“My loneliness is killing me….”
These were the words of the great Daoist sage Britney Spears and it turns out she may not have been quite so off her rocker as we all thought! Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health. In fact a lack of social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social networks and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases but they also help individuals to recover when they do fall ill. The social distancing and quarantining brought about by the corona-virus situation in many ways hampers the healing process and indeed is the antithesis of what it means to be a human.
It was Aristotle who said that Man is a social creature. For 99% of human history mankind has lived in tribes and collective social communities. The nuclear family arrangement that is the norm in the West has only come about in the last couple of hundred years. Before then several generations of people would have often lived under one roof, with your neighbours throughout the village being part of your extended family. This way of life has largely been forgotten by the modern world and even though there are billions of us, we as a species have never been lonelier.
This already isolated way of life has clearly been exacerbated by covid-19. The lockdown and social distancing measures have meant that we have become more separated than probably ever before. Grandparents have been unable to see their grandchildren, lovers have been forbidden to embrace, families are not allowed to gather, people are dying on their own and the grieving have been left inconsolable. How much life do we have to sacrifice to save lives?
All of this has understandably begun to take its toll upon our health. As I have slowly got back to work in my new acupuncture clinic, I have noticed several common themes amongst the ailments of the people I see. Shoulder pain has been prevalent, as the external pressures that weigh heavily on to the body manifest in this area. Anxiety has also been common, even in those who are normally pretty chilled, highlighting a constant low level fear that we are collectively experiencing. This fear can result in a sore lower back as the adrenal glands of the Kidneys become depleted. In serious cases this can affect the Heart, through the 5 element cycle, as the Water element of the Kidneys becomes so drained it can no longer cool the fires of the Heart. This can result in palpitations, chest pain and severe mental anguish. It is no coincidence that depression is on the rise and suicide rates have rocketed.
Another interesting phenomenon which many of us have been experiencing, is that of really weird dreams. This is understood in Chinese medicine in that when the physical body is restrained then a part of our spirit, known as Hun or the dreaming body, will seek to take flight. Sometimes these dreams can take on a nightmarish quality as the Hun is said to wander too far out in to the dream world and sometimes never even comes back!
Luckily the Chinese understanding of these problems led them to come up with many ways of dealing with them, acupuncture being one of many. However what it cannot do by itself is treat the root cause of these symptoms which is loneliness. That can only be treated by kind and meaningful human interaction and that is something we can all aspire to, regardless of the lockdown situation.