Loneliness and emotional eating–Part II

Chronic loneliness is a symptom and signal that you are disconnected from one or more of the three main sources of soul nourishment and sustenance: Self, Others and Spirituality.  Some level of a positive connection to all three sources is essential for good emotional and physical health.  In Part I of this article, I addressed Self-connection and shared with you a few steps you can take for improving it.  In this section, I’ll discuss social and spiritual connection. 

Social Connection.  Whether or not we become lonely for social connection depends on the interplay of our nature and the environment.  Some of us have a high need or preference for social connection; others have a low need or desire.  Some are more sensitive to the absence of connection than others.  We experience loneliness when the level of social connection desired is not met. 

Social connection is good for our health.  When we feel connected, we feel safe.  We are less stressed and agitated and our physical health improves.  Social connection lowers levels of frustration, hostility and depression.  We think more clearly and creatively.  We are happier and enjoy life more.

Researchers have identified a hormone, called oxytocin, emanating from the pituitary gland, that is considered a feel good chemical. Oxytocin encourages bonding and social connection.  We now know that soothing and connecting behaviors such as hugs, backrubs, love-making and even thumb sucking all stimulate the release of this chemical into the bloodstream.  Eating also stimulates the release of this “chemical of calm” as does drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and this explains, in part, why these behaviors are self-soothing. 

If your loneliness is due, in part, to a lack of nourishing social connections, you’ll need to focus on attracting in new connections or reconnecting with previously made contacts.  Easier said than done, I know.  Breaking free from the grips of loneliness can feel daunting, exhausting and overwhelming.  If you experienced some level of neglect, abuse or trauma  as a child, it may have robbed you of the opportunity to build self-care and social skills and perhaps you don’t feel equipped to attract kind, nurturing others.  As you learn and practice the self-connection outlined in Part I of this article, keep in mind that you already have everything you need inside of you to feel whole.  You were born whole.  The key is to respond to others from your wholeness rather than your perceived brokenness or “I need-ness.”    

As you regularly practice a loving, supportive connection with yourself, you begin, perhaps for the first time, to experience your wholeness.  The strong need to “get” something from others subsides and as you continue to nourish yourself internally you experience a desire to “give” or share your bounty more often.  A more self-connected you will naturally and effortlessly attract kind, loving self-connected others.  It will be easier to spot emotionally healthy adults who can nourish, appreciate and respect you. 

While there is no simple formula for attracting nurturing others into your life, here are a few simple strategies you can employ to increase the odds. 

Strategy #1:   Increase your experience of positive, casual connections.  Smile at the grocery clerk, ask the bank teller how her day is going, say a warm hello to the mail delivery person.  Rather than attempt to go out and find new friends or a love interest asap, focus on increasing your experience of connection. Connections that involve giving or helping others elicit positive physiological sensations called the “helper’s high.”  These positive feelings are motivating and can assist you in pushing past the passivity, self-absorption and withdrawal associated with loneliness.  Focus on the good feelings you get from simple acts of kindness.    

Strategy #2:  Boost oxytocin, the “chemical of calm” by touching and being touched.  Take every possible opportunity to appropriately touch others:  give someone a hug, neck or backrub, pat them on the back or touch their hand lightly.  Hug and hold your furry companions or volunteer to spend time with animals.  Get a regular massage, if your budget allows.  The mood boost can result in positive feelings and more adaptive behavior leading to greater opportunities for social connection. 

Strategy #3:  Imagine the type of person you would like to attract as a friend and/or partner.  What qualities or traits are you looking for?  Get clear on what is most important to you by writing your vision in your journal.  For example, Alexis (from Part I of this two-part article) wrote:

 “I’d like to meet a female friend, around my age, who is:

  • Kind and caring
  • Emotionally open
  • Non-judgmental
  • A good listener
  • Playful and humorous and
  • Interested in some of the things I’m interested in.

Strategy #4:  Increase your odds of connection by taking part in activities you enjoy where you will have repeated contact with others.   This allows you to get to know people and determine if they meet the criteria on your vision list.  Select activities you enjoy; it’s easier to connect with others when you have similar interests and feel light and joyful.  You’ll have to get creative here.

 Strategy #5:  Adopt a long-term approach.  Rather than expecting to make a new friend right away, focus on increasing your experience and practice of social connection and perception skills.  It may take several attempts at different social activities over an extended period of time before you make a new friend. 

Spiritual Connection.  How do you know if your loneliness and overeating represents a yearning for spiritual connection and nourishment?   The lack of a spiritual connection may be experienced as a restlessness or sense of unease, discontent or dissatisfaction with life, even at times when life seems relatively fulfilling.  You may be asking yourself  “is this all there is?”  Perhaps you feel uninspired or apathetic.   

You may not be ready for this type of growth work until you experience some sort of opening.   If you’re struggling to cope day-to-day, spirituality may be the farthest thing from your mind.  And yet, your pain and suffering  may be just the thing that opens you to search for a nurturing spiritual connection. 

Spirituality means different things to different people.  For some, it is equated with a regular religious practice.  For others, it may involve a personal, individualized practice that fosters connection with a benevolent guide or force.  And still others experience spirituality as a deeply felt heart connnection, sense of awe and gratitude.  A walk in the woods, mountains or by the ocean can be a spiritual activity because it’s a way of getting away from your routines and allowing yourself to be inspired by the processes of nature which are far beyond human scale. 

Opening yourself up to spiritual connection involves releasing any preconceived notions you may have and keeping an open mind.   If you currently have no defined spiritual practice and would like to begin the search for one, there are several options to consider:

Option #1:  Explore spiritual traditions or philosophies that interest you, including your birth religion.  Perhaps you have always been intrigued by Zen Buddhism or Sufi philosophy.   Maybe you have longed to participate in an African drumming experience.  Take a class, attend a gathering or buy a book and begin to explore these paths.  If it calls to you, go back as an adult, with an open mind and explore your birth religion.

Option #2:  Take a class in meditation  Try any technique that interests you.  Check for classes offered by spiritual centers, meditation centers, churches, temples, ashrams and even adult schools and university extensions.

Option #3:  Practice yoga regularly.  There are many different types of yoga to explore.  The key here would be to find a practice that helps you connect to your breath and that quiet place within. 

Option #4:  Spend time regularly communing with nature.  Consciously choose to quiet your mind when in nature as you take in the sights and sounds.  I have always found that my weekly walk along the beach puts life in perspective for me.  It’s a humbling, spiritual experience; the ocean is vast and incredibly calming to me. 

 Option #5:  Spend quality time with animals.  Animals live in the present moment and they offer unconditional love.   If you aren’t currently the guardian of a furry creature, consider adopting an animal or visiting or volunteering at an animal shelter.  A nourishing soul connection to a furry companion may be just the right form of spirituality for you.

Whether it’s self, social and/or spiritual connection that’s lacking in your life, regular practices that increase connection will help alleviate and resolve your loneliness.  Small baby steps on any front will pay off big time down the road.  You truly have nothing to lose, other than your emotional eating and any excess weight. 

Posted by Julie M. Simon.  If you have a question or topic you would like to see addressed in this blog, go to http: //www.overeatingrecovery.com

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