Now and then, readers tell a story as well or better than the writer. That’s happening this week in the comments by Medium members to my story on the epidemic of loneliness. Among the main points in the story:
Half of Americans feel lonely at least some of the time, and a third are severely lonely.
Loneliness is linked to higher risk for anxiety, depression, dementia, heart attacks and strokes.
The U.S. Surgeon General just slapped a warning label on loneliness, calling it as deadly as smoking.
Among the insightful and heartfelt reader comments:
“Oh man, loneliness is such a tough thing to deal with. Let's remember to check in on each other and spread kindness. Small acts can make a huge difference!”
“Nobody ever stops to talk anymore. You see someone, and they are on their phone.”
“The problem is American capitalism, folks. Notice things aren't structured this way in Europe.”
“No one can support anyone when they're relentlessly working and worrying about finances.”
“I don’t really think that we have social networks in America”
“When a local business closes where you knew the owners it’s one more move to missing a connection.”
“The irony is, the entire world is more connected today than it has ever been.”
“It's crucial that we recognize the impact of isolation on mental health and take proactive steps to combat loneliness and build more supportive communities. The future of our mental health and well-being depends on it.”
Another interesting aside: One of the researchers I quote in the article emailed me after it published and asked:
“If you had to nail down the loneliness (and mental health crisis) to 3 problems and 3 solutions, what would they be (knowing there are obviously lots of interactions, complexities)?”
I demurred somewhat, for reasons I hope you will appreciate:
“As a journalist, I mostly serve as a conduit for the science, an interpreter but not an expert. If I had to guess, among the biggest problems are social media and the internet in general, increased dispersal of family and friends, and then an endless slew of societal changes that stem from those two root problems. Solutions? I don't see any broad brushstrokes. Vivek Murthy and others offer great suggestions, but it's hard to imagine putting the genie back in the bottle. We're left to individually make what we will of life, more than ever. But that's just my non-science brain ruminating.”
What can you do? The most important first step is to connect, experts say. Call or text someone now—they’ll appreciate it more than you realize, and it’ll do you good, too. The full story, which includes more expert advice on how each of us can help turn the tide, for ourselves and others, is here.
RELATED: Life is Hard. Here’s How to Cope.
In a separate article this week, among the most interesting and important I’ve written in a while, I explore the philosophy and psychology of human resilience. It’s a long read — 12 minutes — but worth your time, I think, especially if you ever worry you don’t have what it takes to handle what life throws at you. Some highlights:
“Life, friends, is hard — and we must say so,” argues MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya. But, he tells me, “The empirical evidence suggests that most people are better at coping with difficulty than they fear.”
Resilience, the researchers tell me, is likely a mix of innate and learned qualities combined with circumstances—where one lives and so forth. But there are many ways to build resilience throughout life, both by surviving hard knocks and putting some intention and perspective into it. Among the things we can work on: finding meaning, thinking positively, taking care of our physical and mental well-being and… no surprise, seeking connection with family and friends. Full story >
Short takes on new research
‘Post-Covid’ return to ‘’Normal’
Since Covid19 is now “only” the 9th leading cause of death in the United States, here’s what the formal end of the U.S. covid emergency means, a BMJ opinion piece argues: “...covid has simply joined the ordinary emergency that is American health… Americans will continue living sicker, shorter lives than our counterparts in other high-income countries.”
Women and heart attacks
"Women aged 55 years and younger have nearly double the risk of rehospitalization in the year immediately after a heart attack compared to men of similar age," a new study finds. Lots to unpack here but the researchers suggest it's related to "certain non-cardiac factors, such as depression and low-income, that appear more common in women than men and are associated with more adverse outcomes." The finding reveals a need for paying more attention to these other factors, they say.
Forgive and… don’t forget, but let yourself live.
That’s the message from a new study in which people who practiced an assigned task of forgiving felt less anxiety and fewer symptoms of depression compared to a control group, as reported in The New York Times. It’s no huge surprise, but some nifty science put to something we might expect, and a practice that can be useful. My take: Covid aside, the U.S. healthcare is woeful compared to other wealthy nations (more about this in my recent feature on longevity).
BIT OF WISDOM
A tidbit from my life: When I started running again last summer, it was just me. Now my wife is running, too—she did her first 5-miler recently (at age 60!). The other day we ran together, with our 30-something daughter who is visiting briefly. It was a hot 4-miler that wiped us out, but so cool to exercise as a family. As a bonus, our two sons were both in town (these kids are far-flung!) and the five of us got together for the first time in many, many years. Happy husband and father here. I wish you similar, if rare and fleeting, connections.
Until next week, wishing you health and happiness.
If you find this newsletter useful, please forward it to someone who might benefit. You can find more of my health and wellness writing on Medium, plus I post health news briefs on Mastodon. And if you want to live a long, healthy, happy life, check out my book, Make Sleep Your Superpower.
How nice to have the family together - if even for such a short time.