By Amiee Herd
A look at the effects of loneliness and how we can leave it behind.
It may sound gruesome, but—according to Reuters—a study by researchers at Yale University in New Haven Conn. found that lonely rats were much more likely to develop breast cancer. Three times the risk in fact.
The rats who were isolated suffered from greater levels of stress, and stress receptors were found in the breast tissue. Stress has actually been shown to “trigger cancer-causing genes in humans.” And, accordingly, rats in the study who were anxious and fearful were more likely to develop cancer—those rats who were isolated had elevated levels of stress. And, since those stress receptors were prevalent in breast tissue, breast tumors developed.
Gretchen Hermes, the scientist who led the study, noted, “The effects are equal to or greater than the effects of cigarette smoking—that includes a significantly shortened life span.”
I share these findings not to make you depressed, but to underscore the evidence that humans—and evidently rats—were designed for relationship. …Friendship, marriage, family, co-workers, classmates—whatever that relationship may be, we were not meant to live an isolated life.
Loneliness. The very word conjures pictures of stark, windblown landscapes devoid of habitation (save one alone), or any social interaction.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “lonely” as:
a: being without company: Lone b: cut off from others : Solitary
not frequented by human beings : Desolate
sad from being alone
producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation
It all points to a lack of interface with others.
The good news is there IS a cure for loneliness.
No doubt the Lord Jesus tasted loneliness when He was walking the earth. Being one-of-a-kind, God’s only-begotten Son could certainly set a person apart, I would imagine (not to mention being betrayed and denied by His own followers and friends).
But, Jesus laid down an example for us to follow that I’ve found can truly keep loneliness at bay. That is to, “love one another…” as it says in John 13:34. Jesus added, “…as I have loved you…” That is a deep caring, committed friendship and love that puts others before itself.
It’s not superficial; it is not in pretense or façade. It is true and real.
Now, I’m not saying that those who love, care about and reach out to others will not be sick, or get breast cancer. Certainly, many individuals who nurture relationships have also suffered ill health.
But, I’ll bet it was not stemming from the effects of loneliness.
What happens when we care about others?
I believe we start looking past ourselves, and begin to see a larger picture. Maybe taking on more of God’s perspective and characteristics.
There is a great chapter on just that in the Bible; Romans 12.
It begins with an appeal by the Apostle Paul for followers of Jesus to truly worship the Lord and to get past the “I-me first” thinking of the world by transforming and renewing our minds, according to the will of God. Then Paul devotes the rest of the chapter to showing just how to acquire that God-mindset: by caring about others.
Paul directs the Christian to, “…not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one Body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” “…Let love be without hypocrisy…” “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another…” “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion…” And he sums it up by encouraging us to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
For those not used to “reaching out” to another, it could start by attending more social types of functions. Many churches have a plethora of activities that focus on helping the less fortunate together, doing outreaches, or studying the Bible—all are excellent ways to start moving out of isolation.
Another thing to note; around Christmas time, feelings of depression or loneliness can often be magnified, as a person sees others enjoying relationships with friends and family of which they wish they were able to be a part. An invitation for them to join you can go a long way.
I actually am speaking from my own experience, as well as from the research of others. I’ve had to crawl out of the dark hole that depression can be, and have lived a period of time very isolated from others. Looking back, I know God kept putting caring people in my path for whom I am very grateful.
But, it was ultimately caring about another; tapping into God’s design of love and friendship—with Himself and others—that has brought me out of the deep loneliness I felt at one time.
Certainly, we see this played out in the beloved story of Scrooge’s redemption in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And in Frank Capra’s reminder to us all, in It’s A Wonderful Life, when George Bailey realizes the great magnitude of simple friendships and family, and the fact that every life touches another and is precious.
The message is the same. We were designed to “love one another,” as God has loved us.
Amiee Herd is editor of Breaking Christian News. Used by permission http://www.breakingchristiannews.com