The Loneliness Epidemic: How To Recognize And Fight It

The Loneliness Epidemic: How To Recognize And Fight It

As we go into December, most of our thoughts and energy are focused on the upcoming Christmas holiday, shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping gifts, planning travel and special dinners and parties.  While it is certainly a festive time of year, it is also notorious for long winter months (at least for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and also a season of remembrance and reflection.  After all, the long months of dark and cold often inspire seasonal depression and is a challenge for many people.

One of the side effects of the celebration of the holidays combined with the onset of winter is often a feeling of loneliness.  The remembering of past holidays brings memories of times past with family members and friends, and while some these memories will leave us feeling happy and content, others may have the opposite effect, bringing us back to the edge of sadness or grief, or longing for a chance to step back in time.  Loneliness is a strong emotion and can taint our thoughts with its overwhelming presence.  

A sneaky feeling

Loneliness does not discriminate.  It affects young and old, men and women, singles or attached.  It doesn’t care about your religious beliefs, political affiliation, or even the number of followers on your social media profiles.  Loneliness is an equalizer – everyone experiences it at one time or another in their lives and sometimes for extended periods, such as after the death of a loved one.

Loneliness is a lurker, hiding just beneath the surface of our everyday lives.  It’s sneaky and thrives on surprise visits.  It knows no bounds, leaving many clinging to the edge, overcome with the friends loneliness brings along – grief, sadness, depression.

For each person there are different triggers to loneliness.  Perhaps the time of year a loved one died or driving by the park where so many hours were spent with children, the smell of a certain fragrance or the sound of a beloved song from earlier times.  Like all emotions, loneliness is an opportunist, waiting for that split second it can show itself and does what it does best – steal joy.

Happy {Hurting} Holidays

The holidays are pure gold for loneliness.  People are emotionally taught, for better or worse, and this makes it even easier for loneliness to swoop in and get settled.  The season from Thanksgiving to Christmas is traditionally fueled by hope, love, and peace.  It’s a time for families and friends to spend time together, and a time to remember the past moments and look forward to the future new year.

While the holiday season is notorious for hope and peace, loneliness can set in and mask these good feelings with sadness and despair, completely the opposite of what we expect to feel during this season.

Many people struggle with loneliness during the holidays.  It may be obvious; perhaps the elderly woman across the street recently lost her husband, so it’s understandable she will feel loneliness at this time.  But oftentimes it is more subtle.

Finding those who need help

Think of a time you felt lonely when everything in life was going along fine.  Remember, loneliness just waits for a moment of opportunity.  We all have experiences archived in our memories, even back to childhood, of feeling lonely and desiring a connection with another person.  Children struggle with this at home, school, and church, and adults struggle with this, too.  

Is there a child you see at school or church who often spends time isolated from others?  Do you know a friend who is lonely in her marriage?  (This doesn’t seem like a situation where loneliness can rear its ugly head, but it happens so often, and is kept so quiet the rest of the world doesn’t even know.)  

But how can loneliness exist in such a connected world?

It’s strange, isn’t it, that we can live in times of never-ending contact with people across the entire world, yet in our own mind, heart, and body feel completely alone?  Even with family and friends nearby, even in the same home.  Even with coworkers we may see several days a week for hours on end.  Even with Jesus in our heart.

Yes, even if you’re a Christian and believe fully that God’s spirit is within you and know to  your core that you’re never really alone, loneliness can still set in.  After all, it’s just an emotion, and we’re all just human, trying to make it through this gift of life the best we can.

The Bible tells us in John 10:10

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)”

The enemy lives to bring us to a state of misery and despair, hence the saying “misery loves company.”  Loneliness is but one facet of darkness.  Loneliness is a thief.  It takes joy and leaves a wake of soul-draining feelings in its path.  

But did you catch the second part of the scripture?  Jesus came to give us life, eternal life, and we are to have it to the full.  What does “full” encompass?  It means a joyful, peaceful, abundant life, overflowing with all the good things God’s Word promises.  It’s not settling for suffering from the likes of loneliness!

 How can we recognize loneliness?

People suffering with loneliness are all around us.  We just need to learn the signs so we can recognize it and draw on our empathy to understand and compassion to help.  Unfortunately, there is not one set of clear symptoms or signs of loneliness, as all people process emotions differently.  Often loneliness and depression are so closely intertwined they cannot be separated, so signs of depression are sometimes an indicator.

Some common actions associated with loneliness are social isolation, such as not being as active on social media as previously and less real-life interaction, like skipping activities with others or turning down invitations.  Again, even though we live in a very connected society with constant social media availability, this doesn’t protect us from feelings of loneliness and a deeper connection with others, including someone who has passed away or is not longer in our life.

I really think the best way to recognize loneliness is to simply be invested in the welfare of others, and even the world at large, in such a way that our inner whisper tells us when someone needs an extra moment of our time and attention.  Prayer also enables and strengthens the ability to just know who needs our help and when is the right time to offer.

What if I’m the one who is lonely?

If you’re the one suffering with loneliness, I encourage you to do just one small action to counteract this feeling.  You don’t have to make big life changes here, but any movement in the direction of easing this pain will help bring you peace and relief.  

As a Christian, I believe our first defense against an attack like this is prayer – prayer for peace, strength, joy, whatever you need to help you past this emotional attack.  The second thing I suggest is giving yourself grace.  We’re not perfect, this world isn’t perfect, and strong emotions are going to threaten to overwhelm us at times.  Just love yourself and be patient with yourself.

The next small action is to interact with other people.  If you have close family or friends, accept an invitation or initiate your own invitation for an activity that brings you feelings of joy – meeting for coffee, a walk in the park, or just a visit in your home.  

If you don’t have family or friends nearby, then you’ll have to do the really hard business of making a new friend.  I know, this is really hard for me, and the older I get, the harder it seems.  But I also know it really is possible.  We’re not talking total life-changing actions, but miniscule steps that will lead you out of darkness.

Think about your interests or hobbies.  Is there a group of like-minded people who meet and discuss the very things you like?  If you like reading, see if the local library hosts a book club.  If you like to knit, see if a local yarn or craft store has a drop-in night to work on projects together.  Even getting yourself out of your normal routine for something as simple as going to a different park for your walk or browsing a bookstore you never go in will help banish feelings of isolation and loneliness.

And of course there’s always the always available social media and Internet.  While it’s true we can be lonely and still have active social media profiles, this doesn’t have to be the case.  We can use social media as a useful tool to help us interact and form a connection with others.  

We can follow family members and friends as they post details of their lives and interact with them via social media, sharing comments and celebrating with them.  We can use email to write long letters or short notes to keep up with the details of others and to share our lives, no matter how boring we think our own life may be.  We can use live video or instant messaging, via social platforms or cell phones, to have instant contact with loved ones.  We can even join groups related to our hobbies and interests!  (Search Facebook for your favorite hobby, and you’ll be amazed how many groups are out there.  You can even start your own!)

Whatever small action you decide to take in finding good people to surround yourself with and invest your love in will be worth it.

How can I help others?

We all know someone at some time or another who will deal with the heavy baggage of loneliness.  While we can’t fight anyone else’s battle for them, we can certainly help strengthen them and stand by them through the hard times.

Even tiny efforts can make a big difference.  Taking a few extra moments to check in on a friend, family member, or neighbor when you know (or even just suspect) they are lonely will be appreciated.  Continuing to make the effort to include them, even when they do not accept, will be appreciated.  Not giving up on them and offering them grace sufficient for their current state will be appreciated.

God can turn our smallest gifts into huge blessings.  Although an action may seem insignificant to you, any help offered through love will always be a gift to those on the receiving end.  Loneliness is a dark time and often a long battle filled with hopelessness.  Offering a ray of hope to someone in this situation is enough.

This holiday season, I encourage you to seek out those who need your special ray of hope.  

We may not be able to be everything to everyone, but we can be something to someone.We may not be able to be everything to everyone, but we can be something to someone. Click To Tweet

If you’d like to share your experience with loneliness or what worked for you, please comment below and help others!

Read more

Life With Anxiety And How I Overcome It Every Day

Life With Anxiety And How I Overcome It Every Day

The Struggle Is Real

I have struggled with anxiety my entire life.  I am 39 years old.  When I was a child, I lived in fear my mother would leave one day and not come back. I feared she would die without me – not fearing she would die, but that she would die without me going with her.  My mother was a good mother, and my anxiety is in no way a reflection of her parenting.  It’s simply something I suffered with, not realizing it was something I didn’t have to be controlled by.

I learned to gauge my level of fear and anxiety by the level of discomfort I was feeling at any given time. Over the years, this led to a self-preservation mechanism of trying to stay within a certain range of comfort.  Getting outside of this zone, either with good things or bad, meant a severe anxiety attack, which often took me weeks to recuperate from.

In my early 30s, I started wondering if this was how I would live out the rest of my days, balancing a tightrope between “I’m okay, I’m good, this is a good moment,” and one tiny butterfly effect away from the anxiety abyss. Anything could set off a panic attack, small changes (my daughter was invited to a sleepover) and, of course, big changes (my husband slipped off a ladder and shattered an ankle).

I knew I didn’t want this fear and anxiety to control me forever so I did what I know how to do – I researched, learned, and made a plan. I read books and blogs and learned how to recognize when these attacks were coming. I sought medical advice from trusted medical professionals and learned more about the physical symptoms these attacks caused and physiological changes I could make to help. And I sought spiritual counseling from my trusted pastor and his wife.

After I researched, I made a plan of attack. I entered a phase of self-inspection and began to start recognizing the triggers and signs before an attack even started and I planned what I would do to work through these attacks. I wanted to be PROactive, not Reactive. And guess what? It started working. Oh, so slightly at first, almost imperceptible. But it was something. And it was huge to me. For the first time in my entire life I was filled with hope rather than fear and dread. I’m now almost 39, and I haven’t had a full blown panic attack in 5 years.

6 Ways to Overcome Anxiety

It started with a vision of not wanting to live under the oppression of anxiety and came into
fruition with a plan and putting that plan into action.  In hopes of helping others who suffer from anxiety, I would like to share 6 things I do to overcome anxiety every single day.

  1. Read scripture.  When I was in the heaviest months {and years} of severe fear and anxiety, I would be up and down all night with extreme thoughts running through my head.  These thoughts usually started with something related to the event or situation causing me discomfort and quickly spiraled into a hurricane of all the bad choices I’ve made and the ways I’ve hurt others, swirled together and hanging heavily over my head and weighing down my spirit.When I started talking over the anxiety with my pastor and his wife, they helped me find scriptures in the Bible that I could pray when I was feeling severe anxiety and fear set in.  The one I started with and that remains my go-to even to this very day is Philippians 4:4-9:
     

     

    Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  {Philippians 4:4-9, NIV}

    Reading this scripture over and over, sometimes for well over an hour nonstop, helped me to get God’s Word into my heart, mind, and spirit so I could use it as my source of strength.  These scriptures reminded me to be joyful, to let go of anxiety and pray for God to take it from me, and to allow His peace to permeate my entire being.

     

  2. Rebuke the fear and anxious thoughts.  I firmly believe God’s Word and all the promises we have through it.  One of these is that we do not have to live in the shadow of fear and anxiety.  Reading the Word gets it into the mind, but speaking it out loud puts it into action.  It is a living Word after all!

    Fear and anxiety do not come from God.  These are not good things, which tells me God did not design these feelings, and, therefore, I do not have to live a life filled with these oppressing me.  To rebuke anything that does not come from God, we have to speak His Word directly to these things.  Find a scripture and state it out loud, telling the fear and anxiety that you refuse to bend and give in to them!

    Here’s my favorite way to rebuke fear and anxiety by using the scripture in 2 Timothy 1:7, which says:
     

     

    For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  {2 Timothy 1:7, KJV}

    God tells us here that we don’t have the spirit of fear inside us, and anxiety is a form of fear.  So we don’t have to live in its shadow!  When you’re feeling that old anxiety and fear creeping in, say out loud

    God has not given me a spirit of fear.  He has given me a spirit of power and of love and of a calm, well-balanced mind and of discipline and self-control.  Fear and anxiety, you have no place in me!  {Adapted from The Everyday Life Bible by Joyce Meyer.}

    The more you speak this out loud, the more in line with His Word your thoughts will become.  Thoughts will conform to what you hear, so make sure you’re hearing the right stuff!

     

  3. Talk to truth speakers.  Truth speakers are the people in your life whom you allow to tell you the absolute truth without any emotional censoring on your part.  This means they can tell you when you are being silly or too sensitive or when you need to speak up or sit down.  Pick your truth speakers very carefully!  These should be people who are good to the core, who want a prosperous life for you, and who love you to the center of your being.

    For me, these people are my pastor and his wife and two very good friends.  My husband is also on this list, but honestly, I can take feedback and suggestions on a much deeper level from the others than I can my husband.  I’m sure this is emotionally based!

    These 4 individuals are the people, apart from my family, who have seen me in the pits of anxiety and fear and have seen my desperation to be freed from these things.  They have also seen the aftermath of the decisions I have made during these emotionally extreme times, and have loved me through all of it.

    These are the people who I have granted access to my innermost thoughts and feelings without putting up walls to block them and without hiding my less-than-stellar parts behind a facade.  They get to speak the hard truth to me which keeps me grounded and in a state of being able to see the fear and anxiety for what it really is — a lie.

     

  4. Speak life.  You can probably see where this one is going!  Once you have His Word {the truth} and you have used it to rebuke the lies, then you can take it one step further and speak life.  Our words are so powerful.  

    Think of a time words you have spoken have had an impact on someone.  When a child learns something new and was praised, he shows his joy with a huge smile and doing the new thing again.  This was caused by your words!  

    Unfortunately, the opposite result happens far too often.  Think of a time you had a confrontation with someone, perhaps your spouse, child, or coworker.  If you spoke in anger, or were spoken to in anger, someone was likely to have felt hurt.  This, too, was caused by words.  Words are so very powerful!

    God has given us instruction for how we should use words.  In Proverbs 18:21, He tells us we literally have the power of life and death in our words:
     

     

    Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it [for death or life].  {Proverbs 18:21, AMP}

    If we speak life, that which is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy, then we will in turn receive these things.  The opposite is also true – if we speak death, that which does not come from God, then we will reap these things also.  Speak life, every single day, and watch your life abound with the goodness that only comes from God.

     

  5. Try aromatherapy.  Along with the above spiritually focused actions, I also like to attack the fear and anxiety from another direction.  Our senses are an amazing gift, and they are a powerful tool in our toolbox.  Smells, sounds, sights, and touches from the past can take us back to those exact moments instantly.  If you hear a song from your younger years, that particular memory will fill your mind and a sense of being back in that exact moment will overtake you.  The same is true of smells.  This is why the famed pumpkin spice is an autumn favorite!  It instantly reminds you of that special time of year when the seasons begin to change and brisk weather returns.

    Aromatherapy is simply using natural plant compounds, such as essential oils, to aid in psychological or physical well-being.  Different compounds, or oils, in different plants are used for different benefits.  Fear and anxiety are caused by our bodies preparing for a stressful event, which causes both mental and physical symptoms.  

    Many essential oils have a calming and soothing effect and help reduce the symptoms caused by fear and anxiety.  Diffusing these into the air is a quick and easy way to reap the benefits of the oils.  

    Here are my favorite essential oils to diffuse when I need peace and calming:  Lavender, orange, lemon, ylang ylang, sandalwood, and bergamot.

    You can also blend your favorites together to find new varieties.  One thing to note with essential oils is that different oils have different effects for different people.  You may want to try a few different ones to find which work best for you!

    You can go here to learn more about my favorite essential oils and even order some.

  6. Take a walk.  I know, I know, this is super simple and seems too basic to even have on the list, but it absolutely helps.  I live in the middle of woods in the middle of nowhere so I have actual nature right outside my front door.  When I need to stop fearful or anxious thoughts before they take a hold in my mind, one of the easiest things to do for immediate results is to step out the door and just start walking.  Within seconds, my mind is less focused on those negative and life-draining thoughts and more in tune with life-giving thinking.  I’m hearing the sounds of the woods alive around me, breathing in the fresh air, and usually have at least one dog, and sometimes a cat or two, trotting alongside me.

    I always use these walks as an opportunity to praise God for all that He has blessed me with, including the very ability to walk and the nature around me.  It is absolute truth that you cannot speak gratitudes and be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety in the same breath.

Anxiety is a heavy burden and seems to be very prevalent in the hard world we live in.  It’s real and it can possibly be debilitating, physically and mentally, for those who suffer from it.  After letting anxiety control me for over 30 years, I have finally learned that I don’t have to give into it without a fight.  Finding spiritual strength and incorporating simple helpers such as aromatherapy and walking have been life-changing for me.

How do you cope with anxiety and fear?  Leave a comment below, and let’s have a conversation to empower each other!

Read more

Clean Your Entire House With ONLY These 3 Products {Natural And Cheap Too!}

Clean Your Entire House With ONLY These 3 Products {Natural And Cheap Too!}

I’ve always been kind of a simple girl, and I like to extend that simplicity into keeping my home clean.   Cleaning has to be simple or I simply wouldn’t do it.  You can keep your cleaning supplies to a bare minimum and use products that serve multiple purposes.

My top 3 go-to cleaning products are Vinegar, Bar Keepers Friend, and Baking Soda. Check out all the amazing things that these loyal cleaning friends can do!

White Distilled Vinegar

My absolute favorite go-to cleaner is plain white distilled vinegar.  Vinegar is an all-natural disinfectant and sanitizer, and it works miracles! There is no need to buy the fancy stuff – I buy the cheapest brand I can find, which is the Walmart store brand in my area.  You can typically find it in a 1 gallon jug, and I usually buy two of them just so that I never run out.  For a really great all-purpose cleaner, you only need to add a cup of vinegar to a 32-ounce spray bottle and fill the rest of the way with water.  

How simple is that? Just 2 ingredients and you’ve replaced that expensive cleaner that you have been using…for a fraction of the price..  An added benefit is that white distilled vinegar is chemical-free. That’s a pretty good reason to consider the switch!  

Bonus Tip:  Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil either for increased cleansing power, disinfecting, or simply for the pleasant aroma.  Click here for more information on my favorite brand of essential oils!

(more…)

Read more