From the beginning of time God has known the importance of being connected. In Genesis God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). God recognized Adam’s need for contact with another human being—a need God had built into him.
By God’s design we have an innate need to be loved and belong. As children we learn to give and receive affection and are taught the skills that will help us find acceptance in society. Through our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and others, we form our sense of individuality and find our place in the world. When our need for affection and companionship goes unfulfilled, we become restless, unhappy, and lonely.
The loneliness I speak of is a hollow emptiness of isolation and disconnection. Jesus understands the full breadth of human loneliness because He experienced it Himself. His love penetrates deep into our hearts so that we never feel fully alone. His Word gives us comfort. “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).
Loving relationships are some of the cornerstones of a healthy human life. In the book
Personal Relationships and Personal Networks, interpersonal communications scholar Malcolm Parks writes, “We humans are social animals down to our very cells. Nature did not make us noble loners.”1
Psychologist Roy Baumeister and professor of psychology and neuroscience Mark Leary believe that “the need to belong is a fundamental human need to form and maintain at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships.”2 This need is an innate motivation that we’re born with rather than one we learn.
We work, play, and live in communities. We rely on others to help us in times of crisis, and we offer our own help, even to strangers, when we see a need.
Holidays are meant to be times of joy and celebration. But for some, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be very lonely and highly stressful. Christmas in particular comes with great expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying celebrations and gifts. Not only is there pressure to enjoy Christmas—there’s also the reflection that comes with the end of the year. Comparing ourselves to others and thinking about what we haven’t accomplished during the year can evoke feelings of inadequacy.
We are more susceptible to feelings of loneliness if we associate past holidays with traumatic events, such as the loss of a loved one or a family conflict surrounding the holidays when we were children. Christmas can intensify feelings of grief and sadness.
What’s difficult about our hunger for affection is that it’s easier to ignore than physical hunger. That’s because most of our lives we are surrounded by others, either in a real or a virtual way. We live, work, go to school, do our grocery shopping, eat, go to concerts, worship, volunteer, and exercise in various social communities.
The world around us is becoming smaller each day. You can go online and instantly communicate with someone on a different continent.
John F. Helliwell of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research recently conducted a study of more than 5,000 Internet users. He used an online survey to determine the difference between online and offline connections. The findings revealed that “real-life friends were significantly related to well-being.” Also, “when the number of offline friends was doubled, it had the same effect on happiness and well-being as increasing income by 50 percent.”3
People who feel lonely and disconnected aren’t just in poorer health than others—they also take worse care of themselves. Compared to people who feel socially engaged, lonely adults exercise less and eat more of their daily calories as fat, all of which worsens their health. One of the main causes of depression is loneliness. It can both trigger depression and prevent us from recovery.
But loneliness doesn’t just affect mood disorders. It has a hold on heart disease, immunity function, nervous system disorders, and many other illnesses. Like oxygen, food, water, air, and rest, we also need affection to survive.4
Regular exercise has many health benefits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, regulating cholesterol and blood sugar, boosting energy, and promoting better sleep. Research shows that both loneliness and shyness discourage people from exercising. One study found that college students who were either shy or lonely were less likely than their peers to exercise at all; and those who did exercise did so less often.
A later study with older adults (aged 50 to 68 years) similarly found that lonelier participants exercised less often than their peers, and they were more likely to quit exercising altogether. Loneliness is a significant risk factor for several problems that often accompany a sedentary lifestyle, including obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Psychologist John Cacioppo has suggested that social disconnection affects health in part because lonely, disconnected people don’t get as much restorative sleep as others do. The problem isn’t necessarily that they can’t fall asleep; it’s that they don’t stay asleep long enough to reap its important benefits.5
Studies have shown that people who feel lonely are more likely to wake up during the night and have fragmented sleep. This contributes to such health problems as high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression, says lead researcher Lianne Kurina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Chicago.
“In lab experiments, when people are intentionally woken up repeatedly, it seems to have effects on [their] metabolism,” she says. “Their insulin sensitivity goes down, almost suggesting that poor sleep could put them at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, for example.”
Kurina and her colleagues conducted a study of 95 participants in a close-knit rural community in South Dakota. They all had strong connections, yet even small differences in their degrees of loneliness appeared to have an impact on their sleep.
The men and women in the study were asked how often they felt a lack of companionship, left out, or isolated from others. Researchers used these responses to rate them on a standard loneliness scale. For one week the participants wore a wrist device to bed each night, which recorded their body movement and sleep disruption. A small increase in the loneliness scale was associated with an increase in sleep disruptions and restlessness, sleep apnea, and negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, and stress.6
One obvious result of loneliness is depression. We humans are an intensely social species; we have a powerful need for social relationships. When people feel excluded or cut off from connection with others, they experience sadness and depression.7
We are built for social contact, and there are serious outcomes when we lack that in our lives. Our mental and physical health becomes compromised. Being social is vital to our well-being.
Julie Guirgis is an international freelance writer who lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.
The challenges of being a caregiver can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you have little control over the situation, or that you’re in over your head. If the stress of caring is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind. So taking time to rest, relax, and recharge isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.
Caring for someone can be a rewarding yet stressful experience; it involves many responsibilities and pressures. Some causes of stress include changes in the family: household disruption, financial pressure, and added workload, which is why caregivers can be more susceptible to burnout.
“The most effective means of preventing caregiver burnout is taking care of the caregiver,” says Joan Lunden, author of
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers, and caregiver to her mother before her mother’s death in 2013. Lunden offers these tips to avoid caregiver burnout:
A common question caregivers ask is “How can I take care of myself when I’m exhausted from taking care of my loved one?” Understandably, the thought of taking care of anyone or anything else can be draining.
Jennifer Louden, personal growth pioneer and author of A Year of Daily Joy, gives sage advice on the importance of self-care: “Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our own needs first, and then we can give from our surplus, our abundance.”2
Taking care of yourself involves spending time, energy, and money to ensure that your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs are being met, and engaging in self-directed activities that nourish your mind, body, and spirit.
Jesus promises that He will bring rest and refreshment to the weary. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
But when we neglect to surrender our cares to God, Ellen White says, “Your trouble comes because you are so anxious to run things yourself that you do not wear the yoke of Christ.”3
So as we make resting in God’s presence a regular practice, He is faithful to refill our tanks and equip us with strength to meet the challenges of each day.
When people have asked if they can be of help to you, how often have you replied, “Thank you, but I’m fine”? A caregiver’s reluctance to seek help stems from their belief of being a burden to others or appearing incapable.
Prepare a list of ways others could help you. For example, someone could take the person you care for on a 15-minute walk a couple times a week. Your neighbor could pick up a few things for you at the grocery store. A relative might fill out some insurance papers. When you break down the jobs into very simple tasks, it is easier for people to help. And they do want to help. It is up to you to tell them how.
Use other resources. Ask friends, family members, and professionals for suggestions. If nothing helps, accept that the problem may not be solvable right now. You can revisit it at another time.4
Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness. If necessary, do frequent short exercises instead of those that require large blocks of time. Find activities you enjoy.
Walking is an easy exercise to do and a great way to get started. Besides, its physical benefits help reduce psychological tension. If you find it difficult to fit in the time, try incorporating it into your everyday life, such as walking to the shopping center, a nearby park, or around the block with a friend.
As well as taking on the household chores, shopping, transport, and personal care, you may also give medications, injections, and medical treatment to the person you care for. This, of course, is based on medical care and advice from your doctor.
While you may discuss your loved one’s care with the doctor, however, remember that your own health is just as essential. Building a partnership with a doctor who addresses the health needs of both you and your loved one is important. The responsibility of this partnership ideally is shared between you as the caregiver, the doctor, and other health-care staff.
Your emotions are messages to which you need to listen; they exist for a reason. Even if they are negative or painful, your feelings are useful tools for understanding what is happening to you. Learn from them, and take suitable action.
Caring for someone can invoke various feelings and emotional reactions. What’s important to understand is that all your emotions, whether positive or negative, are valid. Some common emotions you may experience as a caregiver are anxiety, sadness and depression, anger, frustration, and grief. When you find that your emotions are intense, that might mean the following:
It’s easy to pour so much energy into caring that it becomes your whole life. But regularly taking time out to attend to your needs and health is an important aspect of being an effective caregiver.
Remember to value yourself and all that you do.
Julie Guirgis is is an international freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She cares for her intellectually challenged brother and her father, who has dementia.
With the influx of popular media encouraging a culture of excessively busy but passive consumers, many of us feel bombarded and disjointed. As scientific evidence continues to mount, it appears that creativity is one of the keys to unlocking well-being and wholeness.
We are all born creative. God hardwired creativity into our DNA. All of us have a divinely inspired impulse to create. The Bible tells us: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
When we create in divinely inspired ways, it pleases God, because He sees us reflecting His image, and He loves to see His image shine throughout the world. Our creativity is expressed in different ways and to varying degrees, even if we aren’t born with a genetic bent to a particular talent.
More important than talent is the willingness to explore what interests us. As we nurture our creativity we develop a part of ourselves that is innate, and this gives us the freedom to express our untapped attributes, stimulate our minds, and heighten our sense of well-being.
Creativity is about expression and trying new things. It involves imagination; originality; and the ability to challenge, question, and explore; take risks; play with ideas; and keep an open mind. The creative process is more important than the product or tangible results. This makes creativity accessible to anyone, because it’s central to the journey of discovery rather than the final product. It helps us flourish by teaching us about who we are, what we love, and what we can give to the world.
Ruth Richards, psychology professor at Saybrook University, says engaging in creative behaviors “makes us more resilient, more vividly in the moment, and, at the same time, more connected to the world.”1
In 2010 the American Journal of Public Health published a review entitled “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health.”2 Researchers analyzed more than 100 studies about the impact of art on health. The studies included everything from music and writing to dance and the visual arts.
Each study examined more than 30 patients battling chronic illness and cancer. The researchers described the benefits, saying:
“Art filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts of illness.”
“Improved well-being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones.”
“Improved medical outcomes, trends toward reduced depression.”
“Reductions in stress and anxiety; increases in positive emotions.”
“Reductions in distress and negative emotions.”
Fostered “improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks.”3
While therapy and psychotherapy have proven benefits, creative therapies are successful in ways that differ from traditional therapies. Throughout the past decade psychologists have begun looking at how the arts might be used in various ways to heal emotional injuries, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce stress, and alter behavior and thinking patterns.
Involvement in creative arts helps people become more communicative. A greater awareness of our need for expression brings impetus for change. Creative therapies are used to further the emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and social integration of a person. This can involve music, art, writing, and other creative activities. It allows individuals to solve conflicts, manage behavior, improve self-esteem, develop self-awareness and insight, and develop interpersonal skills.
Artistic expression and our worship of God can be accomplished through all works of art, including painting, drawing, crafts, sculpting, photography, writing, and drama. Worshipping God through art is about creating something for the Lord and opening yourselvesf up to God’s beauty and holiness.
Creative physical activities benefit the mind and body by releasing endorphins, and act as a healing tool by relieving stress and anxiety. They can also be a form of worship: “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (Ps. 149:3).
Music is the most accessible medium of art and healing. Ellen White wrote that music is “one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth”4 “Rightly employed, [music] is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul.”5
Expressive writing can improve control over pain, pain severity, and depression. Psychologist James Pennebaker wrote, “There is little doubt that writing has positive cognitive consequences, and self-report studies suggest that writing about upsetting experiences produces long-term improvements in mood and health.”6
The benefits of creativity—physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually—are numerous:
Creativity, imagination, and innovation usually find us during moments of play. Play is a child’s natural medium of self-expression. Crafting or drawing alongside children, who take such joy in the pure act of creating, can inspire us to see creativity as fun and enjoyable. Spending time in nature can also inspire creativity as well as boost mood by reducing the stress hormone cortisol and instilling confidence and peace of mind.
Joining a group of like-minded “creatives” can also nurture the imagination. Interacting with others who share similar artistic passions sparks our own creativity.
Try exposing yourself to new creative stimuli to open your thinking. Take walks in nature, listen to music, and study paintings and photographs. The creative journey brings us closer to our deepest nature.
Julie Guirgis is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.