by Don Ingwerson
With tomorrow being Valentine’s Day, many are looking for connections and may feel lonelier than at other times of the year. And what I’ve found is that loneliness can directly affect both health and performance in life.
While in the military, I worked in a chapel located where all new recruits in that region were sent to do basic training. As the chaplain’s assistant, I saw their loneliness first hand and often discussed the importance of prayer with them. Fear of the unknown and missing friends and family left them physically unable to serve; upon medical diagnosis many were directed to report to what the military calls “sick bay.”
I soon discovered that their lack of “mental peace” was creating their physical illness. As a result, the recruits were not able to physically perform to the standard expected by the military. It was apparent that their symptoms were being treated but not the root cause, which was mental and emotional. But once the mental and emotional issues were addressed, the physical symptoms disappeared and they returned to duty.
What I found interesting is that in an Archives of Internal Medicine study, author Carolyne Kruppa urged physicians to screen for loneliness. But Dr. Pacala, associate professor and associate head of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, cautions that the medical community may be stretching beyond their normal role, “Loneliness is less of a medical type of concept. I just think it doesn’t enter the medical mindset.”
My military experience tells me that treating loneliness is essential, and that the treatment should include alternative therapies – one of which is prayer.
NIH studies have found that prayer was a factor in improved health. “Those who pray had more favorable health-related behaviors, preventive service use, and satisfaction with care. Discussion of prayer could help guide customization of clinical care.” In the study, 47% of the people in the study said that they prayed for health and 90% of that group of people believed that prayer improved their health. Those people who prayed also showed more social support than those who did not pray. This support may very well counteract conditions of loneliness and enhance performance in life.
Pew research indicates that most individuals believe in the power of prayer – and pray – to address life’s challenges. An early Christian writer, Mary Baker Eddy, spoke of loneliness as doubt, darkness a wilderness time in one’s experience. Eddy shares how prayer combats that loneliness by opening up to God’s love, “Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it.” That’s a powerful message that everyone can embrace this Valentine’s Day.