This silent epidemic kills

“I’m so lonely I could cry.”

These words, sung by Hank Williams in 1949, are increasingly relevant today.

Even before the pandemic isolation, research revealed as many as 76% of middle-aged Americans experienced moderate to high levels of loneliness. The numbers have likely increased since March.

According to Dr. Richard J. Davidson, neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, loneliness is one of the four challenges facing humanity, along with:

  • Distractibility
  • Negative self-talk
  • Loss of meaning and purpose.

Loneliness isn’t just an innocuous feeling, as it negatively affects our health and happiness, and is a strong predictor of premature death. Research revealed loneliness has a greater negative effect on our health and longevity than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

It’s a silent epidemic.

Being alone doesn’t necessarily equate with feeling lonely, just as living with others doesn’t prevent us from feeling lonely.

We can try to keep busy to distract ourselves from feeling loneliness, yet these distractions only offer temporary relief. Just because someone’s busy doesn’t mean they’re not lonely.

If you’re lonely, letting others know how you’re feeling is important. It’s easy to believe people can read our minds about what we’re experiencing, yet that’s not the case. Reaching out to family and friends, or medical professionals is important.

While caring human connection is the ideal, it’s not always available. This doesn’t mean there’s not hope.

A Compassion Training course I recently took, through Stanford University, transformed my understanding of the value and power of loving-kindness practices. It’s not just light and fluffy stuff, there’s science supporting it, and there are myriad benefits.

Research revealed loving-kindness practices are an antidote to loneliness. Instead of waiting for others to be present to relieve our suffering with loneliness, we can begin within ourselves to lift the veil. We can offer ourselves the balm of connection from within.

What goes around comes around, and we’re the first beneficiary of our own kindness, just as we are the first recipient of our own unkind thoughts.

Whether one sits in contemplation, generating thoughts and feelings of kindness toward themselves and others, or offers “kindness on the go” as they go about their days, these practices provide great benefit to our mental, emotional, and physical health.

Genuinely wishing ourselves and others well, within the privacy of our own minds, generates positive feelings within us.  Our brains and bodies benefit greatly as we engage in these simple practices, and research shows a reduction of loneliness, depression, and anxiety results from this practice.

In a loving-kindness practice, we simply offer kind wishes. Get quiet, and recite to yourself:

  • May you be safe from inner and outer harm
  • May you be well in body, mind, and heart
  • May you know peace and happiness

The words don’t have to be precise, but you get the idea.

It may sound corny, but I love to offer these simple thoughts and words toward many people in my life, not just those close to me.

I include neighbours or store clerks, and others whom I don’t know well, and especially include people who’re a little bristlier. Maybe they need it the most.

What’s interesting is to notice how it feels inside of me when I practise loving-kindness. I feel a boost of positive emotion throughout my body, and even feel closer to people I once considered strangers. I’ve had relationships transform because of this simple practice, and I always feel better.

While close, loving relationships may be the gold standard, supporting ourselves with loving-kindness practice positively benefits us in many ways.  

I wish you well.

  • May you be safe from inner and outer harm.
  • May you be well in body, mind, and heart.
  • May you know peace and happiness.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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