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Loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

By Kelly Klund, LPN
Resourse Nurse, Empira

You have held on through this pandemic and tried to do the right things: you get eight hours of sleep a night, you eat your bright green and orange vegetables, you drink eight glasses of water a day, and you hold doors open for strangers and then POW!!!!!!! You read a blog and learn that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As a former smoker I can tell you that smoking 15 cigarettes a day makes you feel like garbage. As a person who was separated from many of the people who are important to me during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic I can tell you that felt like “garbage” too. I get the parallel, but I don’t think that you need me to tell you that the loneliness we have all suffered over the last year because of the lockdowns and quarantines has taken its toll on our mind, body and spirits.

Empira dug into the effects of loneliness and learned some startling facts about the price we pay when we are lonely. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaques in our arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promotes inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease (Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks, 2019). If we experience prolonged periods of loneliness we are more at risk for poor decision making, depression, anxiety, at a higher risk for stroke, we have higher rates cardiovascular impairment, more complaints of chronic pain, and a tendency to fatigue more easily. There is a 50% increased risk to develop dementia and a 26% increase in mortality. Loneliness can kill us, loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

Here is the interesting thing about loneliness, it is subjective. Alone ≠ loneliness. According to Cacioppo, loneliness is defined as a state of mind characterized by a dissociation between what an individual wants or expects from a relationship and what that individual experiences in that relationship.

Before we can understand the totality of the impact that loneliness has had on us it is important that we understand the different types of loneliness that we may have been feeling:

  • Personal or intimate loneliness is the absence of a significant person (spouse/ partner, pet) who provides emotional support and affirms one’s value as a person. Did you have to quarantine in your home away from your loved ones? Was it hard?
  • Relational loneliness is the absence of a sympathy group. This is usually about 15-50 people who regularly interact with one another. Examples: Card group, prayer group, immediate family, coworkers. This is a group that you meet with who are going through the same things that you are. Did you cancel family gatherings or suddenly start working from home?
  • Collective loneliness is the absence of a network. Your network is made up of 150-1500 people, who provide support just by being together as part of the same group. Examples: Church family, extended family, organizational memberships. Did your church stop in-person services, did your concert or sporting event tickets get cancelled?

In order to avoid some of the negative mind, body and spirit risks associated with loneliness we must first do some quiet, introspective evaluation. Where in our lives have our expectations about our relationships not been met, either because of forced distance from lockdown or quarantine, or because of other factors in our lives that may have existed or been exacerbated because of Covid?

Knowledge is power, and now that we have learned about the different types of loneliness we may be experiencing it is important that we see some ways that we may respond to address them.

  • Personal or intimate loneliness – what is the “Next best thing”? Can you hug a pillow with your loved ones perfume or cologne?
  • Relational loneliness – Zoom happy hours have replaced the after work get together, and many movie streaming companies have develop the ability to have “watch parties” so people can watch movies together, but from their separate homes. With the CDC relaxing guidelines, is there are small group of your friends and family that can now safely gather?
  • Collective loneliness – Can you join in online events? Most of our Church services are now streamed, many community organizations have moved their meetings to ZOOM or “live” broadcasts. I personally, am much more likely to attend services at home, on the couch in my PJ’s than I was before Covid when services were in person. Some of my favorite performers have hosted free online concerts that can be cast to your living room television and although not in person, I can watch along with other people like we were all together in an arena, without the long drive home.

Addressing your loneliness may require a bit of creativity. Just like many smokers ditched that nasty habit to better their health, I challenge you to take care of your mind, body and spirit and tap into your creativity to connect with the things and people that are important to you.

References:
Cacioppo, S., Grippo, A. J., London, S., Goossens, L., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2015). Loneliness. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 238-249. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691615570616
Galambos, C., & Lubben, J. (2020). Social isolation and loneliness in older adults: A national academies of sciences, engineering, and medicine report. Innovation in Aging, 4(Supplement_1), 713-713. https://doi.org/10.1093/geroni/igaa057.2511
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., & Layton, J. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. SciVee. https://doi.org/10.4016/19865.01
O’Donnell, E. [Woman on window ledge with cigarette]. Pexels.com. https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-woman-holding-cigarette-3185099/
Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks. (2019). US Department of Health and Human Services – NIH National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks
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Limitations: What the Arts can Teach us

Written by Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

“I don’t know how to do that and I will never be able to learn.”

“That takes too much time.”

“The way things are now is just fine.”

“No one will listen to me, anyway.”

This way of limited thinking squashes creativity. Some people look at their limitations as a challenge and reason to push forward. I am challenging you to think of limitations in a way that inspires you, motives you, and allows you to think outside of the box and to be creative.

My daughter, Erika, is an artist and she loves to work with different mediums and textures in the pieces that she creates. She loves to learn, and, she thrives when she can mix her textbook learning with the art platform as part of her Arts Magnets program. By connecting the right-sided artistic part of her brain with her left side, she has mastered working with watercolors, chalk, charcoal, clay, and water-soluble paints. Most recently she has started to work with oils in her paintings. To do so, she has had to move outside of her comfort zone and risk some failure. She has had learn the qualities of oils, and the varied types of oils. She has needed to work to understand how the oils react under the stroke of her brushes, and she has needed to be observant, disciplined, and maintain perseverance in her commitment to mastering this new art form.

Portrait painted by Erika Johnson

Limitation is the catalyst for creativity!

Oils, like any other medium, have their limitations, and the artist must learn what those limitations are if they aspire to create a masterpiece of their own. Oils can be challenging and less forgiving than other art mediums, yet, oils can provide some of the most interesting and unique landscapes and portraits one could ever imagine. The brilliant textures and colors of oils bring a piece to life. I like to think that Erika grows stronger in her artistic journey, and in her life journey, each time she attempts to acquire a new skill.

One lesson that I am learning from my daughter, the artist is that limitation is the catalyst for creativity! I will say it again………… Limitation is the catalyst for creativity!

The artist works within the limitations of space, medium, and present skills and knowledge, to create something beautiful and unique. The successful artist challenges themselves to grow and explore. When we acknowledge our limits or limitations, and yet press on, it thrusts us into a new way of thinking creatively. Like an artist that has been provided with a 16 x 20-inch canvas and who is challenged to work with a medium within the parameters of that canvas, we can be inspired to work creatively within any limitations or parameters given to us.

In long term care we have limitations in the form of regulations that must be followed, and with reason. We are likely to also experience limitations in forms of resources, time, skill, and now COVID restrictions and response. Don’t allow those limitations to stifle your creativity in providing excellent care and opportunities for those you care for. Instead, think of those limitations as the catalyst to spark your creativity. Recall, limitation is the catalyst for creativity.
Think of some ways to accomplish your mission and develop them within in your teams.

Ask yourself and team the following questions:

What is our goal?
What can we do different to achieve the outcome(s) we want?
Who are the activators on your team?
What if we fail?
How will/do we push through potential barriers?

Don’t let your limitations stop you

In closing, and on a lovingly personal level, I enjoy sharing a particular story of my grandmother who prided herself on her many talents and who also worked to develop those things she considered to be her limitations. In her later years she chose to work on her creative side by taking a painting class. You could say learner was in her top 5 strengths (referring to StrengthFinders). The class syllabus required the student artist to complete one type of subject and/or medium before being able to move on to the next one. She progressed through chalks, watercolors, acrylics, still life, landscapes, and even portraits. Then came the challenge of painting animals.

My grandmother believed she had reached her limit, and told the instructor that she just was not capable of doing animals. That was met with strict opposition from the instructor. No animals, no progression. I can just imagine the lightbulb going off in my grandmother’s head, and, in true adherence to the premise that limitation is the catalyst for creativity, my grandmother set to work and at the next class she proudly turned in her accomplished assignment to paint animals.

The teacher was understandably puzzled when she saw what appeared to be a painting of a forest. When she asked about the animals, my grandmother clearly pointed out the squirrel tail showing from under a bush, the deer antler protruding from behind a tree trunk, the snout of a turtle emerging from the edge of the pond, and the beaks of some tiny hatchlings poking up out of a nest.

Recognize, respect, and then stretch your limitations. You may surprise yourself and others. Let’s all take a lesson from an artist.

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Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more

Written by Kelly Klund, LPN
Resource Nurse, Empira

Most of us know the story of the Grinch, a crabby green creature who has lived a lonely spiteful life. He has a deep dislike for the people who live in the town of Whoville and detests their love of Christmas. He hatches a plot to sneak into Whoville on Christmas Eve and steal the decorations, gifts and food. In the middle of his attempt to ruin Christmas he comes across Cindy Lou Who, an innocent child who has the beauty and magic of Christmas in her heart.

The Grinch continues with his plan and once he gets back to his home with all of the town’s Christmas swag he is amazed to learn that all the Whos in Whoville have not had their Christmas ruined, but instead are anchored in the value of being together and sharing Christmas love. Seeing this, the Grinch’s icy heart grows three sizes and he returns “Christmas” to Whoville and celebrates all the beauty and love with the Whos on Christmas.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

DR. SEUSS GEISEL, 1957

When we hear the story of the Grinch we often think of that little bit more as generosity, family, the gift of giving or the celebration of Christ’s birth if you are a Christian.

This year most of the ways we traditionally celebrate the Christmas holiday are likely to be turned upside down. Like at Thanksgiving, we were being asked not to gather in our large family and friend groups. The prevalence of unemployment may make gift giving a source of tension for some families. Church services are not likely to look like they have in years past. Getting together with our friends for holiday baking or cookie exchanges will have to be reinvented and gathering at the knee of Grandma or Grandpa to hear our families’ Christmas stories is a much loved tradition we will likely have to forego.

In normal times 46.9% of people report some sort of grief during the holiday season with social isolation being one of the biggest factors in that grief. In addition to holiday grief, according to the CDC, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions in relation to COVID-19. Compound the impact that COVID-19 has had on our mental health with the holiday grief that is normal and we are ripe for a holiday season that is lacking holiday cheer.

But what if we thought about it differently?

What if this year’s little bit more was about the gift we could give to ourselves; the gift of time for self-reflection and the gift of exploring what matters most.

In Empira’s ResoLute grant we explore something we’ve titled Work of Aging. This work begins when people start to reflect on their life and confront their own mortality. Work of Aging is used to describe conversations or actions that support one in reaching wisdom recognizing what matters most in living and dying.
When we explore our Work of Aging we are looking into seven domains that can cause us despair or be a source of peace and joy in our lives:

• Life story – What role does our story play in who we are today?
• Condition – How does your health affect your quality of life
• Purpose – Why do you wake up in the morning?
• Relationships – What relationships do you want to honor or reconcile?
• Spirituality – Do you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?
• End of Life – Have you prepared for the end of your life?
• Legacy – What do you want others to think when they hear your name?

What if this year’s little bit more is about taking advantage of the time we have alone or with a smaller group of loved ones to reflect on recognizing what matters most and sharing those conversations with the people closest to us?

Was the Grinch crabby and bitter because he needed to explore his Work of Aging? Did seeing the Whos in Whoville singing on Christmas morning open his eyes to being connected to something bigger than himself? Did returning Christmas to Whoville empower him to shape his legacy?

This Christmas we will all have decisions to make about if and how we celebrate and as we are making those decisions I invite you to also explore your own Work of Aging.

For more information on a tool that guides Work of Aging conversations check out the Work of Aging Reflection Journal.

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We wish you a Merry Christmas and a much better New Year!

If you are struggling with mental health or addition and need assistance there are many resources available including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Serves Administration National Helpline 1-800 – 622-HELP (4357)

“Dr. Seuss” Geisel, T. (1957). How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Random House.

Wirz-Justice, A., Ajdacic, V., Rössler, W., Steinhausen, H., & Angst, J. (2018). Prevalence of seasonal depression in a prospective cohort study. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 269(7), 833-839. doi:10.1007/s00406-018-0921-3

Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the … (2020, August 13). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm