Did you know that loneliness kills more people each year than cigarettes? In fact, loneliness is considered a health risk equivalent to smoking a pack a day. Today, 28% of all adults in America live alone and that doesn’t count the untold millions who physically reside together in a marriage or a relationship that’s grown cold but are alone by themselves emotionally.
Being alone may not be so bad when we’re in our twenties or early thirties but it becomes much harder as we pass through middle age. How many of us relish the thought of growing old alone? Perhaps even tougher is finding oneself alone after long years of marriage following a divorce or the untimely death of a spouse.
Beyond mere survival, studies demonstrate a host of proven health benefits from bonding with other humans:
- Lower blood pressure.
- Reduction in stress hormones.
- Improved immune system.
- Decreased risk of major illness like stroke, heart attack or cancer.
- Increased years and better quality of life.
When you think about it, it is not hard to understand why people in sustainable positive relationships often fare better than their single contemporaries. We as human beings thrive on a strong sense of connection and the opportunity to give something of ourselves to others. That beautiful sunset over the Pacific is not so special when you view it all alone. Buying gifts just for yourself can be an extremely hollow experience. A job loss or financial crisis is more intolerable when we are comforted and supported by spouse, family members and close friends.
It’s one thing to talk about the benefits of relationships but it’s not always easy to form one. Finding that one special person is especially difficult on the rebound, following a bitter break-up or the tragic loss of a spouse or cherished life partner. Let’s say you are middle age and in the early stages of recovery from from a traumatic midlife loss. Here are a few ideas that may help you rebound and recover the joy you are missing:
- Don’t rush to recover! You’re not on a time clock. Mental health experts say most people should give themselves a full two years to recover from any life-altering midlife emotional trauma. Death of a spouse or child may take even longer, especially if the death was sudden and unexpected. Once you are over the immediate shock, it’s going to be a long process.
- Don’t feel pressured to make yourself be OK–you’re not OK! Make it known to close friends, family members and business associates that you’re working on recovery but that it will take time. Ask for their help and understanding.
- As soon as you can, begin formulating then working on an extended plan for recovery. Recognize and tell yourself repeatedly that your plan is flexible and can be altered and extended whenever you feel overly depressed, overwhelmed or anxious.
- Set interim objectives and target dates. Break the recovery project down into realistic stages and routinely update your targets as your plan unfolds.
- When ready, take those first small steps to recovery–but only at a pace you are comfortable with. You have nothing to prove to yourself or to anyone else but, once accomplished, full recovery will benefit both you and all those around you.
- Before seeking out new relationships, make certain that you love and honor yourself! You will never be able to truly give of yourself to others until you are fully convinced that you have something worthwhile to give!
- Begin daily imagining and visualizing the fully recovered, self-confident, inner-directed person you intended to become. The more you picture new, mutually fulfilling relationships, the sooner they will occur.
- Set a firm target date for the end-point when you consider yourself “fully recovered” and ready to move on. Establish your own internal criteria against which to measure that recovery.
- Plan to reward yourself with a meaningful joy-producing prize on the date your recovery is complete.
Here are five additional suggestions:
- Don’t plan immediate, drastic changes in your life until recovery is complete. Rarely if ever is it effective to move across the country simply to ease the pain of death or divorce. Worst of all, never rush into a hasty “on-the-rebound” relationship! A drastic move before you are ready may in fact prolong your recovery.
- Consider every aspect of your life that may have been impacted! Close friendships with other couples will not be the same for you or your ex-spouse following divorce. Career objectives and workplace commitment may change radically now that you’re alone. As a single or divorced parent, your relationship with offspring most certainly will change. At least for awhile, finances may be strained.
- Don’t shoot simply to recover! Perhaps your prior daily life wasn’t all that great anyway. Moving forward, your objective is a better, more joyful and productive life on your own terms.
- Whenever you are down, frustrated or facing a roadblock to recovery, turn your immediate focus to someone else and to attacking his or her problems. You will be amazed at how seeking creative solutions for another often leads to unexpected insights for yourself.
- Recognize that in most cases, you will need a whole new self-identity and a new life pattern, so they might as well be ones you are comfortable with. If recently divorced or widowed, you no longer are “husband” or “wife” and your daily pattern of interaction will be far different than your recent past.
As we progress through middle age into our “senior” years, cherished face-to-face relationships become more and more important. Daily interactions on Twitter and Facebook are never enough. If you are lonely begin, perhaps timidly at first, reaching out to others, regaining your sense of connection and experiencing the true joy of giving. As you connect, your life will become longer and more fulfilling.
For more advice on combating loneliness, tune into to the August 19, 2013 edition of my Internet radio program “Middle Age Can Be Your Best Age” on WebTalkRadio.net. My guest is Dr. William Courter, author of THE BOOMER SURVIVOR KIT. You’ll find our program link on page one of Google under “middle age your best age.”