related to the video. Many of them were people I thought were having a fantastic time at school. Social media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be happy and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness of my own.
Give yourself time to adjust
Transitions are always hard — regardless of your age. But the social expectations around college put overwhelming pressure on students to fit in seamlessly into their campus, without truly acknowledging the difficulty of uprooting your life and starting fresh. The hardest thing to tell struggling freshmen is that acclimation takes time — and “thriving” even longer. Making friends is an active process, and all the preconceived ideas college students arrive with can make for a defeating experience. Understand that your loneliness is not failure, and that you are far from being alone in this feeling. Open your mind and take experiences as they come. You’re going to find your people.