Loneliness Can Do a Number on your Body

I don't ever post selfies, but there are two in this post.  This one was when I got out and went hiking.  Just the walking itself improved my state of mind!

I don’t ever post selfies, but there are two in this post. This one was when I got out and went hiking. Just the walking itself improved my state of mind!

Loneliness can do a number on your body. I’m not sure I would’ve paid that much attention to this particular aspect of loneliness if Henlee Barnette had not pointed it out to a bunch of us chaplains at the University of Louisville Department of Psychiatry back in the 1980’s. Henlee speculated that loneliness wasn’t just a matter of an emotional heart but that it would actually affect the heart physically. In fact, a number of studies have been conducted that support what he said. Try googling the subject and you’ll discover a number of articles on how blood pressure increases with loneliness.

This leads to my third major recommendation for confronting the beast of loneliness – be intentional about paying attention to your physical condition.

You may already have a good feel for, uh, how you feel, but it would be very helpful to get a clinical analysis of where you are. Go get a basic checkup with your doctor so you can get a base line regarding your health. You might already know you’re out of shape, but find out from the doctor exactly how you’re doing. Then you can begin to take care of this part of yourself with some discipline. Believe me – it will help you with your loneliness when you take care of your body.

This will mean watching what you eat. I’ve discovered myself eating a little bit too much Blue Bell Dutch Chocolate ice cream before I go to bed. Not good. Sure it was fun and gave me a brief experience of tactile pleasure, but the pleasure was profoundly temporary. The increased weight is long term. I’ve also had to discipline myself to prepare my own meals rather than always eating prepared food or going to a restaurant. That’s helped my body AND my wallet. Prepared food and restaurants cost much more than preparing it yourself.

My great group of new buddies in Birmingham who are as nutty about cycling as I am.  That's me up close, with Linda in the lower left and behind us from left to right, Dan, Jeff, and Bill.  A healing community!

My great group of new buddies in Birmingham who are as nutty about cycling as I am. That’s me up close, with Linda in the lower left and behind us from left to right, Dan, Jeff, and Bill. A healing community!

This will also mean getting more physically active. You see, when you reduce your physical activity, you reduce the amount of endorphins in your blood stream, affecting your biochemistry, and, consequently, the make-up of your brain which is the organ that does your thinking. If your biochemistry has been negatively affected by lack of physical activity, naturally your thinking processes have been affected, as well, and thus, you should remember that your distorted perspective, to which I’ve referred already in previous posts, can suffer a greater distortion from the depleted biochemical availability of mood enhancing agents in the bloodstream. I love watching movies, but when that or surfing the web predominates over physical activity, the listlessness can lead to greater listlessness.

So, be intentional about getting exercise – or better, get serious about some form of physical fun or activity. In fact, going on a brisk walk can help tremendously. Personally, I’m an avid cyclist, but running, hiking, going to the gym and doing the aerobic machines there, swimming, can all serve to get your body moving, generating positive biochemical agents in the blood stream, and giving you a more sanguine set of thoughts. From that perspective, you can begin to do the other things that make for increased human connection.

My cycling group, for instance, has had a five-fold positive impact on my life here in Birmingham.

  • First, I’m motivated to push myself a bit more than I probably would were I riding only by myself.
  • Second, in that pushing and physical exertion, I gain strength in my body along with the endorphins released into my blood stream and throughout my body.
  • Third, in riding with the group, I have human interaction with people I didn’t know before I came to Birmingham. When you meet people you didn’t know before, you open up new avenues of possibility. The human fabric takes on more texture.
  • Fourth, in riding with this group, I’ve been introduced to regions in Alabama around Birmingham I never would’ve explored otherwise and I’ve discovered some hidden landscapes of breathtaking beauty.
  • Fifth, some of the people in my riding group struggle with loneliness, too. We’ve discovered a support group on two wheels!

If you get out and get going, I imagine these five impacts could happen in your life, as well. Use the loneliness as an opportunity to grow new muscles (literally), and become stronger both physically and emotionally.

About Drexel Rayford

Drexel has been senior pastor of four churches in Kentucky and Virginia, a psychiatric ward chaplain, denominational bureaucrat, and an erstwhile indie singer/songwriter/story-teller and seeker of authentic human vocation. Currently, Drexel is working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center in the capacity of The Support Team Network manager, a hospital-based community partnership aimed at nurturing healing communities for discharged patients. He loves kayaking, road cycling, hiking, and all kinds of photography, but he loves his wife Vicki and his daughter Melissa more. He got a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Religion mainly because he had a lot of self-examination to do.
This entry was posted in Divorce, Loneliness and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Loneliness Can Do a Number on your Body

  1. Mary Dell Sigler says:

    You know how to hit upon the truth and I am reminded of what I am not doing.

  2. Merle says:

    So glad to reconnect with you via this blog. Really enjoy your take on loneliness. As with you, it is not something I expected to happen in this stage of life. Especially when still living with a spouse of almost 52 yrs.! Yet, I deal with it every day. It does not take divorce, death, or even huge upheaval for a gulf to open between partners and create “the beast”.

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